Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Godchild



"Hand over your ward and no-one will be hurt. If you resist it shall be a waste of your life."


This is the line spoken by Sarevok at the start of Baldur's Gate, when you realise just how much trouble your character is in. It's also an indication of how Baldur's Gate will take over your life if you let it.


Baldur's Gate is a game of simple pleasures - character creation and customisation, exploration, adventure, magic, hitting kobolds with big swords,... I've been playing this game for roughly 20 hours over the weekend and the few days either side, finally settling down with a new character, rather than engaging in an automated dice rolling orgy of character creation (as is my usual wont on a Friday night).


I'm playing a Half-Elf Fighter-Druid called Gillian at the moment, and she's quite a good character, since she has a major flaw for a front-line fighter - a rather low constitution, so whilst she can really deal out major damage in combat, she can't stick in the thick of it for too long, which means you've got to really make the most of your party and apply proper combat tactics.


I've been really taking my time, and exploring the whole map before opening up Cloakwood, so she's now up to Level 5 Fighter/Level 5 Druid, which is getting towards being a pretty potent multi-class. Hopefully I'll be able to make it past the return to Candlekeep this time (I got stuck in the Catacombs last time through) and complete the game, before either importing the character into BGII or trying the Single Player Challenge - playing BG without a party. Apparently it can be done, so I might give it a go - probably as a dual/multi-class Fighter-Thief or Fighter-Mage, or perhaps a Fighter-Cleric.


This game might be old, but it's a good-un.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Just One More Question



I'm feeling rather pleased with myself this morning - Dr Aryeh Nusbacher one of the historical consultants on Time Commanders (fast becoming my favourite TV show) has agreed to do an interview with me for State.

Excuse me whilst I w00t!!!!!!111!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

How To Cook Part Two



Pad Thai Noodles


2 portions of Thick Thread Egg Noodles

1 Blue Dragon Thai Noodle sauce

1 Tin of Mixed Stir Fry Vegetables

200g of King Prawns

Tomato Purée



Quick and simple this one: Boil the noodles in lightly salted water for 4 minutes, drain, and then set aside. Using the same pan, stir fry the vegetables for 2 minutes, and then add the prawns. Stir fry for a further 3 minutes so that all the ingredients are warmed through. Add the sauce, and thicken using a little tomato purée. Return the noodles to the pan and stir the ingredients through the noodles evenly.


Serve immediately with chilled sparkling water.

Region



Remember that cheapo £45 Region 2 DVD player I purchased a few weeks back? Well, the deal just got even *better*.


Thanks to DAT500, proprietor of The Emporium, I found out how to turn my Region 2 DVD player into a Region 0 DVD player - i.e. it now ignores Region encoding and plays any DVD disk under the sun - thanks to a remote control hack that allows you to reset the read encoding. How good is that? Particularly considering the cheapest multi-region DVD player I can find on the net is £75, or £85 if you want a recognised brand.


So if you don't have a DVD player and would like to take advantage of the better featured imported disks, there aren't any excuses. A £45 Pacific DVD player from ASDA and this simple region hack using the remote control: Open, Clear, 1, 3, 6, 9, 0, Close.

Fantastic.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Beautiful Game



I've just played 5-a-side football for the first time in about 2 years. I'm absolutely bloody dead. If I hadn't spent the last 20 minutes in goal, I probably would have had a heart attack. I don't think I've done anything as physically taxing in a year.


Still, it was great fun, *and* we won. I'll have to do this more often - if I can keep it up once or twice a week, plus the swimming on Sundays, it'll help me lose a bit of the excess pork I'm packing and get a bit fitter. Which would be nice. And only at £3.30 an hour. Cheaper than a gym subscription,...

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

How To Cook



For once I'm not going to post about games (tempting though it is, now I've found a fix to get UFO: Enemy Unknown working again) and I'm not going to post about politics (tempting though it is, given the spectacular contents of Ali Campbell's diaries as revealed at the Hutton Inquiry) - no, I'm going to post about food instead.



I caught the last five minutes of Delia Smith's How To Cook between the end of the Channel Four News and a documentary about Jumbo Maneating Killer Squid on Channel Five last night. Delia drives my girlfriend up the wall. She can't stand the way Delia implies that her way of cooking things is the perfect way, and the implication that she's the best and that everyone else is crap. I have to agree that filming a series telling people how to cook things as simple as a fried egg is a tad condescending.


I'm a very keen cook myself, and I like to think I'm pretty good, though not to the same levels of Delia's soufflé-inflated ego. I'm certainly more of the "live to eat" school of thought rather than the "eat to live" school of thought. I like to eat well, drink well, and I invariably cook for fun - it's not like coming home and cooking is a chore - I find it's a way of destressing after work - hacking up defenseless vegetables with a 25cm cooks knife, and then making dinner. (*ba-dum!* *tssssh!*)


So, I'm going to start a new meme in my blog, where I tell you what I cooked for dinner the previous night, along with instructions on how to make it.



Welcome to Mad Iain's How To Cook! On tonight's menu is a Quorn chilli for two. The ingredients you need are as follows:



4 cloves of fresh garlic (finely sliced into batons)

1.5 inch of fresh ginger (finely sliced into batons)

1 medium red onion (finely sliced into half-rings)

4 large flat mushrooms (coarsely sliced)

1 leek (washed and shredded)

1 Ramiro sweet pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)

1 tin of chopped red tomatoes

1 tin of red kidney beans (drained)

200g of Quorn mince

125g of basmati rice

3 Oxo beef stock cubes

Dried Basil

Dried Parsley

Chilli Powder (to taste!)

Baslamic vinegar

Salt & Pepper

Tomato purée



Fry the onion over a high heat in a little vegetable or groundnut oil for a couple of minutes until it starts to brown. Add the sliced garlic and ginger, and fry for further minute. Add the mushrooms, and season well with salt and pepper. Add a good dash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and prevent the food from sticking. Add the shredded leek and pepper and cook until the leek has wilted, adding more balsamic vinegar if necessary. Add the kidney beans, and after a couple of minutes the Quorn. Stir in the Quorn, crumbling in the Oxo cubes to coat the Quorn.


Once the mixture starts to thicken, add the chopped tomatoes, the basil, parsley and chilli, reducing the heat to low-medium, stirring ever few minutes. Cook for 20 minutes before boiling the rice in lightly salted water for 10-12 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Add some tomato purée a few minutes before the rice is ready and stir through the chilli sauce to add colour and sweetness.


Serve with chilled water, red wine, or a nice cold beer and enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2003

Shocker!



I left two eBay auctions to their own devices over the weekend, and wasn't expecting to have any competition for one, and was expecting to get outbid on the other one. Bizarrely, the latter of the two, for Arx Fatalis, didn't get the last minute flurry of bids you normally expect on eBay, and I won the auction surprisingly easily with the bid I'd left on Friday. It was the other auction, for an old RPG called Septerra Core, that had all the excitement, when I was expecting to win it with just my opening bid of £1.99.


I'd put a maximum bid for £6.52 up, so that I wouldn't be paying more than a tenner for it, including postage, and low and behold, that's what it went for, as my competition went up to £6.50 within the last minute of the auction, but obviously didn't quite have time to pip me - leaving me to win the auction by just two pence! It's rare that I usually come out best on these kind of last minute bidding frenzies, and it's ironic that I wasn't even there to monitor the bids.


I'm expecting stiffer competition for the other game I'm bidding on, though - the inexplicably named Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. It's another RPG, which is very original and quite highly regarded, but seems to have disappeared from the shops. If I can win that one too, that'll be four games I'll have picked up this month for less than half price, as I picked up Delta Force: Black Hawk Down at the weekend for £15 off the RRP. Bargain.

What's that Skip?



Skippy lives!

Friday, September 19, 2003

Bebop!



As most State regulars will know, Rich Cobbett is a extremely nice man. So nice, in fact, that he's lent me 3 DVD's to initiate me into the world of Japanese Anime.


Anime is one of those many things that I've had a passing interest in, but never really gotten around to exploring. When someone mentions Anime, most people immediately tend to think "Akira" - which I saw years ago and quite liked - whereas an Anime Guru like Rich would tell you that Akira isn't only not really representative of Anime, it's also rather rubbish.


So, one evening I grabbed Rich on MSN and asked him what first got him into Anime, and if Akira was crap, what was good? The answer to the first question was surprisingly familiar - cartoon series like Ulysees 2332 and Cities Of Gold, which I just thought at the time were entertaining kids cartoons, when they're in fact Franco-Japanese collaborative Anime. (Or Anime inspired French cartoons, depending upon who you Google)


Using a set of favourite directors and cinema genres as a guide, Rich selected a few DVDs for me to try, and last night I finished watching the first of them, Cowboy Bebop, Episodes 1-5.


Cowboy Bebop's core themes are best described as the impossi-love child of Boba Fett, Bruce Lee and Sergio Leone. Sci-Fi Kung Fu bounty hunting with a Western twist. It sounds bizarre, but it really works. You know you're onto a winner when the opening title music is titled "Tank!"


It's real Kick! 'Splode! stuff, though this is A Good Thing. I have to admit that I was pretty astounded by the quality of the animation - the blend of CGI and hand-drawn animation is excellent, pretty seamless, and positively drips with atmosphere - the jumpgates piss all over those in Babylon 5 and the Roulette Wheel shaped orbital casino really tickled my fancy, being an ex-croupier.


The characters are all very solid, which is surprising, given the limited time given to character development, and the English dub is absolutely perfect - if you didn't know, you could hardly tell that it was originally drawn for a Japanese soundtrack. The stories are very action oriented, and the emphasis is more on style, rather than plot, but it's highly watchable stuff, with moments of real serene beauty.


It's a bit of a cliché to say that cartoons or animation are only for kids, but this gives the lie to it. Cowboy Bebop has a more cinematic feel than anything, and there are moments that are reminiscent of the kind of cinematography you'd expect to see in a Michael Mann or John Woo film - it's the kind of experience you can simply let wash over you for you to savour like a fine cognac.


I think I'll try an pick up the complete series on DVD off eBay next month, because having had a taster, I'd really like to see the whole series now. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Boom! Boom!

Not Basil Brush. The words "murderous" and "quagmire" spring to mind.

Disingenous



What is George W. Bush on? No, Saddam Hussein wasn't behind 9/11. Yes, he had al-Qaida links.


I'm sorry? Just because an al-Qaida operative was captured in Baghdad doesn't automatically mean that Hussein's regime automatically had al-Qaida links. Al-Qaida operatives have been caught in Britain - does that mean Tony Blair is in Osama bin Laden's payroll? Get a fucking grip, man. As far as we know publically, Iraq didn't have an al-Qaida presence until *after* we invaded it. So it's been more of a War For More Terror rather than a war *on it*.



Blix Blitz


Former head of the UN Weapons Inspectorate, Hans Blix says that the Government overstretched it's case for war in Iraq, and that they probably destroyed all their Weapons of Mass Destruction years ago after the first Gulf War. His team of weapons inspectors searched Iraq for 5 months before the war. The US and UK teams have been searching Iraq for a further five months after the way, and what has been found, after nearly a year's worth of frenzied WMD hunting? Sweet FUCK ALL.


So, Tony, what's happened to all these weapons you were 100% sure were there, eh? Where's your justification? How much money are you pissing away in Iraq that could be spend building hospitals, schools and giving our public servants a decent wage? Billions? TENS of billions? How many soldiers need to die before you realise the US suckered you into a war that didn't need to be fought?


If you had a shred of decency, you'd come clean to the public and tender your resignation. Not that I expect you will. You'll let Geoff Hoon get crucified at the Hutton Inquiry and blame the Intelligence services for giving you bad intel. Just don't expect me to vote for you at the next election.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Madness



I was going to post this as an Editorial on State, but I thought it'd be unfair to pre-empt the conclusions to Nick's fine column.

Claims by teenage boys in Tennessee that they were acting out the Grand Theft Auto game when they shot at vehicles are threatening to put the US entertainment industry back on trial. One man was killed and a woman was badly hurt when William Buckner, 16, and his step-brother Joshua, 14, decided to relieve their boredom by opening fire on traffic on Interstate 40 with a .22-calibre rifle.



What's wrong with this statement? No, it's not that the boys were acting out a videogame. It's the fact that two teenage boys were out in public with a rifle, TOTALLY UNSUPERVISED.



From the same article: Last month, a 14-year-old boy in southern Ohio stabbed his aunt to death, possibly while sleepwalking. Just hours earlier, he had been playing a game called Diablo. It is "hugely significant," Mr Thompson said.



What's "hugely significant" is that in both these cases the children playing the games have been younger than the recommended age limit for both games. If the guardians of these children had prevented inappropriate material from falling into the hands of their wards, perhaps these tragedies wouldn't have occured. Perhaps, if they'd taken precautions to safeguard their firearms from the prying fingers of minors, we wouldn't emotionally immature kids rampaging around with guns.


It beggars belief sometimes, the ease with which lawyers and parents point the finger at videogames, TV or film, in order to explain the violence of teenagers - totally sidestepping their responsibility to make sure their kids are brought up emotionally balanced and with a firm grounding and concept of moral responsibility, but no, it's far easier to point the finger at games, TV and films they shouldn't be watching or playing anyway.


Why they don't have a parenting competency test is beyond me. You need a license to go fishing, own a TV and drive a car, but not to have children? That's what the lawyers should be campaigning for - preventing lives being ruined by people incapable of raising their children properly - not campaigning to ban a media for events attributed to being "inspired" by it's misuse by minors and maniacs.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Time Commanders



I'm rather taken with this show. So much so, I've just sent off an e-mail to see if I can get on it.

Last night's show was fabulous - unlike last week where they actually had a plan and a clue - these guys were absolutely awful. They gave up a fantastic tactical position - where they had the high ground and a natural amphitheatre of trees to prevent their forces being outflanked and surrounded - and lead their troops onto a wide plain to go toe-to-toe with a force that outnumbered them SIX TO ONE.


Naturally, they got absolutely carved to pieces. It was great viewing to see the command structure break down, and the two Generals increasingly flap about as their forces were steadily and remorselessly massacred. It was particularly amusing when the Roman Archers started slaughtering their own men, and the Lieutenant in charge of the infantry went ape. Some of the best TV I've seen all year.



Whoops!



Speaking of Friendly Fire,... Becoming a bit of a habit, isn't it, George?

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Classic



Total carnage and chaos in London all because someone put in the wrong fuse. After all that harping on about underinvestment in the National Grid and power distribution infrastructure, the biggest blackout in London since the Second World War was actually caused by someone cocking up a relay replacement. Fucking ace.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Lead Balloon



"Don't expect any payrises. We've blown all our cash waging war in Iraq."


Gordon Brown going for the popularity vote, I see.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Muddle



Bush is at it again. He's asked Congress for $87 BILLION to continue funding his occupation of Iraq. It's the closest to an admission that he's buggered it up totally and needs bailing out as we're going to get, I think. EIGHTY-SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS. You could *build* a country for that.


What's fantastic is that he says that Iraq is central to achieving "victory in the War On Terror" - of course it is - invading Iraq has heightened the threat of terrorism, giving him more to wage war against. The "War On Terror" is a war which cannot be won, and Tony Blair was a fool for jumping into bed with the Bush administration. Did 25 years of terrorism in Northern Ireland (and 50 years in Palestine) teach him nothing? Terrorism cannot be overcome with bombs, bullets, ground troops or airstrikes. Ideology is only strengthened by conflict. Terrorism can only be overcome via negotiation - but unfortunately, extremists don't often compromise - and Bush is certainly an extremist. I wouldn't be surprised if we're still here in 25 years talking about "the War On Terror".


As if that wasn't bad enough, it appears that the reason we're in this mess is because of an unfortunate cock-up at MI6 regarding the level of significance that the 45 minute claim was meant to have in the now infamous dossier. Why does this not surprise me?
Al-Qaida haven't gone away either - and it's coming up to the two year anniversary of 9/11 - are we going to get a repeat performance? Time will tell.


Mad Science



Nice to see that all the money we plough into research grants is all going to good use.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Runaway



Ahh. Young Love. I'm sure you've heard the story of the two holiday sweethearts who ran away from home to be together? Touching, isn't it? You can tell they're young and immature, though, because of all the places in the world to run away to, why would you choose Milton Keynes?



Hutton



I've been watching the Hutton Inquiry with a lot of interest over the last few weeks. Yesterday was the last day of the first half of the Inquiry, and Geoff Hoon, who I can never say I really liked, looks increasingly like he lied (or had selective memory failure) at the inquiry about his role in the naming of Dr. Kelly - a point-scoring strategy in the government's battle with the BBC, which lead to Kelly's death. I look forward to the explanation he gives when Hoon inevitably gets recalled to the inquiry.


The debacle in Iraq won't go away either. It's finally sinking in to the US and the UK that they've perhaps bitten off more than they can chew, and France and Germany are leaving them hung out to dry on the Security Council, now that they're desperate to get the UN involved. You reap what you sow.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Holiday photos!



Only teasing. I forgot them again.

Ego-surf



Kieron occasionally does this - typing your own name into Google and seeing what comes back - and I finally got around to doing it myself at lunch.


I was quite pleasantly surprised that the first three results to come back were for State. I'm on the Internet! I'm famous! Woooo!

Surreal



I had the Instant Messaging equivalent of an out of body experience yesterday. I was dragged into a massed MSN chat containing Kieron Gillen, Alec Meer, Dan Grilopopopopopolous, Ste Curran, Rhianna Pratchett, Jim Rossignol, Paul Dean, DAT500, Rob Hale and half a dozen other people, as Kieron wanted to see how many people he could get into an MSN chat before it started to break. It was a very odd conversation, as some people were on some people's access lists, and some people had been blocked, so not everyone could read each other's messages. Rob was particularly paranoid that he was missing out on bits of the conversation.


The result was a mind-bending blend of about six different chats, mostly between the Future journo-types - Ste soliciting Kieron to introduce him to Russians on Friendster, in the main. A bit like watching a car crash, really. Discomforting, but oddly compelling. Quite an interesting way to finish up my day at work, anyway.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Trials Of An Owner-Occupier



We've discovered what's wrong with State. It appears that our hosting service has upgraded our MySQL database software, which unfortunately, isn't compatible with Beehive. So we couldn't view posts properly. Our PHP wizard, Aanand, with the help of Boffinboots and the Greater Beehive Collective have helped us install a patch so that the forum will display new messages again, but the Start page is still a bit buggered. We'll have to try and put in place a workaround over the next week or so, or perhaps convince our hosting company to regress back to the previous version of MySQL. I don't know whenever they'd be willing to do that, though. Some negotiation might be necessary.


The other trial I had yesterday was when Fleur got her surprise with the new DVD player. It's not that she didn't like it in principle - it's that she took umbrage with where I'd put it. In the TV-video cabinet. Where she had been storing books. Yes. I know.

We've got a really small flat, and storage is a big problem, so she was non-too pleased about having to find room for another electrical appliance. It erked her "aesthetic sense" - i.e. her need to keep everything obsessively and compulsively tidy. In the long run, though, I'm sure she won't mind, as it means that she can watch DVD's without me if I'm more inclined to play something on the PC. Domestic harmony assured! So if she wants to watch Out of Africa whilst I want to watch Heat, we can do that too!


For only £45 all in, including the SCART lead, the DVD player (judging from my tests with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut last night) seems really rather good. It's quite sleek and pretty, the picture quality is excellent, and I get the feeling the sound quality is more constrained by my TV than the DVD player. It'll only play Region 2 disks, but it's not like I import stuff anyway. Besides, the PC will play multi-region stuff. Overall, it seems a good buy, so if you're after a DVD player, and have £45 to spare, pop down to your local ASDA.


In other news, I've forgotten to bring my holiday photos in again. Bollocks.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

PHP Misery



State appears to be buggered. The forum isn't displaying new posts properly, whereas if you check the latest threads on the website, they show correctly. I don't know if we've been script-kiddied, hacked or whenever it's just flaky PHP, but the forum is temporarily screwed until Aanand turns up and figures out how to fix it. Which may be a while. As a precaution, I've removed the ability for the Guest account to make posts, and I've removed all the posts for the Guest user, so in case someone logging in as a Guest tries to fuck us up with some Javascript, they won't be able to.


Predictably, there weren't any £38 DVD players in Argos either. Not that this stopped me from buying one, since I wasn't quite as overdrawn as expected, and they had them for £44.87 (including a SCART lead, meaning that the total cost would have been practically identical to buying the one from Argos) in ASDA. The manufacturer's called Pacific, who I've never heard of, but the player had a 4 star review from What TV & Video on the box and ASDA were selling it with a free 3 year warranty, so it can't be *total* tat. Besides, it's silver and sexy, and at £45, if it falls apart within a year, I don't care.


So Fleur's going to get a surprise when she gets home tonight. It should take her mind off the fact she's had her first day back at work today after the school holidays, anyway.

The Player



How tempting is this? A DVD player for less than the cost of two full price DVDs. Or, just over the cost of a single full price PC game. Granted, at £37.95 you can't expect cinema quality sound and vision, but fuck that. It's THIRTY SEVEN QUID. That's peanuts.


If my overdraft isn't too cavernous (I get paid next week), I might pick one up at lunch. Provided that they have any in my local Argos, that is.


While we're on the subject of playing, I completed Shadows of Undrentide at the weekend. I think when Tycho said it ends with exceptional quality he was probably talking about the high level kit the game throws at you for the climax. I've done a full review on State, so I won't repeat my musings here. It's all good, clean fun - but nothing earth-shatteringly spectacular. Which is ironic, given the climatic event shown in the closing cutscene.


I've just realised I've forgotten to bring my holiday photos disk in with me to work *again*. Fuck.

Note to self: Get a book on memory enhancement techniques. Though I'll probably forget that too...