Monday, October 25, 2004

Who do you think you are? Russell bloody Crowe?

I bought Rome: Total War at the weekend. It's rather good, except for one thing. The voice cast. They're all bloody Australian. And they can't hide their accents. For a company that sets such stock on historical accuracy, who the hell thought that an Aussie voice cast would be a good idea? When in Rome... stick another shrimp on the barbie, would ya, cobber?

Friday, October 22, 2004

Spam, spam, spam, spam

Below is the (non-advertising) content of an e-mail that's using some sort of Google string association to try and beat Spam filters on my webmail. It's like someone's been trying to use ViaVoice...

marriage perfect surely taste than less, eyes develop quick effect. road
conversation send week in talking knew grandma.
twice ticket obliged become somebody body perhaps hes marriage chief! step she
continuous twice! innocent loose fear beauty liked we family gentlemen" rich oh
shook small measure appreciate low opened recommend. big within make bright
knowing summer beauty business happiness hold"
pity black minutes embarrass receipt convenient dare skiing grabbed, put period
sound nobody picture after?
price keep believed apology get boy, parallel fact dinner very believed corner!
four begin heart among nice coming sale pray want, scare north past court change
sitting sound principle die. something playing countenance and succeed all
bright parents?
goes before tone carefully view hoping, wide silent moment side walk sorry bear
considered former. on spirits dog circle disappoint building small arrived
determined! cried buy next write everyone mean done accept.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

High Fidelity

I'm bored out of my skull. I've got plenty of work to do, but I'm really not in the mood. So I'm going to go all High Fidelity and make a Top 5 list.


One) Empire Strikes Back - chosen (and at the top of the list) for completely sentimental reasons. Of all the Star Wars films, this is the best. It's the darkest in tone, has the best music and arguably the best set pieces. I first saw ESB when I was five years old (in 1981) and it's been etched on my mind ever since. If I could only watch one film ever again, it'd be this one.

Two) Heat - to my mind, the perfect action-thriller. Brilliant acting, glorious cinematography, masterful direction, great characters and beautiful pacing. And the firefight in the street after the heist. Words just fail to describe how good that is. Clearly not for everyone, as there are few sympathetic characters, and it may be too long and complex for some, but I wish more films were made like this.

Three) Dr Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learnt To Love The Bomb - no film list would be complete without Kubrick, and this is my favourite of his many masterpieces. Again, it's a very dark film, with subtle humour intermixed with gags and juxapositions that whack you in the face, such as the immortal "You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" and the battle between Ripper's troops and the Army at the Air Base, whose motto "Peace is our business" on the base entrance sign forms the backdrop to a vicious firefight. Give such source material to people like Kubrick, Peter Sellars and George C. Scott, and you can't help but make a great film.

Four) The Big Lebowski - not the Coen's best film in terms of artistic or cinematic merit (that honour belongs to either The Man Who Wasn't There or Barton Fink) but outrageously funny, and an inspired reworking of The Big Sleep. My most watched Coen film. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are fantastic.

Five) Starship Troopers - I'm bound to take some flak for this choice, but what can I say, I've got a soft spot for Sci-Fi. Paul Verhoeven is a massively underrated director, and he brings a staggering amount of intelligence to what could easily be construed as a no-brainer action picture. One of the few DVDs worth watching for its commentary alone, this is actually a very acerbic satire of American foreign policy and society that gets more accurate by the day. Verhoeven brilliantly subverts the original material of Heinlein's book and the archetypes of the All American Hero (most of the American audience didn't twig that the characters actually come from Buenos Aires in Argentinia). Ironic, funny, thrilling, thought-provoking and brilliant special effects.

PC Games

One) Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic - did you seriously expect me to pick anything else? I'm now on my SEVENTH full run though the game, and have clocked up more than 220 hours on this by now. Being a Star Wars title obviously helps, but Bioware have done a staggering job on KOTOR. Great characters, great writing, a lovely game engine and gripping story all conspire to make this one of the great gaming experiences of all time.

Two) UFO - Enemy Unknown - my first love when it came to PC gaming. Still the best turn-based strategy on the PC. Like KOTOR, the first time through the game is a voyage of constant discovery and delight, and being able to assign the names of friends to your soldiers really gives the game a personal touch, and makes you form emotional attachments to your men. Not pretty by today's standards, but the depth of the gameplay just demonstrates how graphics aren't the be all and end of of providing the player with immersion.

Three) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - the game that has it all. Apart from top spot on this list, it would appear. Simply brilliant - a virtual playpen within which you can do what you wish, yet with enough structure to maintain long term interest, and production values that shame half of the videogames industry. The game gives you so much to do, and so much to do it with. Great for a half hour blast or an eight hour marathon, this is a game for all occasions.

Four) The Sims 2 - the virtual life simulator that just got better than life. A game with a staggering attention to detail, and a transparent system to provide direction to the game without curtailing player freedom. A game that thrives on the imagination you bring to it, this is a title with almost limitless potential.

Five) Baldur's Gate II - it was a close call between this and Star Wars: Supremacy, but in terms of hours eaten, BGII shades it. Probably the most popular AD&D RPG ever made, and certainly one of the most accomplished. If AD&D is your thing, it doesn't get much better than this.

Tomorrow - Spectrum games and music.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Revenge of the Sith

You would have thought 200 hours on a game would be enough, wouldn't you? But no. I'm playing KOTOR again. Before I finished up last night, I'd just become the proud owner of a Krayt Dragon Pearl and Sigil crystal enhanced violet double-bladed lightsaber. I'm looking forward to chopping up some Sith with it tonight.

I can now wipe through the whole of Taris, doing practically all of the quests in about four hours. Taris is by far the weakest part of the game, but four hours isn't too long to suffer before you get to the good stuff on Dantooine and beyond. Not that with a game like KOTOR you suffer. More that you lament that you don't get a lightsaber to play with.

I'm currently playing a goody-two-shoes Scout/Jedi Consular called Shaya, on my SEVENTH run through the game. I think I must be rivalling Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II combined for the number of hours I've sunk into this now. It's a terrible thing, videogaming, as my girlfriend would no doubt tell you.

Annoying ring tones

Since I've now got a fairly swanky mobile phone, I've decided that I have to get myself a really annoying ring tone. I've seen people going around with The A-Team theme, and things like that, but I want mine to be a little bit more individual than that. So I'm going to use the Tank! theme from Cowboy Bebop instead. Oh yes.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


Students For an Orwellian Society. Very clever, if frightening, stuff.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Battle Of The Bulge

So, either George W. Bush is a grotesque freak with an incredulously bulging spine and back problem, or he's a cheating fink who couldn't even win a debate with outside help, spoon-feeding him answers through a radio earpiece. Either way, it doesn't do much to help his "Presidential" credibility...

Thursday, October 07, 2004

WARNING: Rant Imminent!

There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted...

It's on the basis of this statement in the Iraq Survey Group's report that Tony Blair and Jack Straw are maintaining the line that

The threat from Saddam Hussein in terms of his intentions... [is] ...even starker than we have seen before
. You go into a court of law with a case built on fragmentary and circumstantial evidence, no matter how extensive, and you're going to get laughed out of court.

All the evidence that has come out of Iraq after the invasion has pointed to the fact that both the people of the US and the UK were lied to (or at least intentionally not told the whole truth) about the real threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime. It points to the willingness of the UK and US Governments to flout International Law and the UN to pursue their own agenda of regime change. It strikes at the very credibility and integrity of our governments.

I can't understand people who simply say "Oh, we can't change the past, we've got to make the best of it" because this simply isn't about Iraq - this makes a mockery of democracy - if the oldest Western democracies, the very paragons and champions of freedom and justice in the world, cannot act within International Law, why should we expect democracy imposed on Iraq (or anywhere else) to succeed or work to further Western interests?

No-one will deny that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but that alone cannot justify the war, and all the other "evidence" we were presented to justify the case with has proved to be false or unconfirmed at best. There were no WMD, there were no active weapons programmes, and with sanctions in place, no resources to re-open them either. There has never been any substantive or definitively proven connection between Iraq or Hussein's regime to the al-Qaida network - which even now Dick Cheney claims is there (despite being contradicted by trusty old Rummy) - and whilst it's true that Hussein supported Hamas, the same could be said of a lot of other Arabian governments. Hussein wasn't so much a supporter of terrorism (International or not) - he was simply an enemy of Israel (again, like much of the Middle East, because of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands).

What the ISG's report shows is that Saddam Hussein had been successfully contained by UN sactions and weapons inspections, and that he did not have the resources to be a threat, certainly not in the short term, as was claimed by the UK and US. Had Hans Blix been given more time to complete the inspection process, it would have proved that the invasion was not necessary, and the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians and 1,000 US troops need not have been lost.

Had we walked away from Iraq and left Iraq to Saddam, Saddam would have indeed built up his capabilities, built up his strength and posed an even greater threat.

Jack Straw again. How's that for a disingenuous statement? The key argument I keep hearing from "hawks" who supported the war is "What would you have done with Hussein?" The truth is that the international community wouldn't have walked away from Iraq. A dozen years of sanctions and inspections after the 1991 Gulf War ensured that Hussein couldn't rebuild his weapons. Are we supposed to believe that they simply would have stopped? It was perfectly possible to keep Saddam Hussein in place and prevent him from developing WMD, and if his regime was truly so objectionable, invasion is not the only method of regime change. The US government has supported many other coups to depose (or indeed, install) dictators in the past. Had the US government given adequate support to the Shia uprising after the first Gulf War (after inciting it in the first place), I wouldn't be typing this now. The facts are that it suited the US government's purposes to keep Saddam in place, until they could put together a suitable plan to implement the Republican New American Century agenda, and let the Bush family's friends line their cash with Iraqi oil revenue. Instead of helping the Iraqi people rise up to depose a hated dictator and choose their own path, the US instead chose to flout International Law and install a government of hand-picked and approved exiles, who are widely seen as a Puppet Government in the Arab world. Add to this the "free and fair" elections in January that will most likely take place in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, if they take place at all (which is by no means a foregone conclusion). I don't believe that anyone can honestly say that the world is a safer place after the invasion of Iraq, and anyone who's taken a trip to the petrol pumps lately will know of the calamatous effect the war and the subsequent regional instability in the Middle East has had on oil prices. Of course, it's a COMPLETE COINCIDENCE that the Bush family has financial interests in the oil industry...

The whole thing really infuriates me, firstly that its happened, and secondly that the public seems so desensitised and apathetic that we're letting the bastards get away with it. I'd say more, but I don't want the Thought Police bashing down my door in the middle of the night...

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Cloud cuckoo land

The Iraq Survey Group reports that Saddam Hussein had no WMD in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion last year. What is the official response from UK Government? Jack Straw says that Hussein was an even greater threat than first thought!

On the basis of what, exactly? The intention that he wanted to build WMD? Which he didn't have the capability (or resources) to do with UN Inspectors crawling around Iraq, and now that the backers who gave him all his WMD for the Iran-Iraq War (i.e. The UK and US) were now intent on beating him with a big stick?

Yes, we can invade your country if you have a passing thought that you'd like chemical or nuclear weapons.

You've got to give Orwell credit, though. He thought he was writing a political satire - it turns out he was writing a handbook for the new model of 21st Century Governance.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Mobile Forces

With all the time I've been spending on the M3 lately, I've decided that it's time to invest in a new mobile phone. I do still have a four year old Motorola m3788e knocking about, but the battery is totally shot and barely lasts a day on standby, so I can't really use it. I was thinking about another Pay As You Go phone, but our resident mobile phone expert at work, Olly, has tipped me off to just how spectacularly cheap mobile phone contracts are these days, if you find the right deal.

Such as this one. Argos would seem to be a very odd place to find killer mobile phone deals, but this is very hard to beat, as it's exactly the same as the equivalent deal from the Carphone Warehouse, but with an extra £50 in cash-back. And it comes with a £10 Argos voucher! With the half-price line rental, it actually works out cheaper than home phone, or a PAYG phone, as you don't pay for the handset or connection, and you get 500 free minutes of calls (to any network) plus 100 texts a month inclusive of the line rental, and I'll never use the phone that much. The handset even has a camera on it that can take video snippets.

Before you rush off and buy one, wait until next Monday when I can give you my phone number so I can get a nice referral fee...

Friday, October 01, 2004

Evil personified

I became the lowest of the low last night. I spawn-camped on Battlefront.

In a stolen AT-ST scout walker.

But, oh, didn't it feel *so* good...

It was on the Dune Sea map, and the Empire were down to their last couple of Command Posts. Someone had leapt out of their walker to secure another post, when I came sneaking around the corner (having just joined the server) and nicked it, blasting it's poor, hapless ex-driver. Whilst this was going on, they lost their other posts, meaning that all the Imperials spawned at that Command Post. I just stood their waiting for people to spawn, blasting them to hell, before they even had a chance to move, again and again, five at a time, until they ran out of Reinforcement points. Having had the same thing done to me a day or two previously on Hoth, damn, it was satisfying, and I top scored on the server, despite only being in the game for about three minutes.

Overall, last night wasn't as good as the previous night - with the rather unbalanced forces and the unfortunate way it handles respawning (it just spawns you somewhere on the map, without letting you choose - unlike UT Onslaught, for example) the game experience is truly dependent upon the quality of the people you have around you, and the servers I was on last night were gash, both in terms of the people on them and the damnable Lag Monster. Play on a decent server however, and it rocks, as people work together to compensate for the unbalance inherent between the Imperial and Rebel forces. If people don't work together, however, it turns into a walkover for the most powerful side (usually the Empire), and if you happen to be on the wrong side, it's not much fun. I'd say overall it's somewhere between a 70% and an 80% game, depending upon your enthusiasm for Star Wars and the people you're playing with. I still haven't played the Single Player campaign yet, and I'm not really sure I'll bother. I can't see it being more compelling than the online game, and I'm pretty clued up on most of the maps now. If only I had a slightly faster PC, I could have it looking a lot better, too.

Whatever money I have left over from my expenses from getting the car serviced on Monday will probably go towards buying a new PC in the next month or two - a big incentive being that Vivendi have finally announced a release date for Half-Life 2, which they might actually stick to this time, provided the continuing legal wrangling between themselves and Valve doesn't get in the way yet again. It doesn't make much sense to me - they have a phenomenal game (which has just got 96% from PC Gamer UK) which is going to make them both staggering amounts of cash, and they're fannying about arguing over the proverbial cherry on top of this very large cash-cake. It's already a year late, I'd prefer that they didn't make it two...


A moment of great excitement occured on the M3 this morning.

I'm coming up to the Basingstoke junction, which is always a bit of a blackspot, such as yesterday, both inside lanes and the hard shoulder were crammed with cars going here there and everywhere at practically a standstill, because they were queuing at the junction for about half a mile, causing everyone else to have to pile desperately into the outside lane to avoid an accident. But we're drifting off-topic - I was talking about today. So I'm coming up to this very same junction, and there are no queues so I can happily toddle along in the middle lane at 70. About half a mile short of the junction, suddenly the outside lane about 200 metres infront of me turns to smoke.

Literally, I can't see anything in the outside lane but smoke. My first thought is "Accident!" so I pop on the Hazards and drop down about 45, as this trail of smoke makes its way over to the hard shoulder, getting gradually closer, and now almost completely blocking the view of the carriageway.

Fortunately, it disperses pretty quickly, and I see that it wasn't an accident after all, but it's just a single car with a problem. A BIG problem. As I pass the car, I see it's one of these Honda Civic CRX's (the one with the flat back, think Blista Compact from GTA: Vice City) has blown its engine, Formula 1 style, with huge plumes of smoke still pouring from the engine as it comes to a stop on the hard shoulder.

That'll teach him for speeding like a fucking maniac.