Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bark: Does not compute

Fiscal stimulus. That's a phrase we've been hearing a lot of lately, in these (hurrghn) credit-crunch times. I know I'm just a dumb graduate of Physics with Space Science and Technology, and that my grasp of numbers and economics might not be as keen as all those highly-paid geniuses with Doctorates in economic theory who have managed to systematically destroy worldwide economic stability through unchecked greed and unregulated accumulation of insane risks, but I can't help thinking that all this money being thrown by worldwide governments at a provenly-failed banking system like it's wedding confetti is actually going to the wrong people.

The idea of ploughing money back into the banks is "recapitalisation": i.e. if the banks have enough liquidity (i.e. actual money) they can go about their business of lending it to us poor consumers again. The problem with this theory is that the banks have suddenly come to the belated realisation that "oh, risk might be bad!" and are just gobbling all this money up given to them by the government into a black hole to shore up their position and aren't lending of it out, you know, as they're meant to do in order to keep the whole economy moving. Never mind the fact that the government practically owns half of the UK banking system right now, but won't force the banks to lend the money they're giving them (because that would be "government interference"!).

So we find ourselves where we are today: the government has given the banks untold billions of pounds, which themselves have been magicked out of nowhere (since none of the banks have any money) and that we will all have to pay for over the next generation via our taxes, so that the banks can then lend us this money AGAIN, in the hopes that we can spend ourselves out of recession.

Clearly, there are a few problems with this theory. Firstly, the banks aren't doing what they're told. This is a pretty serious problem, but this isn't really the crux of the matter. It's that the public isn't quite as stupid as the government believes we are. You see, we've twigged that the real problem with the government's plan is that it means that Joe and Jane Public end up PAYING TWICE to dig us out of a recession whose fault can be firmly placed in the hands of the people in the government and the banking system.

The problem is that the government's solution to get the economy moving again would have you borrow money from the banks, which has been given to the banks by the government. And we all know that the government's money is OUR MONEY, since all their money comes from us poor proles. So why should we borrow money from the banks, if the money we're borrowing is OUR FUCKING MONEY? Why should we pay twice for our own money? So it almost doesn't matter that the banks aren't lending at the moment, because no-one in their right mind would want to borrow their own money for the privilege of paying it back again with interest (i.e. pay it back first to the bank and then to the government).

If you're going to use our money to buy our way out of the problem, at least do it in a way that doesn't doubly fuck over the people who never caused the problem in the first place. The hundreds of billion pounds that the government has given so generously to the banks (only for them to sit on their collective arses with it) could have put a couple of thousand pounds into the pockets of every single man, woman and child in the UK. If the government had given all that money directly back to the people instead of the assholes who got us into this mess in the first place, the way I see it is that we'd be a whole lot better off.

If you gave the money directly to the people, that money would go one of two places. Either into the banking system (either paying off debts or into bank accounts - either way it would recapitalise the banking system) or be spent on the High Street, giving companies much-needed revenue and STILL going into the banks. Instead, Brown and Darling have handed over billions of pounds borrowed against future tax revenues and we're still in the same mess we were a year ago, because the banks have suddenly gone all shy and risk-adverse and won't put any of this money back out into the wider economy. But hey, lord forbid that the government should actually do anything for THE PEOPLE. Corporations always seem to come first - if it were up to me, I would have let the banks go to the wall. If you don't run a sustainable business model, you don't deserve to be in business - let alone have the government bail you out with taxpayers money that you're then going to use to fuck over the people who paid to keep you in business in the first place. (Of course, some smartarsed economist or banker would say "but it doesn't work like that" - yeah, try telling me that to my face, where I can give you the kick in the balls you deserve.)

So it's no wonder that the IMF are predicting that the UK will be hit hardest by this current downturn, and likewise no wonder that Sterling is taking a hammering in the global currency markets. As I've always maintained, we're governed by imbeciles. And we have to wait another fucking year before we can even vote the bastards out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Byte: Going Live

Well, I'm amazed. I wasn't expecting getting my 360 hooked up to Xbox Live to be quite that easy, but if anything, it was simpler than setting up the Wii with my wireless. I just plugged the 360 into the back of the modem-router with an ethernet cable, and voila! No painful setup, no fuss, it just worked. Boom! Instant access. That's how it should be done.

I've set up my gamertag, for those of you who are interested - MeLikeShiny (it's a Death Knight reference from World of Warcraft, as it's one of the stock lines your pet ghoul will say if you click him... and also, I do like shiny things), which is hooked into my MSN Messenger ID and also my Windows Live account (which I reluctantly set up to access the Dawn of War II multiplayer beta - but more on that later).

No doubt I'll be upgrading my Live access to a Gold account fairly soon, so you should see me hitting the PGR4 online circuit and undoubtedly getting spanked mightily by all the people who've been playing it solidly for the last year and a half. But hey, it's all good practice, right? I've been hording my Kudos and have already unlocked the Nurburgring; I had a quick blast at lunchtime in an Aston Martin Vanquish, clocking up a pretty darned reasonable 6 minutes 48 seconds on my first lap of the Nordschliefe (including quite a few lawn-mowing expeditions on the grass), so my skillz are still pretty mad. Furious, in fact. RAAAAARRRRRRGGGHHHH! That's how mad my skillz are...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Byte: The best kind of birthday present

...is one you buy yourself. I was up in Yorkshire this weekend to see my parents for a belated Christmas and early birthday (which is tomorrow, I casually mention, in case anyone wants to send me money, shiny electronics or hugs). Other than the usual horrors a nine hour round trip on the UK's overburdened motorway network entails, I had a rather lovely time.

One of the benefits of the credit crunch is that when companies, such as Zavvi, get into trouble and are on their last legs on the High Street, they start selling things amazingly cheaply - such as the Xbox 360 Elite I picked up on Saturday for a tenner less than they're selling them on Play. I also snapped up Scene It (which even Fleur is enthusiastic to play me at), Mass Effect and PGR4, the latest sequel to one of my favourite racing games ever.

This means I will probably delay the PC upgrade I had scheduled for sometime this year, as now all the graphics-heavy FPS games that would bring my PC to its knees can be bought and played on the 360 now, instead. If I get bored enough, I may pick up GTA IV and Fallout 3, since with GTA in particular, I stand a better chance of getting a framerate and (unlike the PC version) I won't have to log in on three separate accounts to play it. But first I have to do a round-up of all the best 360 titles from the last couple of years, though it's unlikely I will pick up Gears of War, since it's so shiny, yet so, so painfully dull. Still, fun times ahead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Byte: For the Horde!

I'm really enjoying playing with the PCG Guild on Steamwheedle Cartel. We've got a couple of level 80s now, and we're burning through the instances at quite an alarming rate. I've probably done more dungeons in the last week than I have in the two years before that (not counting solo Green gear runs in Scarlet Monastery and the like).

In the last couple of days we've done no less than two raids on Onyxia, who's the original end game boss, pre-Burning Crusade. It's meant to be a level 60, 40-man raid, yet we've done it twice now with less than ten people. The reason for this being that we have one very special player - Wàq, a level 80 Death Knight - who took all the threat and essentially soloed her, while everyone else on the raid just tried to stay alive. On Saturday, everybody bar Wàq died. Last night, with two more levels under Devorgilla's belt, Wàq had Deadard (a level 77 Death Knight) and myself (level 65 Death Knight) still there when Wàq smote the killing blow. I was quite pleased with myself for that.

Obviously, I took loads of screenshots, which you may find here.

Onyxia Raid XI

Friday, January 09, 2009

Byte: Virtual Careers

The last couple of evenings have been devoted to Professions grinding in World of Warcraft. As you will probably know by now, with my veritable army of alts, I maintain what's essentially a one-man Guild, or rather a mutually-supportive network of leatherworkers, alchemists, enchanters, blacksmiths, inscriptors and tailors.

I've been playing a lot with my Mage recently, and got her up to a reasonably lofty level 50 last night, meaning that she can now call on a summonable Water Elemental for a bit of extra muscle. Kaeleigh's professions have been relatively easy to level, given that she's a Herbalist/Alchemist, and she's doing pretty well with her First Aid skill, too. It shouldn't be too hard to top out in both First Aid and Alchemy by the time she reaches Outland, and in the spirit of co-operation, she's been sending on spare herbs to Corleth to help with his Inscription skill (who's now starting to make some fairly handy glyphs), and also been sending spare cloth to my tailor, who can now make some pretty awesome stuff with Runecloth, though I've got to do a bit of spider silk grinding to progress up towards 300-skill. I think I'll be using Yonn (my resident DPS Machine) to raid another dozen stacks of cloth (I did two runs through Jintha'lor in the Hinterlands last night, which yielded about ten stacks of Mageweave cloth in an hour or so), though I'll have to look up the best drop rates for Runecloth on WoWHead later. For Yonn's efforts, I made him a very natty tuxedo for comedy screenshots. Aoibheann's Enchanting is proving an absolute pain to level (though the enchanting reagents are pretty cheap in the auction house on my server), but I put on 20 skill last night, thanks to Corleth sending her a whole stack of Armor Vellum, which can be used to create enchantment scrolls. Though I wouldn't have been able to level her enchanting at all, had it not been for a very lovely level 80 paladin I met in Ironforge, who was able to make me a truesilver rod, using materials I'd gathered from both Yonn and Gormlaith's mining skills and blacksmithing skills (respectively).

I'm also still playing a fair bit with the PCG guild on my Death Knight, and I also took advantage of the free character moves between Argent Dawn and Steamwheedle Cartel to move my Blood Elf Hunter and have her join the rest of my character roster, so we're all nice and cozy on Steamwheedle Cartel now, as I've hit the character limit for the server. Which is almost a relief, actually, as it means I can't roll any more alts. You'd think a level 73 Night Elf Druid, a level 71 Night Elf Hunter, a level 63 Blood Elf Death Knight, a level 50 Human Mage, a level 36 Night Elf Priest, a level 33 Draenei Paladin, a level 32 Night Elf Rogue, a level 32 Blood Elf Hunter and a level 10 Blood Elf Warlock would be enough for most people, but if I could roll more alts on that server, I probably would (if only to have a female Gnome Death Knight, just for the cognitive dissonance value).

One day I might stop playing WoW. But not today, that's for sure...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Byte: Games *are* good for you - OFFICIAL

Tetris tested as a potential treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Which strikes me as a bit odd, because playing Tetris is not exactly what I'd call a relaxing, stress-free experience.

Bark: Today is going to be... expensive

My bank account is bracing itself for an onslaught of epic proportions today, as the car is in for an MOT and a service, which is unlikely to be cheap, since at the very least I'm pretty sure I need two new tyres to pass the MOT. My road tax is also due at the end of the month, so knowing that I'm going to be utterly broke by the time of my birthday in a couple of weeks, I'm in a funny, dangerous mood. The kind of "In for a penny, in for a pound!" spending mood.

The kind of mood that makes me go out and buy shiny things. Of course, I don't technically need a Netbook. The number of computers already surpasses the number of humans in my flat (games rig, games laptop and work laptop vs. my lady and myself) and Fleur would not be best pleased if another one turned up, but... it's all SHINY! I like shiny things, dammit. I must have been a crow in a previous life, or something.

I only have myself to blame, of course. Normally I work from home (usually about three days a week), so I have a program that gives me dial-in access to my company intranet and global storage network. Unfortunately, my password for it expired over the Christmas holiday and I locked myself out of the dialer client, necessitating a trip to the office to reset the password. My local office is Farnborough, which frankly doesn't have a lot going for it, except the PC World about 300 yards away over the road. So I decided, rather unwisely, to kill time there at lunch, as I wanted to check out upgrade options - that is, whether I should stick with the PC case I have now and just upgrade the CPU as far as the motherboard will handle and grab a couple of new graphics cards to re-enable the SLI - and see if the margin of cost between upgrading and simply buying a new box was large enough to warrant upgrading instead of getting an entirely new computer. But since PC World appears to have stopped selling AMD CPUs now, I ended up wandering over to the Netbooks section, just to see how good they were getting these days.

And then I saw the Samsung NC10 - with it's rather spectacular battery life and reasonably-sized keyboard. The odds of me making it to the end of the month without buying one are not good, thinks I.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Byte: Achievements for everything

A Flash game that spoofs everything that's wrong with the Achievements trend in gaming. Curiously addictive, and really rather funny.

Byte: Winter Sales

Now that the new year has begun and the credit crunch is biting the High Street on the bum so hard that the only people making profits are the wind-up administrators who close down businesses, we're really seeing a lot of vicious price-cuts so that people can at least have the hope of selling something.

Of course, if you've got bargain-hunting DNA like me, this kind of economic environment is brilliant. I swooped on the Steam New Year sale like an electronic vampire bat, predatorily picking off the best deals. Ultimate Doom and Doom II (including Master Levels for Doom) were a veritable snip at a whole ninety-nine pence each, plus Beyond Good and Evil for less than four quid was also a compulsory purchase. I also took the opportunity to snap up Jagged Alliance 2, for around six quid; surely a bargain in anyone's money.

Doom and Doom II were surely the best value buys, though on a 20" monitor, it's a visual monstrosity. After playing through the first couple of episodes, I really got an urge to dig out my copy of Dark Forces (the original Star Wars Doom-clone, and progenitor of the Jedi Knight games) - as I do miss the uncomplicated directness of the Doom-style 3D shooters. Though you have to play them with the classic control set. Playing Doom any other way just feels so wrong.

Beyond Good and Evil has turned out to be a slightly less successful buy. I was hoping the Steam version would be a little friendlier with multi-core machines, but it still runs way too fast (no audio-visual synchronisation in the cutscenes at all) on my desktop (even with one of the CPU cores turned off) and it barely runs at all on my laptop (despite being way over the recommended spec) - presumably due to issues with Vista. I'm a little hacked off, because I never quite got around to completing it, and I really fancy going back to it.

Jagged Alliance 2 is something a lot of people have been telling me to try, given my X-Com-love. I haven't done much with it so far, but I did really like the personality test you take to determine the stats and skills of your character.

Beyond that, I'm quite tempted to pick up Call of Duty 4, now that Play are selling it at a price that's appropriate for a one year old game, but otherwise there's very little I'm excited about at the moment. The release schedules look particularly barren, so it's difficult to see where I'm going to devote the lion's share of my gaming time other than the ever-reliable World of Warcraft.

I've been putting in some serious time on my alts since I got back from France, and my Mage is now knocking on the door of level 50 (only a level and a half to go until I get my pet Water Elemental) and my Paladin is approaching that difficult mid-30s period (level 33 and counting), but at least I have the motivation of the Nightblade, which dropped for my Mage from a troll in the Hinterlands to get my Pally up to level 39 at least. I'm tempted to try to twink my paladin, now that I have an Epic two-hander ready-waiting, and also because I've never really put much time into the Battlegrounds, so it would be nice to get some practice before getting into Lake Wintergrasp at level 77 with my mains. It was my first ever Epic World Drop - I only had to wait FOUR FECKING YEARS to get one, so I thought that I might as well use it, rather than flog it in the auction house, even though I'll have to re-spec Gormlaith from Protection to Retribution to really be able to use it properly.

I've also been playing quite a bit with the PC Gamer guild (Horde faction) on Steamwheedle Cartel with my Death Knight (which hit level 62 after a moderately successful raid on the Hellfire Ramparts on Saturday night, which yielded me a very nice Plate chestpiece, though we wiped really badly on the last boss), and I should be about ready to move off into Zangarmarsh in another evening or two. The guys in the PCG guild all seem to be pretty easy-going and casual-friendly, and it was nice to do a dungeon on Saturday night, even if I was in the unusual role of acting as group Tank (normally I go as DPS or Healer when I'm playing with Sharéth or Yonn). I just eBayed myself a 3 metre VGA cable so that I can set my laptop up more comfortably with the TV - as my current VGA cable is too short to allow me to sit on the sofa while I'm hooked up to the TV, and gaming on the floor gets a little uncomfortable after a while. Fingers crossed that should arrive later in the week, and the laptop might actually become my preferred WoW machine...