Monday, December 31, 2007

50th post

I claimed first post (obviously), and now I claim 50th post. Just in time to also wish everyone a very happy and peaceful Gregorian New Year.

There are, of course, many people out there to whom January 1st 2008 is someone else's New Year celebration by someone else's calendar. To those, I wish peace and happiness anyway.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2003)

Originally posted at GameBoomers:

What is it?

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (or PoP4 as it will be henceforth known), is an action-adventure, set in an Arabian environment.

Yes, I know that means lots of complicated controls (there's about 12 keys and the mouse is used too) and doesn't fit into our usual point-and-click preference here on GB. But, this one is worth the effort, I think.

The highlights (to be described further, below) include some pretty acrobatic moves for our leading character, stunning graphics, and game play that Core Design would kill for!

Where does it come from?

Surely we all heard of Jordan Mechner by now? No? Well, he's the guy who wrote the original revolutionary, 2D, rotoscoped Prince of Persia. It had a simple plot: bad guy kidnaps princess, street kid (rather like Aladdin) has to rescue her, by exploring the castle, fighting the bad guys and solving the puzzles. By the way, he also wrote the Last Express - a title that's probably better known around here. [Smile]

Prince of Persia 2 and 3 both took this idea and did it again... 2 was more platform-y, and 3 full 3D (quite a lot of fun, IMHO, but a bit clunky by today's standards).

Is there a plot?

Yes. And it's not the same as the previous three games. The Prince (yes, he's been promoted since starting these adventures) has stolen a mysterious dagger and has been tricked by the Vizier (never a character to be trusted in an Arabian tale), into using it to release demons upon the land. Now it's his job to clean up the palace and save the kingdom.. and there's a pretty girl to chase, rescue, and (possibly) marry too. Ahh, what would life be without 'structure' to our games.

Having said that the story is somewhat clich├ęd, the story telling within the game is nicely presented in frequent short cut-scenes giving you a preview of where you need to try to get to (some rooms need this preview to give some shape to how you approach them), and some rather nice flash-forwards that give hints of the acrobatics yet to come. This is something I think has been done well here, and other developers could learn from this!

How do you play?

As I've already mentioned, the controls for this game are reasonably complex (though less so that Outcast, IIRC). However, it's a case of one hand on the mouse, to control the camera (rotation about the Prince) and click to use the sword and do some moves (I'll come back to those in a moment [Big Grin] ), and one hand on a small area of keys (centred around W,A,S,D) for control of the Prince and his weapons. After a little practise, I found this worked fine, despite my usual preference for simpler controls.

Okay, those acrobatic moves. One word... WOW! The first time I saw the Prince do his wall-running stunt, I knew I was immediately back where I was when I first played Tomb Raider back in 1996. Our hero is a stunningly well animated guy, who does moves that would make Ang Lee proud - if you enjoyed the 'ballet' in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", then you'll love this!

Of course, this being a Prince of Persia game, there's fighting involved. Not all the time, certainly, but there are times when it gets a bit involved! There are always more that one opponent... but the Prince always manages to outclass them in the end! I did find some frustrating periods with some of the more difficult timed sections (a major part of this game) and some of the later fights. Though I think these added to the challenge, rather than putting me off.

Any other novelties?

There is one idea introduced in PoP4 that I've never seen before... a rewind function! Once you have the dagger of time in your grubby little hands, you can rewind up to 10 seconds of action at almost any time. So you missed that jump (after all, this is a platform game to a certain extent [Wink] ), not to worry... rewind will take you back to the point just before you made it. Be warned, however, the dagger does not have infinite power.

The graphics are wonderful. Not a glitch anywhere! No pop-up polygons nor limbs vanishing into walls. Something else for Core to take notice of. The palace is nicely modelled and feels quite real. My only quibble is that Prince of Persia 3D actually managed to look beautifully decorated (if slow & jerky in places), whereas these environments are a bit more staid... so far, of course.

The bad guys are as well animated as the Prince, with a nice level of detail, and plenty of attention to visual effects and so on. They even come across as reasonably intelligent on occasion, except for their willingness to throw themselves at the Prince who's clearly a rather special chap! [Smile]

I have a rather limited sound system, so although there are nice bits of voice-over commentary, and good sound effects, and music, I can't really say anything about any 5.1 or EAX issues. The sounds are well done, and keep the mood well. And the voice acting is so much better than many adventure games where the voices could be considered to be rather more important!

This next point counts as a real novelty in my book: the game has been remarkably stable in these days of game patches being released the day after the game hits the shops! AFAIK, there is no patch. But then, in my experience, there is no need for one! The only crashes I experienced were during a period when the entire machine was being unreliable, due to a hardware fault.

Ok, this is an adventure game, so what about the puzzles. Well, most of them are physical. There are places where the Prince has to jump between columns, climb walls (which he does rather more dynamically than Lara Croft ever did), creep along ledges, dodge things, etc. There are a few moving block and lever puzzles, but as the game progresses, the Prince gets more moves.. rope swinging, and narrow wall-top walking, and his sword gets updated a few times, so there are puzzles that make use of these abilities.

What do you need to play it?

Win 98 SE/Win ME/Win 2K/Win XP

Pentium III 800Mhz or faster

256MB RAM or more

Geforce 3 or better (Geforce 4 MX is explicitly *not* supported)

DirectX 9.0b (on the CD, although the website claims 9a is sufficient!)

(I used Win XP, AMD 1300 Thunderbird, 384 MB RAM, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)


Downsides: Limited saves... this game is more in the console style than a normal PC game. Non trivial hardware requirements (for the time).

Upsides: Novelties like rewind. The story telling. The graphics. The acrobatics! And the overall excitement. This is what Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness could and should have been, but is so far short of. [Frown]

In fact, I found TR: AoD so dull and lifeless that I got no further than the bomb (people who've play AoD will know what I mean). PoP4 is so much more exciting, it took me a month (of 2-4 evenings per week) to complete. And, like PoP3D, it's one I'll come back to in the future.

Unfortunately, this game has received a rather muted and somewhat negative reception in the reviews I've seen thus far. The notable exception to this is JustAdventure's review which is nearly as positive as mine. And GameSpot ran a series on the final days of the PoP4 project.

If you enjoy action, this is a definite winner, and so, finally, I have to give this game an A!

Upcoming content

Over the next little while I will be publishing some of my older game reviews. Most of these were written under the auspices of GameBoomers: an adventure/RPG website and community with an excellent atmosphere and very, very little of the back-biting and nastiness I find in many other online communities, game based or otherwise.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Review of an awesome Microsoft release

Well, finally, Microsoft have figured out how to release an OS they can be proud of, and that we, as consumers, can be satisfied with upon installing. (Open Source issues notwithstanding, of course)

Coding Sanity has an excellent review of this new product: Windows XP.

Laugh? I nearly cried!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Neil Stephenson Interview

Slashdot has an excellent interview with Neil Stephenson. It was done in their usual style of getting the Slashdotters to submit questions, and getting the victim (sorry: interviewee) to respond by email.

I particularly enjoyed his discourse on Dante vs. Beowulf writers (question 2), but that's mostly because I agree with his analysis. Mind you, most contact I have had (or read) with (or involving) the Dante style of literary types leads me to the "they're a bunch of snobs that wouldn't know a good tale if it grew out of their .... um, the end of their spine" conclusion!

Friday, December 07, 2007


What is the difference between McLaren and Renault?

1) Ron Dennis vs. Flavio Briatore?
2) McLaren was close to beating Ferrari to this year's F1 World Championship, Renault were little more than also-rans?
3) British vs French? (okay, probably not this one as the reality is that the majority of the Renault F1 racing team is probably British anyway, because most of F1 is British too)

Personally, I suspect the FIA is the corrupt puppet of the fourth son of the leader of the British Union of Fascists (the fore-runner of the British National Party). It doesn't give a shit for fairness or even the appearance of consistency and legitimacy.

I will never watch another Formula 1 race until the FIA is divested of Max Mosley, or they learn how to actually govern fair play in their sports.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If the Pear Anjou cable wasn't enough

Try this link for over-priced, physics-ignoring, guff for the gullible audio-extremo-phile. This one had me rolling on the floor!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Is it a rip-off, or just a remarkably clever business model?

I think most people are aware that, should you so desire, you can spend unimaginable amount of cash on audio equipment, and you may well get some nice gear along the way. However, there are some audio companies that take this to an extraordinary degree of geek-ish-ness. Case in point: Anjou cables from Pear Cables.

Take a couple of minutes to read their product description. It's laced with a goodly mixture of science, pseudo-science and just plain hokum! And the price? $7250 for a 12 foot pair! Just to get an electrical signal from your stereo to the speakers. That's just obscene.

And I'm not the only one to think so. Techdirt (a tech blog I read regularly) have this article on the on-going discussions between James Randi (a professional debunker & skeptic) and the general audio-extremo-phile community. He wants someone to prove that Anjou cables give an audibly perceptable improvement in the sound emanating from the speakers, than using Monster cables (another audiophile supplier of cabling, but without quite the same obscene prices: just $80 for a pair of HDMI cables).

Now my question. Is the Pear Cable company having a laugh at the expense (pun quite intended!) of the audio-phile community? Are they deliberately trying to make a fortune out of mis-guided snobs, who's knowledge of physics comes from the back of cereal packets or the inside of an audiophile magazine like Positive Feedback Online? Or are they serious.

Surely someone who has the technical nouse to be able to manufacture decent cables (which, admittedly, the Anjou ones appear to be, though not quite to the degree suggested) must have the technical knowledge to know that most of the claims are pure snake-oil?

The final word, however, goes to Gizmodo with the excellent post that first brought this subject to my attention, and to their most recent post on the subject of the James Randi challenge: Pear Cable Chickens Out of $1,000,000 Challenge, We Search For Answers.

Perhaps someone at Pear has realized the idiocy of their claims? Well, they're still selling the cables, so perhaps not.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 2007 Formula 1 championship

Time to fulfil some promises - a posting on the 2007 Formula 1 championship.

Well, what a damp squib of a finish that was. Okay, so well done to Kimi Raikonnen for picking up the ball that McLaren so comprehensively dropped. It was all over, bar Alonso phoning in a totally weak performance, at the fourth corner (at the end of the Lake Descent straight) when a panicing Hamilton out-braked himself and ran wide.

The result of the 2007 Championships: both were given to Ferrari, one by the FIA, and one by McLaren.

Let's hope that the 2008 season has as much good racing, and none of the stupid manipulatory antics by the FIA.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Speaking of anniversaries...

I've completely missed my own 1 year anniversary.

After 40 posts (this is number 41) since August 15, 2006, I'm still blogging, albeit less regularly than some people.

Planned posts for the next few weeks:
  • the North West Passage and the outrageous territorial claims thereupon
  • insane, or is that just seriously delusional, audiophile equipment prices (google 'Pear Anjou cable' for a taster!)
  • the 2007 Formula 1 championship (rant or celebration TBD pending the Brazilian GP this weekend)
  • and finally, you never know, I might even post some directly identifying information about myself at last

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Congratulations Microsoft

From (which is 10 years old this month, btw!):

FFII awards Microsoft "Best Campaigner against OOXML Standardization" prize

FFII president Pieter Hintjens explains, "we could never have done this by ourselves. By pushing so hard to get OOXML endorsed, even to the point of loading the standards boards in Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, and beyond, Microsoft showed to the world how poor their format is. Good standards just don't need that kind of pressure. All together, countries made over ten thousands technical comments, a new world record for an ISO vote. Microsoft made a heroic — and costly — effort to discredit their own proposal, and we're sincerely grateful to them."
(slashdot discussion, original press-release)

Amazing how well ballot-stuffing, strong-arm tactics, and vote-buying works in getting exactly the wrong message across! One just has to suspect that Microsoft knew just how weak OOXML is before they even submitted it to ISO.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


From a comment on Coding Horror blogpost on Egoless Programming:
A woman goes into a shop to buy a hat. The hat maker takes a length of ribbon, and deftly folds and twists it into a beautiful hat. "How much?" she asks. "Two hundred dollars," he replies. "For a length of ribbon!?" she exclaims. He smiles and just as deftly disassembles the hat, and hands the ribbon to her. "For the hat, two hundred dollars. The ribbon is yours for nothing."
And the followup:
To use this analogy, I think programmers are like the hat maker. In the olden days of programming, it was the art of creating the hat that excited and impressed people. These days, it is the collection of hats they have created.
I like this way of thinking.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Last Word on the Subject

I hope this will be the last time I feel I have to comment on the Stepney/Coughlan/McLaren/Ferrari industrial espionage 'case'. The FIA have now released the transcript of their recent hearings, and the BBC have their take on it. It's much more readable than anything I can put together just now, but it does take a similar tone to my thoughts on the subject that the penalties dolled out by the FIA are simply dis-proportionate and mis-guided.

They're all at it, it's just that the FIA wanted to make an example of their favourite whipping boy: McLaren.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) has a WMSC (World Motor Sports Council). It is their main court for handling disputes within motorsports. It has just handed down one of the most extraordinarily punitive punishments in its history to McLaren (the F1 team previously leading this year's excellent F1 Constructors World Championship). They've removed all the points so far scored this year, excluded the team (but not the drivers, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton) from the remainder of the Championship, and hit them with a $100 million fine. The impact of this will be that McLaren will start next year right at the bottom of the pit lane, with limited garage space, and little help with transportation costs - just as if they were the old Minardi team!

The crime? Gaining competitive advantage from having proprietary Ferrari design and performance data. Now, bearing in mind that F1 teams are always monitoring the competition - at tests, at races, and so on, and that staff move between companies quite frequently, definitely taking knowledge, if not actual documentation, with them, and bearing in mind that McLaren & Ferrari cars are designed by different people with different design philosophies and theories, I find it remarkable that the FIA should be so remarkably punitive.

Not only that, there are numerous precedents of industrial espionage cases between F1 teams that have never, ever, resulted in such extreme measures.

Worse, Max Mosley, President of the FIA, said, "But that they had an advantage is almost beyond dispute." (my emphasis)

What is a regulatory committee doing issuing such commercially damaging punishment for a relatively common-place, but not often publicised slightly dirty side to F1 racing (and probably every other competitive motor-sport).

I hope McLaren take them to the cleaners in the real civil courts, and put the frighteners on the kangaroo court that is the WMSC.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Two Worlds ... wrong location

I live in Europe, and I've just received a copy of the PC version of Two Worlds as a gift from a friend in the US. It installed just fine, but when I run it, I get the following message:
This version of the game cannot be run in your location.
Please email for help.
Not only is this classic 'annoy the legitimate end user in some misguided effort to stop piracy', but the work around suggests I should re-configure my operating environment to 'trick' the game into believing I live in the US, and confusing all the other programs on my system that need to have accurate time stamps - such as my virus checker!

This is unacceptable. If it weren't for the fact that this was a gift, I would be taking the game back to the shop, forthwith!

All the companies involved in this product: Reality Pump (warning: Flash site. Ugh!), Zuxxez Entertainment, TopWare Interactive, and SouthPeak Games should all take a long hard look at their strategies for (avoiding) annoying legitimate customers.

UPDATE: What's worse is that I've now had time to try the workaround, and it simply doesn't work around anything. So now I've mailed the 'support' email, instead of the 'legal' email.

FURTHER UPDATE: It works now. However, I have to keep my PC in the EST timezone (in which it clearly does not belong), and I've created a user specifically for use with Two Worlds so that I don't have to put up with US locale on everything else.

FINAL UPDATE: This post of mine seems to be the most popular (via Google Analytics) to date, especially coming via Google searches, so I'll say 'Hi!' to everyone coming in via this post in particular, then point out that, if you're having this problem, and want to know more about how to configure your PC with my solution, check out the comments (there's only 2 atm). Finally, I must say that I've really enjoyed playing Two Worlds after all the grief I had, so it was all worth it in the end. It plays quite like Oblivion, but without all the Blue Screens of Death! Have fun!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Better Half is Wonderful

First, a little background. Now that the children are back at school, I thought this week would be a nice quiet time to take a short holiday. It is, however, last night I had a meeting to go to, and came back from a long night that ended in an unfortunate upset. I'll say no more about that, apart from to indicate I wasn't involved personally, I was just there at the time.

So, I came home very tired, annoyed, and quite disappointed in some people. At which point My Better Half came into the picture, and rather than just avoid it, or tell me to ignore it and go to sleep, she said, 'go get a cup of coffee and stay up 'til 3AM playing computer games.' She knows I occasionally do this - mostly by accident, and never before with the accompanying cup of coffee!

So I did.

But wait, it gets better.

This morning, rather than expect me to get up and help with getting the children out to school as I normally do (come rain, shine, feast or famine), she said, 'would you like to lie in.' What normal person would say no? I certainly didn't say no!

Three hours later, already relaxed from a decent rest, I wandered up to my study to read Slashdot, etc., and 10 minutes later there's a call up the stairs. I went down to see what my dear wife wanted, and she handed me a plateful of scrambled eggs and bacon on toast, plus a cup of coffee.

Now I'm sitting here, relaxed, happy, on holiday, and with a tummy full of goodness. What more could a man want in the morning?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

'Microsoft' and 'credibillity' ...

... should not appear in any sentence that suggests Microsoft has any! (Mind you, did it ever have any to lose in the first place?)

Once more Microsoft's FUD engine has swung into action with specially crafted press release regarding their failure to win fast-track approval for OOXML (their proprietary document format that they claim to be open) from the ISO. As reported by Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, amongst others.

So, as if ballot stuffing (in Sweden) and dodgy lobbying practices weren't enough, they go for spin, suggesting that a 74% vote is better than a unanimous vote (for ODF), simply by counting the constituencies differently.

Now it's time for all ISO voting members to fully reject OOXML not only on the grounds of it's serious technical and licensing weaknesses, it's proprietary nature (being controlled by a single organization with no interest in interoperability), but on the grounds that the sponsor of OOXML is deliberately and maliciously mis-representing the outcome of ISO processes, in order to further their own interests.

This kind of behaviour should simply not be tolerated.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Dedicated to...

anyone who's spent too long alone with a Windows PC:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is this funny or just seriously hypocritical?

Three posts in one day? What is going on?

This one made me laugh: the atheist Chinese government wants to regulate reincarnation in Tibet!

Let's, for a moment, allow that reincarnation works. Now post the anti-religious, atheist dogma of the Chinese government. Are they now admitting that reincarnation works? Or are they just seriously trying to damage the political structures in Tibet? Or perhaps they just want to give the Dalai Lama (and many others) yet another excuse to lambast the Chinese government.

I roll my eyes, whilst ROTFLMAO!

Microsoft buys Swedish standards process for $30,000

Once again from Chris Samuel's blog, it appears that Microsoft is making unfair and unethical use of it's massive financial muscle and influence to buy approval for their OOXML standard in Sweden.

If there was any doubt in the past, now there really isn't, that it is time to start actively campaigning against Microsoft and their complete dis-regard for anything but their own bottom-line interests. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is no more than a sugar frosting on a deeply cynical and manipulative mega-corporation.

Russian territorial excesses

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of news reports concerning the expedition into the Arctic by Russian scientists. Their stated aim is to prove that additional territory beneath the Arctic Sea is part of the continental shelf of Northern Russia. If they are able to prove this, then, under International Law, they will claim the right to begin mineral extractions (read: oil & natural gas) from beneath the Arctic Sea.

At the moment, no single nation has these rights, as the bed of the Arctic Sea is oceanic crust, and not continental. The BBC has the following diagram as part of their article on the subject.

In that you can see the structure the Russian are claiming to be theirs. Now take a look at the following composite satellite image from Wikipedia's article on the Arctic:

Again you can see the Lomonosov Ridge running across the center of the image, from upper right to lower left. Now take a close look (you might have to load up the original image) at the top right end of the ridge. It clearly becomes less distinct as it approaches the continental shelf of Russia, indicating that the ridge falls away to the sea-bed there. In fact the ridge stops distinctly short of the Russian continental shelf.

Hopefully, if this situation isn't clear enough from a simple shot like this, then any geological evidence from the Arctic sea-floor is going to similarly demonstrate that the only nation having even a vaguely legitimate claim upon the Arctic Sea is Denmark, via Greenland. And even that claim would be of dubious strength as it's not completely clear that the Lomonosov Ridge actually reaches the Greenland continental shelf either!

It is time that Russian stopped messing around in boats and submarines trying to claim a right to pollute the Arctic Sea, and get around to sorting out their internal problems with a premiere who's nature seems more Tzar-like by the minute. The United Nations and the international courts should be protecting the Arctic from exploitation in the same manner as the Antarctic continent is protected. These environments are far too fragile to support oil and gas extraction industries.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More on the Frozen Hell event

Now the BBC has gotten in on the event too.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hell has officially frozen over!

Marillion (the band that was the sound of my teenage years) have actually appeared and performed live on stage with Fish once again, after many years of saying it could never, ever happen. And thanks to the (dubious) miracle that is handy video-recorders, here is the footage from last night's Hobble on the Cobbles music festival in Aylesbury (UK).

Given the origins of Marillion in Aylesbury back in the early 80s, and their first single being Market Square Heroes, what could have been more appropriate for a gig in the Market Square at Aylesbury but that very same song!

Well done Mark, Steve, Ian, Pete and Fish for putting the past where it belongs; behind us!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wow! Dick Cheney once knew how to talk sense!

I can't believe I'm going to write this but, boy, Dick Cheney was actually right about Iraq.... in 1994!

Courtesy of Chris Samuel, this absolute nugget of truth has come to light.

Such prophetic words as these should be carved in the tombstone of George Bush, Jnr., and every other member of his corrupt, sycophantic and self-serving regime.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rip-off Shareware Experiment

Andy Brice has spent a little time and enlisted the aid of to investigate the scam that is bogus star-rating of shareware software on various download sites. He has managed to demonstrate that a small sub-section of shareware sites give 5-star ratings (or equivalent) to any piece of crap submitted to them, in order to drive advertising revenue.

The psychology goes something like this: I write a piece of software, of whatever quality, and submit it to the shareware sites to be published. They give it a five-star rating, and send me a congratulatory email, with a badge and snippet of cukoo-like HTML code to include on my own website. In a fit of self-congratulatory naivety I install their parasitical image and link in a prominent position on my homepage - I'm proud of my software & the rave review they gave it.

Next thing you know, people who find my software go to the shareware site generating ad impressions for them for no good reason.

Like some of the commenters on Andy's blog, I'd love to see someone repeat this experiment with a piece of virus-laden software... with the EICAR test virus, of course! I wonder how many of the bad sites (and the 'good' ones) actually bother to scan submissions?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why I play games

I write Java code for a living.

I write computer game reviews as a hobby.

I just wish I could write even half-way as eloquently as Margaret Robertson in this piece for the BBC. She has nailed so completely the reason that I play computer games: it's about testing yourself, optimising your approach, leveling up again, getting a better line through that bend, surviving one more Tetris level, and hopefully... eventually... beating the game. But even if you end up the loser more often than not, it's the buzz of trying to get there anyway!

Wikipedia Whitewashing Writers

Wired (and a number of other sources) are talking about the brilliant work by Virgil Griffith to map the editors of Wikipedia articles to the IP address of the editor, in order to find out which people, organisations and companies are white-washing wikipedia entries about themselves.

For example:

Disney User Deletes Reference to DRM Critic Doctorow

On Christmas Eve 2004, a Disney user deleted a citation on the "digital rights management" page to DRM critic Cory Doctorow along with a link to a speech he gave to Microsoft's Research Group on the subject. Later, a Disney user altered the "opponents" discussion of the entry, arguing that consumers embrace DRM: "In general, consumers knowingly enter into the arrangement where they are granted limited use of the content." 2nd diff:


BBC: George "Wanker" Bush

The BBC labels President Bush a "wanker"

Amazing! As if these naive editors thought we'd never find out.

UPDATE: Now the BBC has an article on this, but conveniently fails to mention the above case, and similar edits emerging from their own network. Hypocrites!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shocking, or just what we've always suspected?

From CNN this morning, just putting food in a MacDonald's wrapper makes children think it tastes better!

So all those advertisers can be so proud of themselves for brainwashing a generation of children into believing their marketing. Not.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Switch-over time

Right, we really are nearly there with Ubuntu now!

I have a new Ubuntu-compatible HP printer on it's way shortly, so the switch over is imminent.

As a side note, I'm not the only one. CIO has an article about John Halamka's evaluation of Windows XP, Mac OSX, SUSE Linux, Redhat/Fedora Linux, and Ubuntu Linux for Intel-based hardware - specifically mobile laptops. Actually, it's a series of three articles, but they're well worth a complete read. Most telling is that, despite a few glitches and workarounds, he's ditched XP and sticking with MacOSX for home (read: 'fun') use, and Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) for work.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Loonies strike again

Chris Samuel has pointed out that, yet again, the Monster Raving Loony Party got their election manifesto absolutely right in 2001 with regard to flood defenses and building on floodplains. There have been many occasions when, many years after the event, their manifesto has been shown to contain considerable good sense (such as the now-in-force Pet Passports in the UK).

Other examples can be found at the bottom of their history page.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Captcha to distinguish 'Bots and Human from 'Humans Smart Enough to use this Service'

I have seen plenty of Capcha's around the 'net over the last few years, but this one (in the 'Qualifying question' section) is definitely the best anti-automated subscriber trap I've ever seen. The neat thing about it is that it also distinguishes between normal humans, and 'humans that are smart enough to use the site'! In this case, it's the Quantum Random Bit Generator Service from the Rudjer Boskovic Institute in Croatia.

For some reason, they think that only people with a university degree level maths education should be able to use their random number generator. An interesting criteria in the Web 2.0 world of interacting services. Mind you, they don't even have a Java API, now or in their 'Coming soon...'. Unless that's what's meant by their cryptic 'Web Service Access' line at the bottom of the list.

And what kind of serious 21st Century, third party library expects this requirement: ' You must edit the code and change logon credentials (username, password) to be able to access the Service.' Whatever happened to property files, XML config files, environment variables and command line parameters?

Come on guys, get with the program!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Real-World Development Methodologies?

From The Server Side, Scott Berkun has written a short piece on real-world development methodologies. None of your usual XP (eXtreme Programming), RAD (Rapid Application Development), or JSP (Jackson Structured Programming), but methods like ADD (Asshole Driven Development), and four more. Read here. And more here from Tiffehr.

However, in complete contradiction to Joel Spolsky's rant this morning on the Signal-to-Noise ratio of comments in blogs, there's plenty in the comments on Scott Berkun post. I particularly recognise Das Albatross's OSD (Out of Scope Development), Broccoli's DCP (Decapitated Chicken Process), and Venkat's BTPWAL (Blame The People Worked and Left) methodologies from a place I used to work!

Monday, July 09, 2007

FBI vs. the tin-foil hat brigade

I don't know why anyone would ever think that the US government (or any other bureaucracy of significant size) could be capable of covering up the Roswell Aliens or faking the Apollo Lunar Landings when they can't even keep their own wire-tapping results secret.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cry-baby Croal?

N'Gai Croal, blogger on Level Up (Newsweek) has posted what comes across as a rather "I don't wanna share my toys" complaint about changes to the computer games market that may follow the outstanding success of the Nintendo Wii console.

His complaint is that computer games publishers will suddenly think there's more money to be made from Wii-mote waggle enabled knock-offs of old games than from the development of "lengthy, in-depth [game] experiences". At the same time, he cites games like Halo, Gears of War and Metroid Prime as examples of those "experiences".

Like N'Gai, I've been playing computer games for many years (my first computer was a Sinclair Spectrum) and I've never come across a game that actually qualifies as "lengthy" or "in-depth". Some games are backed by a story that has more to it than the game (the Myst / Riven / Exile / Revelation / Uru / End of Ages franchise springs to mind), giving rise to fictional depth. Howeve, even the Myst franchise stories are second rate fantasy fiction at best.

As far as I'm concerned, mainstream computer games (especially ones focused on missions and killing beasties) don't make use of the narrative tools to tell a truly deep story. The Prince of Persia games are beginning to show some signs of the depth required, but that's taken four whole games: Prince of Persia 3D, Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and Two Thrones. I'm not counting the first two platformers - they barely had a skeletal character motivation for the principal characters, let alone a full-blown story. The trouble is that the story is only ever played out as cut-scenes between action sequences, and the same goes for every game I can think of. (Of course I haven't played every game out there).

We can look at this in one of two ways:

a) the player's actions are just a vehicle to get from cut-scene to cut-scene; or,
b) the cut-scenes just give reward for completeing the last action sequence, and light-weight motivation for the next.

The latter view appears to be the more common, simply because that involves the player in significant parts of the experience, and so sells more games - if us gamers wanted games that are mostly the first type, then we'd go to the movies!

Back to Mr "I don't wanna share my toys" Croal: welcome to the world of the adventure gamer. Ever since Castle Wolfenstein & Doom started the descent of computer games into the murky world of 3D FPSs (first-person-shooters), the calmer, more considered, more cerebral adventure game genre has taken a hit. And yet, we still have quality, 'lengthy, in-depth' adventure games - within the limitations of my earlier comments, of course.

Thankfully, a number of publishers have continued to see the adventure genre as a revenue source, despite a generation of twitch gamers like Mr Croal. I don't expect this to change anytime soon. Nor do I expect FPS games to suddenly stop selling, or being made, just because a few grannies like to bake cakes on their Wii.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are we there yet?

Urgh! I so want to be able to switch my PC OS to Ubuntu.

I've used the live install CD, I've even made my laptop (Dell Inspiron 1300) dual boot between Ubuntu 7.04 and Windows XP. Everything works, EXCEPT I can't get it to talk to my bloomin' printer.

Okay, I guess I'm expecting alot: the printer is a Lexmark P4350 All-in-One printer/scanner/photocopier, with no official linux support from Lexmark (boo! hiss!), but there is Mac OS/X support. So this suggests that it doesn't require something proprietry to Windows.

Maybe it's just time to move to a HP printer.

Here's a few reviews and comments on Ubuntu 7.04:

After Ubuntu, Windows Looks Increasingly Bad, Increasingly Archaic, Increasingly Unfriendly,

Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn,

a critical look at ubuntu feisty beta on an hp nc8430 laptop.

It's not all completely rosy, of course, but the majority are now favouring Ubuntu as a realistic replacement for Windows. Unless you want to play mainstream PC games (like me) or expect it to support every breed of hardware available for Windows.

I guess all us Joes can do is keep on plugging on, supporting Linux wherever we can in the hopes that eventually it'll become mainstream enough for all of us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Okay, so I haven't posted in a while... have a little laugh at this in reward for sticking with me.
1. Sports Car: Mac OS X. Pretty fast, looks fancy, you think you're real cool. You paid too much, it's not that reliable. Eventually you'll just have to buy a whole new one, cause maintenance is a real bitch.

2. Party Bus: Windows XP. Kinda scary, might get viruses, but you'll have fun with silly games and plenty of porn. Might drive you to drink too much, might cause hang overs.

3. Work Truck: Debian Linux. Solid, reliable. Gets the job done. Boring. Nobody looks forward to it.

4. SUV: Windows Vista. Everybody wants it, because it looks better than your old car, but when you get it, it's slow, hard to do three point turns in, costs you way too much in gas, and doesn't do some of the stuff your old car did. You end up using your old car, and eventually put it up on Craig's List.

5. Classic Car: Ubuntu. If you keep it in fluids, it runs forever. It's fast, has clean simple lines, all of your friend's are jealous, but not brave enough to switch from their Toyota. Kinda missing some newer creature comforts like cup holders.

6. Moped: Knoppix. Saves money, time, is fast. But you can't do some things you do with your other car, like carry stuff and other people. Plus it's a little embarrassing.

7. Yugo: Windows ME. Barely drove even when brand new. Was KIND OF cute, at first, but within minutes you wished you had a different car. Any car.

8. Toyota: Windows 2000. Saves money, saves time, is pretty fast. Does most of the stuff you need it to do, and easily, but it's really not glamorous. Tons of people are still driving it, but nobody's proud. You probably still have the stock radio, which sucks, but at least it still plays music.

9. Soviet era tank : Solaris. Solid and robust; official hardware very expensive; recently had it's instruction manuals opened up to the West for all to see; antiquated steering wheel, pedals, though more instrumentation on the engine you can shake a stick at; allows you to divert power from however many engines you've put in to just about anywhere; until recently ultimately controlled by wacko dictatorial leader.

(Nicked from Slashdot article on a clueless newbie installing Ubuntu Linux, except the last one from a friend)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Menace to Science

Science is a simple discipline: you set up a hypothesis, then you test your hypothesis.

You document your assumptions, methods, results and conclusions and put them before your peers for review and, hopefully, reproduction. If your assumptions are reasonable, your methods and results reproducible, and your conclusions follow from you results, it is likely your hypothesis will be accepted as theory. Not neccessarily as fact, because that's a much harder test involving standing the test of time and real world application, but as a decent theory with something useful to say about our world.

There, how hard was that?

Now read on about 'Dr' Gillian McKeith, a frequent broadcaster on the UK's Channel 4, as reported by the Guardian newspaper. Now find me the science in her work!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Why? ... because we've always done it that way!

Unashamedly nicked from Alec:

Monkey Experiment Proves Corporate Policy Process

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a
banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a
monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As
soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with
cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the
same result, and all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.
Pretty soon the monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and
replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to
climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys
attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he
tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with
a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The
previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!
Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a
fourth, then the fifth.

Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most
of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not
permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the
beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original
monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with
cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs
to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the
way it's always been done around here.

And that, my friends, is how a company policy begins.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Moon

If you look to the right hand panel on this page, you should see a link to the Astronomy Picture of the Day - one of the places I go every day for a fix of fascinating pictures of the universe around us.

I must say, however, that today's picture is even more fascinating than usual. It shows the last 20 full moons in a mosaic (and links to a movie version too!), with all the images to the same scale. It demonstrates that the apparent size of the Moon really does change over time, as the mutual Earth-Moon orbital system varies. Actually, the mosaic takes some examination to see this effect, but movie is much clearer.

I knew that the distance between the Earth and the Moon varied, but I've never seen it presented so graphically before.

If you like this one, you should also try the one from 28th December 06 as it also shows the Moon, but to the same angular scale (size in the sky) as the Andromeda Galaxy. Normally the galaxy is much, much fainter than the Moon, so this kind of image can only be seen in composite, but I'd never realised just how large a galaxy like Andromeda is when viewed from the shared viewing platform we call the Earth.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Well, that was an interesting year. Was it really the year of Web 2.0 and 'community generated content'? (as suggested by the BBC) Or, as I would suggest, it was more a case of the media finally figuring out what has always made the Internet more interesting than just the news sites... the long tail that's been there ever since people have had their own spaces on bulletin boards, their homepages, or news group communities.

YouTube, facebook, MySpace and the rest are simply higher bandwidth, better publicised, better financed and more widely used versions of the things the Internet has thrived on since it's inception in the early seventies.

After 30 years, it's about time the conventional media finally figured this out, but you know journalists. As soon as you read a news report about something you actually know about (through expertise or personal involvement), you see countless glaring errors. Makes you wonder about the rest of the news they report!