Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas one and all ...

In the spirit of giving educational gifts that kids don't want, here is fun little quiz for all you Sci-Fi geeks like me.










Take the Sci fi sounds quiz I received 72 credits on
The Sci Fi Sounds Quiz

How much of a Sci-Fi geek are you?
Take the Sci-Fi Movie Quiz canon s5 is

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rolling ever on ...

Here are the 3 Game Average and here is the 4 Week Moving Average charts from the last couple of weeks.

Onepin is gaining on Rogue's, once thought unassailable, lead. As for myself, I take some pride in the consistency that can be seen in my 4 week moving average chart. Just need to take the next step.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blogging from my iPod ...

Loving the new iPod Touch. Does not take too long to get used to the on screen keyboard either. I have spent most of the last few days letting people in the office have a play. I think there will be a few more around there soon ;)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rolling graphs updated ...

Thanks all who turned out last Saturday, it was a lot of fun. Here's the 3 Game Average and here is the 4 Week Moving Average charts from last week, including our extra Saturday game which went well for me, shame I couldn't follow that through to last Tuesday. Maybe this Tuesday will work out better :)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pre-poker rolling scores ...

Before tonights monthly poker game here are the updated rolling scores. Here's the 3 Game Average and here is the 4 Week Moving Average charts. The charts will look a little different because I have not got MS Office on the new Mac, instead I am using the latest Beta of OpenOffice Aqua Native.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The decision is made, no iPhone for me ...

At least not the first revision anyway.

This is something that I have been thinking about ever since the original announcement. I wasn't too concern about who would get it. Even though I have been with Orange since I first got a mobile, 6 years ago, I have no particular loyalty to them, just to lazy to change. I probably could have lived without 3G, I spend far too much time and money online with my current Sony Ericsson, at horribly slow speeds, already to start worrying about such things. The fact that it is an Apple first gen product didn't worry me, although I do have concerns that it's an Apple/3rd Party first gen product (Apple being notorious at bad partnering).

No what got me in the end was the fact that it seems far too inevitable that things are going to change for the iPhone, and change fast. I really think the situation in 18 months time, when the first contacts are running out, will be extremely different to the situation now. So I'm going to wait a while longer.

Saying all that though, I really want an iPod. Now I have a decent machine, one that spends considerable time downloading podcasts and NFL match commentary, I would like to be able to listen to these on the road.

I happened by the Apple store last Thursday, and after finding a £320 accounting error in my favour (seriously), I decided to pop in and grab a Nano. My needs are fairly simple, so the size is fine, not too much video stuff to watch. All in all I thought it would be the best value thing to get.

But the buggers had the iPod Touch out on display. I tried it, ran my fingers over it's screen and fell for it completely. The only thing that stopped me walking out with one then and there was that they were out of stock. I've ordered one online, which in a happy coincidence should arrive just before my birthday.

The only thing I would truly miss from the iPhone package is the excellent free Wi-Fi access deal O2 set up with The Cloud. I spent most of Friday trying to word, in my head, a letter to The Cloud to complain that none of their partners offer a simple plan to get such a device online and that they would be missing a major opportunity if they didn't do something about this. Last night though, my prayers were answered before I had the chance to put pen to paper.

Can't wait :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Zooomer, Firefox and CoComment issue ...

If you are a Zooomr user through Firefox you should be aware that installing the CoComment plug-in seems to cause a problem with editing of photo title and GeoTagging photos. Hopefully one or the other company will sort this out soon as both are excellent services.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's alive! ...

Finally the day arrived. That day was last Thursday. That day was the day my new iMac arrived. Those that follow this blog will know that I made the switch to Mac back in 2005. That was after a brief and totally unsuccessful flirtation with Linux for the year prior to that.

My switch came in the form of an iBook G4, the cheapest Mac available at that time. I knew the rumours were flying about the move to Intel chips, but I still felt that I needed to dip my toe into the Apple world and test the waters. People who know me will tell you that I am now a complete Apple bore.

Yet it is hard to be an Apple bore when you can only show a really slow, 256Mb RAM, 3 generations old processor laptop. Frankly it's been a little embarrassing. I came close to buying a 24" iMac earlier in the year, but then certain financial constraints stopped me, and then more rumours about an iMac refresh started circling. So I waited. But now I wait no more



All I can say is "Wow!". This is such a leap in performance from my previous machine that any comparison would be meaningless, but wow all the same.

Figuring that this one should last me quite a while I went all out. It's a 2.8 GHz Core 2 Duo Extreme with 4Gb of Ram. Looking at Activity Monitor I am yet to get even close to making it have to do anything stressful.

I am also happy to report that I ave managed to get someone I work with to switch too, and it was the new iMacs that did it. She could not believe that Apple have managed to squeeze such a powerful machine into the monitor.

Right now I am finding and installing all those little apps that are so important yet you forget that they are not part of the core system; Adium, Stuffit, Wire Tap, etc. Feels like home already :)

Big apologies to the guys from my old work that were meeting up last Thursday, I had been offline for a while and didn't get the messages till late in the day and then found out I had to go pick up the Mac and well, you can understand I'm sure.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Long overdue rolling update ...

So here it is, the last 7 weeks of rolling scores updated. There's a week each in there for Onepin and I where we didn't go rolling and so were given a 120 average. Looking at them, the most interesting aspect is just how uninteresting they are. We're playing relatively consistently and to a decreasing gap of ability. This is most obvious in my 4 week moving average which has leveled out around the 123-125 region.

Hopefully this week we can all raise our averages a bit :)

3 Game Average

4 Week Moving Average

Friday, July 06, 2007

Update ...

Rolling

Here are the latest graphs from our weekly rolling sessions.

3 Game Average
4 Week Moving Average

After a great week the week before you can see that some scores dropped off again. Still, I am keeping up with Onepin which is more than could be said a few months ago.

Life

The big news is that a little while back Carly and I got engaged! Something that I know many of you (or most if not all of you) thought would never happen. We had hoped to arrange a small wedding before the end of the year, both of us would like a Christmas wedding, but finding a venue and arranging things while so much else is going on just doesn't seem to be happening. We may well have to wait till next year. Still, gives my best man plenty of time to work out a stag party and write his speech.

One of the other things going on is that we are moving flat, not far. In fact we are moving to a flat about 100 yards from my first London flat. It's somewhere a little smaller, to try to save on rent and other expenses, but most importantly it has central heating and does not have the worlds freakiest neighbours (will tell you all about them another time).

Cats

I had the week off this week, simply because I had plenty of holiday to use before the end of November and it worked well for my current project at work that I take time off around now. Carly has spent most of the week up in Birmingham for a conference. It was lucky that I was around because I came home Tuesday night from rolling to find Dylan in a terrible state. After a quick taxi ride to the 24 hour Veterinary hospital near here (another good reason not to move to far away) I was told that she had a tooth infection which had obviously got so painful for her that she had been chewing on something really hard and cracked the tooth. She was clawing at her mouth when I had got home.

She had to stay in for a couple of nights because she was put under general anesthetic for an operation to remove the tooth. I am happy to report that other than looking a little silly (they shaved her chest and right leg for heart monitor and IV drip) she is home and doing fine.

Geekness

At some point soon I will bring myself to follow up on my overly optimistic post about the (at the time upcoming) WWDC Keynote. I wasn't as let down as most people, I think for once the keynote was perfectly pitched at it's primary audience, developers. Again I enjoyed it from work, a couple of computers following the MacRumoursLive and Engadget coverage while also listening to someone's live UStream audio feed.

One thing I must comment on, the release of Safari for Windows. There are many silly people out there hoping for this to be a lead into more Apple software on Windows, or even people buying into the Steve line about gaining more market share for Safari. It's all a load of crap. There is only one reason Apple released Safari for Windows and that is because they were forced to. By making the iPhone development environment web based apps only they had to release Safari for Windows so people could test their applications. That's it, the only reason.

Speaking of the iPhone, I followed the geekiest launch queue (in Palo Alto) through Kristopher Tate and Zooomr TV's live UStream feed. Looks like much fun was had by all (including an appearance by Steve himself). Cannot wait for the iPhone to be released over here, so long as the rumours about no 3G are not true.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Another rolling update ...

As always here is the rolling update ... late (as always). Promise to do better next time :)

3 Game Average

4 Week Moving Average

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another rolling update ...

A bit quicker on the update this week. Here is the latest.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two weeks of rolling...

Sorry for the delays again, here are the rolling scores with the last two weeks added.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Rolling downhill...

As usual here is the latest rolling chart. I barely managed to keep my 3 game average above 100, throwing a horrible 88 in one game, the lowest score since records began (a whole 7 weeks ago)!

Next week will be a little bit different as it will be She-Ra's birthday so our little rolling trio will expand to a ... well whatever the right work for a group of 6 would be.

Props to Onepin who actually managed to increase his 3 game average by one point to 133, although that seems to me like that difference may lie in within the margin of error ;)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rolling update...

Here is the latest update to our rolling averages. Sorry for the delay. :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Concentric clock...

Ah, finally, a calendar/clock made up of concentric circles Polar Clock. Few would be interested in this, but you know who you are :)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

End of the new beginning...

This year's Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) is possibly going to be the most important in the history of the company. It will draw a line under 2 years of some success tempered by the big Intel shift and it will offer a fresh start for the company.

Many of you will disagree with the above statement. You might say that the move to Intel happened way ahead of schedule and lines have already been drawn under that period. Some will suggest that the fresh start came long ago with the return of Jobs or the release of the iPod. However, when the history of this time is written I believe that it will all be seen as time of rebuilding, all the way to the 11th of June, 2007. To understand this we need to first look back a couple of years.

On the 6th of June 2005, during his WWDC Keynote speech, Steve Jobs finally announced what everyone knew was coming. That Apple would be transitioning away from the PowerPC chip architecture to Intel. At the time the official line said Apple were aiming to complete this transition by the end of 2007. The first fruits of this roadmap came with the release of the Intel based MacBook Pro and iMac on the 10th of January 2006 at MacWorld Expo.

The Mini and MacBook followed, along with several updates to all the Intel based machines throughout the year. Until at the next WWDC Keynote on the 7th of August 2007 when the last of the Macs, Mac Pro and XServe, were finally released as Intel based computers. During that presentation it was highlighted several times that;

“Apple has successfully completed the transition to using Intel processors in just seven months—210 days to be exact,”

Of course this is perfectly good marketing speak, especially only starting the clock from the release of the first Intel based computer and not the first official announcement, but it doesn't tell the whole truth. If that were the case then there wouldn't have been a large group of Apple's most lucrative customers holding out until only just recently. For the whole truth we must also look at the software side of things.

During that first official announcement of the move to Intel back at WWDC '05, Steve Jobs revealed that Apple had been running OSX on Intel hardware from the beginning, benefiting from the flexibility of NextStep, OSX's ancestor. Apple obviously had the upper hand when it came to putting out software for Intel Macs. Apple's iLife and iWork software suites were released alongside the first Intel Mac hardware, as well as sundry utilities that come with OSX Tiger. Also released were two key technologies, Rosetta and Universal Binaries, which would be the key to ensuring a swift and successful transition.

Rosetta emulates the old PowerPC architecture, allowing software that has not yet been updated to run on new Intel based Macs. This ensured that the new machines had plenty of software to run on them, removing that as a barrier to ourchase. The only issue is (as with any emulation layer) the software run on Rosetta runs slowly. The faster Intel chips helped to lessen the impact of this, but it has remained an issue ever since. Still, Rosetta has, and will remain for some time to come, a key part of the transition strategy.

The idea behind Universal Binaries is that developers can very easily create a single version of an application that will run on both PowerPC and Intel based Macs. Most of the code in an application can happily be shared between the two platforms and the Universal Binary format takes care of managing the small amount of code that is specific to one platform or the other. This technology enabled developers to easily port their applications to the new machines whilst not alienating the vast majority of users who were still using PowerPC based machines.

The Apple third party Universal Applications list now counts over 6000 applications, so this must have been a success. Indeed, small and open source developers had Universal Binaries of their applications out within weeks. But it was always going to be the big developers, with the star attraction applications, that would take longest to migrate. Apple again used their advantage and showed the way with the early release of Final Cut Studio as a Universal Binary on the 30th of March 2006. Quark too joined the fray early with the release of version 7 on the 7th of August 2006. But to many of Apple's key customers, these were not the applications they were looking for, what these people wanted, and would hold out for, was Adobe's Creative Suit and Microsoft Office.

For both of these companies the transition to Intel based Macs could not have come at a worse time. Microsoft was battling to get Windows Vista and the accompanying version of Windows Office out of the door as quickly as possible. They were never going to sort out a Mac version of Office before this happened.

Things at Adobe were even worse. Their key application Photoshop is probably one of the most complex, non operating system, code bases around. With many platform specific optimisations it was going to be a hard job to re-code. On top of that add in the rest of Creative Suite and then on top of all that they merged with Macromedia, taking most of their products into Creative Suite as well.

The key Apple customers I keep talking about are the business customers, especially in the creative world. These people would not, and could not, upgrade to Intel based Macs until there was a top end machine (enter the Mac Pro) and at least Adobe CS. MS Office was a little less of an issue as the previous version runs okay under Rosetta emulation, but Photoshop does not. In almost every article even mentioning Rosetta or Intel Macs, the Photoshop issue was always raise. In fact you will be hard pushed to find a review of an Intel Mac (beside the Mini) which does not talk about Photoshop and the fact that if it is important to you, you should wait for a Universal Binary version.

Finally on the 27th of March 2007 Adobe released Creative Suite 3, including Universal Binaries for Mac. Not only was this good news in the form of their existence, but CS3 is a watershed release for Adobe, and therefore Apple. The inclusion of Macromedia's software portfolio, tightly integrated with the traditional CS tools, makes the whole far more powerful. But beyond that this release sees something quite unexpected, a Video Production suite including the return of Adobe Premier to the Mac. This is a massive vote of confidence in the future of the Mac platform and adds competition and variety which can only benefit users.

Microsoft Mac Office 2008 is not far away now too, almost a slam dunk for the Intel transition. This is why I suggested that the June WWDC this year will be such a turning point for Apple, because they can put all of this behind them. No longer will every review of new hardware talk about the lack of Photoshop or Word in native code. Finally everyone can look to the future of Apple, the fact that they run on Intel will no longer be worth mentioning. What better timing than this to release Leopard to the world, and have that be every one's focus, without any distractions.

From the 11th of June 2007 Leopard will be the story, if people want to bring Photoshop into it, it might be to wonder when Adobe will release a 64bit version to match Leopard's top to tail 64bit software stack. Soon after we should begin to see radically new Mac hardware. No need to hide an Intel chip in PowerPC clothing now. The June WWDC Keynote is going to be big, very big, and I am very jealous of anyone who gets to go. I will be here in good old Blighty reading the live blog feeds from MacRumors, Engadget and TUAW whilst history unfolds.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back again...

It's been almost 2 months since I last posted, and boy have I been getting flak for that. Fair enough I suppose, I had restarted the blog last Christmas with the intention that I would post regularly and without fail. However life doesn't always move the way you intend it and various things got in the way. But enough of this despondent and utterly useless apology. You don't care about my problems and excuses, you want more content.

Let's start with what I have been up to since we last met.

Rolling ever onwards

Finally the boys and I got our own personal bowling balls, only about 2 years after we said we should. On the day this involved a trip out to Guildford to see Woody, of Woody's Pro Shop. This is the first time I have been out to Guildford since my regular visits, of years past, to a client on the project of whom we dare not speak. The project from Hell took me out there many times (far too many) and so Guildford took on a somewhat desolate tarnish in my mind, which could not be further from the truth. Whilst yes, it is the epitome of out of London life, and reminded me a frightening amount of Stafford, it does seem to be a nice place.

After a pleasant train ride, during which we amused ourselves by having to convince Onepin that he does in fact roll with the same fingers in the ball as everyone else, we navigated our way through Guildford centre out to a leisure complex on the edge of town. Deep, deep down in the basement, technically in what would normally be a storage space in the basement, we found Woody (and who I assume was his wife).

None of us have ever bought a bowling ball before, and unless you have you cannot begin to imagine just how technical a process it is. It took Woody about an hour to measure us all up, using a device that would not be out of place in Darth Vader's gimp room. Everything is taken into account, length of fingers, size of fingers, curve of fingers (in start position and during release) even down to the adjustments for some one's oval thumb.

After an hour and a half of drinking and laughing at people falling over on the ice-rink we returned to pick up our balls(! insert sound that only She-Ra can spell). Having a ball drilled to your exact measurements is a world away from the house balls that you would normally use. I find it hard to believe that we ever managed to play without these. Apparently, so Woody taught us, a correctly drilled ball will naturally grip your thumb when you pick up the ball. You should not be gripping the ball yourself, which is why house balls will cause your hand to ache eventually. Then when you swing the ball, with your thumb at the top, it should naturally slip out, with your fingers following slightly later to give the ball some top spin.

At least that's the theory.

It's such a different way of bowling that in the beginning the new balls are hindering more than helping, but we all feel that we can get more consistency with these, eventually.

Which is a really shame because a couple of weeks before getting the new ball I beat my previous personal best of 165 by rolling a 197, then the following week Onepin broke 200 with a 225. I am now the only one of us never to have past the magical 200. Won't be for a while yet though.

Delayed gratification

It was recently bonus time at work, a time I was looking forward to it having missed out last year because I had not been with the company for long. Very pleased with what I got, obviously a mistake somewhere, even my line manager said so. Right to my face!

This was the time I was waiting for to finally pay off some debts (more on that later) and buy the new iMac I had been wanting for so long. Unfortunately about a week before the bonus was paid the rumours started circling about a complete redesign of the iMac range, probably in time to coincide with the expected June release of OSX - Leopard.

When I bought my iBook some people thought I was quite mad, with the knowledge that Apple would switch Macs to Intel very soon and therefore refresh the whole line. My reasoning at the time was that there was no way to know when the iBook would be refreshed, could have the been the last machine to be done, and I was doing this as an exercise to try out Mac working, not knowing if it would be something I would like. I have never regretted the purchase, but for sometime I have wanted to make that inevitable upgrade. Various other expenses pushed it back, then I chose to wait for my bonus.

Now I guess I will have to wait till June, or whenever, because I really want to come in at the start of a product cycle this time. I want this machine to last for quite a while.

Livin' it up with Mickey and the gang

The debt that I talked about earlier stemmed from a trip to Disneyland Paris (as Euro Disney is now called). We took my girlfriend's niece and nephew, although really it was all about me and the big rides. I did have my doubts about going though. While I have been to Alton Towers and the like many times this was the first time I was going to such a complete experience, a proper theme park. You know, one with an actual theme. I haven't got a clue what the theme of Alton Towers is, anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

But all my fears were laid to rest, it's a wonderful experience that I won't bore you to death with now. But if you are considering it my recommendation is to go.

And the rest

Not too much else to report. Had a massive flood at home. Went to a Kevin Smith Q&A. Lost out big time to Pegleg at poker. Spent a lazy Easter weekend watching TV and films while my girlfriend had to work up North. Surviving my current project at work.

I cannot promise that I will immediately get back to full posting rate, but I don't plan on leaving you in the dark for so long this time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Whoop, whoop. It's the sound of the Fuzz...

It is hard to believe that Spaced only lasted for 2 short seasons (1999-2001), it so completely captured the feelings of the period towards popular culture that it still remains a reference in its own right.

Even more hard to believe is that we had to wait until 2004's Shaun of the Dead to see the team of Wright, Pegg, Frost and friends reunited. Made for a mere $4 million its very British sense of humour managed to gross well in excess of 5 times that amount in the US and UK alone. Also a major hit on DVD we were guaranteed a follow up.

After toying with a direct sequel to Shaun the team instead went for lampooning their other favorite genre of action flicks.

I will admit that when I first heard about Hot Fuzz I wasn't completely sold on the idea. The best I could imagine would be a film version of the Bill with slightly knowing winks at the audience, but then I had faith in the dream team of Brit big screen comedy and so I, along with many, waited.

Ignoring the joke of releasing a film like this on Valentines day, the humour and parody kick in almost immediately with a wink to Infernal Affairs, or should that be The Departed (slight aside, is it just me or is it most indicative of the current state of films that a remake of a 5 year old film gets nominated for 5 Oscars!).

All the way through the jokes are well crafted, with many of them relying on the impeccable comic timing of the players. The players which represent a who's who of British comedy (I'm sure it wasn't a lack of talent that required one person to take on 2 roles) and all play their parts wonderfully. Even better is to see Ewar Woowoo on the big screen, thinking that to myself gave me a laugh out loud moment which no one else in the packed cinema seemed to understand.

The film neatly breaks down into two distinct parts. The first 3/4 is all setup, introducing main characters and numerous support roles, as well as the mystery to be solved. Then you get an almost completely different film for the last 1/4 which I am sure you can guess is the major action set piece. A formula pulled right from the action film play book that Michael Bay takes to bed each night (okay he misplaced it while making Pearl Harbour and The Island).

Frost and Pegg are suitably well paired again, but it is interesting to see that they can play a subtly different dynamic, at least for a while. There is a moment on a sofa where I really thought the duo would manage to show us something other than Tim and Mike, but alas it was not to be. Still I would much rather watch 2 hours of Tim and Mike than most of what else was on offer on the other screens that night.

It is easy to sum up Hot Fuzz, if you liked Shaun or Spaced then you will love this, if you didn't you won't. Where the team of Wright/Pegg/Frost go next is any one's guess, I just hope that it is something a little different, but just as good as where they have been before.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Follow up ...

Back at the top of the year I wrote an article on the growing popularity over the past few years for TV shows that play with the conventional use of time (Playing with time ...). It prompted a nice discussion in the comments with Tom suggesting reading "Everything Bad is Good For You" by Steven Johnston.

Just a week after posting that article I ended up being pointed towards “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television” by Jason Mittell. This essay is the answer that I was so desperately trying to grasp at in that article. It's not that long and totally worth the read if you are at all interested in why TV shows are being written the way that they are today.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Web Scale Applications ...

The other night I met up with some of the people I used to work with in my previous job. For all its faults that job had one highlight and that was the people that I worked with. It was great to catch up with so many of them and swap many stories of the places that we all now worked.

Amongst the many non-geeky conversations that were had that night there were of course many very geeky ones, one of them was a great discussion of Web Scale Applications. In case that term is completely unfamiliar to you let me explain a little. When you are working at your computer and you use an application like Outlook to check your e-mail, offline, the application is running locally, just on your computer. The programmers who wrote that program could predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy the amount of work that it would be expected to do. They knew, for example, that there would only be one person using it at a time, they could analyse the way people use e-mail and come up with a usable set of figures to suggest how many e-mails people would have listed on screen at any one time. By understanding the expected workload the programmers can write code that works best at that level.

When you check your e-mail at work, whilst you are probably still using Outlook on your local machine, however it will also be connecting to an e-mail server. This will be supporting all the users within the company which could be 10, or a few hundred or several thousand. This unknown puts a little more stress on the developer as they have to code to a much bigger window of expected performance. Such software is said to be Enterprise grade (assuming that it works properly). There is hope for our poor developer though, as it is not unreasonable to state maximum acceptable performance for such software, for example stating that it will only support up to 2000 users and that after that point the company must have a second server to cope.

The classic example of Web Scale Applications is online web mail, e.g. Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, GMail etc. These applications have to support a completely unknown level of usage, the maximum of which could be everyone on the Internet, a figure that grows by the minute.

There is little in the way of standard practice when producing a Web Scale Application, it is quite a new field and something very hard to test in a lab. So whatever is out there about this type of work is of great interest to geeks like us. I mentioned a few articles I knew on the subject to people the other night and promised that I would post links to them here, so here they are;


The are all fascinating accounts of how people approached some of the web scale issues in very different ways. There still needs to be a lot more work on all of this in general, but then it is not something that is easy to assess.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wishing on a star ...

Addicted though I am to almost all types of TV and film, Sci-Fi always has been and probably always will be my first love. Undoubtedly that is to do with my technical bent, but must also be the wide open opportunities the genre provides for new stories, allegorical commentary on contemporary or historical situations or visions of potentially better, or worse, futures.

When the day finally comes that I find the perfect solution for indexing and categorising my DVD collection I will surely find that the largest percentage of it is taken up with Sci-Fi. On the occasions that I am looking for something to just throw in the DVD player and enjoy it is Sci-Fi that I turn to most often. Like over the weekend when I had time in the flat to myself, always an opportunity to watch something with the volume cranked right up. What better to enjoy at ear drum splitting volumes than a good old fashioned Sci-Fi romp. Why is it then that I am always disappointed? Why is it that I stand and stare, searching the collection for almost an hour, never satisfied with a choice as my eyes hover on any particular title?

As I scan the spines of my collection, as my sight rests on each box, the whole story of that show or movie flits through my mind. Like a flick book going at a thousand frames a second. In that moment I will decide no and move on through the collection. Arriving at the end I will usually start looking at random points on the self, thinking that there must be something that I have missed, that I have forgotten that I own. Some perfect piece of Sci-Fi that will satisfy my desires.

Those desires are for the two things that I want most from Sci-Fi on screen. I would settle, and mostly do have to, for one of those things done well, but I still burn for something that does both perfectly. What is it that I want? I want space opera, involved and emotional character driven plotting, and I want massive and intricate space battles that go on and on.

There's plenty in Sci-Fi, and my collection, that offer one or the other done well, some offer both to near perfect levels, but none of this satisfies me. Star Trek, in all incarnations, is weak on both points (yet it is of my childhood and wonderful in so many ways that I forgive and love it). Some standout episodes come close, especially in the two-parters (Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast spring instantly to mind).

Star Wars, through all its episodes, would in an early, more innocent age, have provided all that I want. But now it all seems too simple, the operatic story to small and the battles to short and without depth. The opening space battle to Episode 3 would be a winner, but the comic stylings of Obi-Wan and Anakin left me caring little for them by that point in the saga.

Battlestar Galactica shows promise, and is fresh in my mind having just watched the latest season 3 episode, but the space battles are too fast cut, to confined to a single aspect, to small conflicts. Can it ever reach the heights that I would like with such a small fleet on one side or will some maguffin always allow for an out for Adama, Thrace and the others.

The list goes on and on. Babylon 5, high on the operatic scale and moments of battle wonder but not enough. Alien/s/3/resurection, great films (each in their own way) but low on the 2 axis that I required. The Fifth Element, some literal opera but little else for me.

To me space opera should involve stories with galaxy spanning impact, fate of the race stuff played out in the relationships of great characters. Near to pure good versus evil stuff. Characters I truly love, characters I truly hate. Heroism that could end in destruction. I want to care, want to sit on the edge of my seat with worry and then leap up in celebration, or collapse with sadness. That's what I want the story to do for me, I want to feel it in my throat.

While the above could be offered by any genre, and is in wonderful ways, my other requirement can only be provided by Sci-Fi. When I talk about "massive and intricate space battles that go on and on" what I want is a scale that is almost unbelievable. I want a whole hour of a space battle, that we have been brought to through the operatic story that I described before. But I don't just want to see explosion after explosion, lasers flashing all over the place. I want every moment of the battle to have meaning. Each bank of a ship, each impact to have resonance to the story. To see the battle from many perspectives, each one that I have cause to want to see. But not the Bay style flash cutting between them, more standard story based editing, moving from one strand of the battle to another in a directed way.

All I ask is for just one film, one episode of a series to embody the perfection of these two things and I will be happy to watch it again and again and again. Never more to complain that there's nothing to put on during those times I want the experience to flow over me. If I could have only one selfish wish this would be it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Work to be done ...

After a period of having little to do at work things are finally picking up which is good. I was getting very bored. Just a quick post to check in with you all. More tomorrow (technically today, but life gets very complicated if you start thinking that way), looking like it will be a rant on sci-fi ...

Monday, January 29, 2007

TV DVD collection update ...

The better half has been working hard over the weekend so I have had some time to myself to sit back, relax and enjoy my DVD collection. Pulling random titles from the shelf to enjoy specific episodes of shows or films I have not seen in a long time. This is a little unusual for me, normally I don't like watching odd episodes of things, preferring instead to watch complete seasons or whole series straight over a few days/weeks.

I am very happy with my TV collection, the film side of it needs much more work though. When I first started my DVD collection I always used to buy movies in pairs, one modern and one classic, which is a practice I should return to.

Last year was the big push for the TV side of the collection. I was on a project up in Leeds, in a hotel 5 days a week I would get through a complete season of something each week. In that time I got through;

  • X-Files (all 9 seasons)
  • Lone Gunmen (1 season)
  • Harsh Realm (1 season)
  • Dawson's Creek (6 seasons)
  • Stargate: Atlantis (1 season)
  • Dark Angel (2 seasons)
  • The 4400 (2 seasons)
  • The Dead Zone (2 seasons)
  • Lost (1 season)
  • Battlestar Galactica (mini-series and 2 seasons)

That was all on top of the weekly DVDs that were burnt on a Sunday of the previous weeks TV recording from Sky+. Looking back it is scary just how much cash I went through on these things, but they kept me going while I was away from home or on long train journeys. It also got me up to date on a lot of the shows that I wanted to collect, especially back catalogue stuff. Now I am mostly waiting for current shows to be released, the only back catalogue stuff I still have to catch up on is Star Trek (currently only half of DS9, some from the previous release of TOS which need to be replaced and no Voyager or Enterprise).

The next sets due to arrive are Stargate: Atlantis season 2 and Dead Zone season 3 on top of the Tremors 1-4 boxed set. Then it's just waiting for current series to roll around to releasing this years seasons. Perhaps the gap will allow me to catch up on some film buying.

How about you and the wonderful world of TV DVD? What are you in the middle of collecting? What are you happy to have completed? What do you want to start collecting?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Holocaust Memorial Day ...

Yesterday in the UK it was Holocaust Memorial Day, recognised internationally by the United Nations as International Holocaust Memorial Day. The 27th of January was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, seen as a powerful symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Today the National Commemoration for Holocaust Memorial Day is being held in Newcastle. Please take the few moments required to pause and think about the meaning of this. You could take that time to watch the following video (produced by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust), which is in two parts.







Saturday, January 27, 2007

Repetitive dialog injury ...

I found this video on YouTube the other day and just have to share it with you. Many characters in TV and film have signature lines or styles of line, just think about the many Arnie-isms you have heard, and that's across lots of different films.

These things are mostly fun for the audience, they are familiar and as such put a wry smile on your face, even when the lines themselves aren't that good. As a writer what you really wouldn't want is someone splicing together lots of them in sequence, thus highlighting how repetitive and stupid they can be.

My heart goes out to the writers of CSI: Miami. The series isn't that great, but no one deserves this. However big props to stewmurray47 for putting this together, very funny. (this requires sound so maybe wait till you get home after work)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nothing to say ...

Since I started writing to the blog again I have made a serious attempt to blog something everyday. Not just any old mindless crap, but something that I have thought about for more than 30 seconds at least. It was obvious that I would not be able to post something everyday, I had no illusions about that, but by posting twice on occasion I have managed to keep up my average and hopefully the quality as well.

When I write a post it is either directly into Blogger's new post editor, for quick posts where I probably won't want to break from writing till I am done, or using Google Docs, for times when I know that I am going to be writing in sections over sometime. This is one of those times where I am writing straight into Blogger.

There have not been many days so far where I am stuck for something to write about. I am always thinking about articles I could do or even better series of articles (inspiration is easier when it's on an established theme). A couple of lunch times a week I will go and sit in Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road with my notebook blocking out things to write about. Other days I will be stuck with nothing to write about until late in the day, or night, when something will pop into my head.

Today there is nothing. I have quite a few articles in note form, lots of ideas and a couple of articles part written. But nothing that I could finish tonight. So instead I offer you this post about how I have nothing to write. Too late to re-read so mistakes a-go-go I am sure.

Time to dream ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Holy crap, there's another Fanning out there ...

I have just finished watching the first episode of The Lost Room, the new mini-series staring Perter Krause (of Six Feet Under and Sports Night fame) along side Kevin Pollak and Nurse Hathaway ... sorry Julianna Margulies.

The series has a fantastic premise, the setup and pilot as a whole was brilliant. Well paced, looking amazing, good characters all around and not too shabby dialog. What more could you ask for.

Well I would have liked a bit more warning before someone springs one of the children of the corn on me, or as they are better known, the sisters Fanning. I didn't even know there was another one.

In case you are not following a word I am talking about, I should explain. You will have seen elder sister Dakota (all of 13), and believe me you will have seen her. She has had more of a film and TV career than many a seasoned pro. She always plays the cute and innocent daughter of the family in trouble, unfortunately she has the manner and facial expressions of someone about 4 times her age. This worked wonderfully in the Steven Spielberg produced Taken, where she was part alien and meant to be like that, but in other things it's just a little creepy.

Well I can now report that younger sister Elle Fanning is exactly the same. Consider yourselves warned should you watch The Lost Room, which you should cause it was ace.

Do not adjust your TV, the transfer to widescreen is almost complete ...

The transfer to widescreen TV has been taking place over many years. During this period different stations have taken different approaches. Many still only broadcast in square (4:3 ratio), TV in the UK has been moving toward widescreen for quite some time. During this transitionalletterboxing more and more of their material as it becomes available only in widescreen. Some, like the BBC have moved entirely to widescreen (16:9 ratio), or at least that is how it may have seemed.

So as not to anger the many square telly owners that have still been out there the BBC has taken many steps to ensure that these people can still enjoy the content that is shown. While everything may be shot in widescreen, camera staff and directors are made very aware of what square telly owners will be able to see and therefore frame the action appropriately.

Terrestrial BBC signals have actually been broadcast in a 14:9 compromise ratio as well, to ease the transition, getting people used to black borders.

On the BBC family of channels this transition to widescreen is most obvious on News24. Aggregating content from many news agencies from around the world, black borders can often be seen down the sides of pre-recorded material showing a compromised, not quite full, zoom. Also, and the point of this post, the constant graphics along the bottom of the screen have been very carefully arranged to meet the needs different viewers.

The graphics have long shown a clock, a BBC News24 ident and scrolling headlines. These have, till yesterday, been carefully positioned so that people with square tellies in 4:3 Zoom mode would not miss anything. This compromise has meant the graphics have not used the full width of the screen and have therefore had to take up more vertical space. The industry standard for such things, amongst all the other 4:3 ratio news channels, is to run the headlines straight across the bottom of the screen leaving as much vertical space as possible. In widescreen vertical space is at a premium.

As of yesterday all this has changed and BBC News24 (during a wider technical switch to online graphics provided by Vizrt technology) has changed to a single strip of graphics and headlines all the way across the bottom of the screen.



I think that this shows a general shift to a complete 16:9 ratio widescreen environment across the BBC. This makes total sense. They have managed the transition to I think this signals the beginning of a strong move to a more pure 16:9 widescreenwidescreen very well, but the time has come to look forward to a High Definition future, no matter that that may be many years off, in which widescreen will be the only ratio available.

While it will be some time still to come, I cannot wait for the day when I do not have to obsessively change the way the TV is shaped or sit and stew when someone else does not have it set right. I am sure many people that know me will be equally as glad.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jack is back ...

... and he is da shit.

Or as ComicBookApe texted me at 8:56pm tonight;

"What time is it? It's motherfuckin' Bauer time!"

Only one downside to this season so far ... the 6:00am start is going to kill us at next years 24x24.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Remembering DVD: Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery ...

In September 1998 I was living and working in Munich as the 3rd year of my degree. It was the very beginning of DVD as a real consumer technology, outside research labs at the big tech companies. Recently launched in the US and right in the middle of the European launch. For a consumer tech geek like myself it was an exciting time. The work that I was involved in was not hard or complicated, like they would trust a student with anything like that, so I spent a lot of my time reading websites in the fledgling online DVD community. Some of these website still exist (DVDFile, DVD Review, The Digital Bits ) some unfortunately do not (DVD Resource).

Reading these sites I dreamed of owning a DVD player, starting a collection. At that point my height of home cinema achievement was to have a Nicam Stereo VCR hooked up to my Hi-Fi (all of which actually lived back in England). To keep myself going in Munich I had bought a new Hi-Fi (radio, twin tape and 3 CD changer) which would also handle Dolby Pro-Logic Surround playback, but without a TV, video or DVD player all I could do was listen to some soundtrack CDs that had surround sound encoded in them.

Living in Munich was wonderful. It is an amazing city. Biko came over a couple of times to visit and had a great time, and I keep saying that one day I would love to take She-Ra there and show him the places I would go to. I made many friends from the people I met out there. One really good friend was Simon. He was in his late 30's (I'm guessing, and I am crap at that so apologies if he ever reads this and I am wrong about it), he worked at the same company I was working at. He'd lived in Munich for years, mostly in a fantastic bachelor pad. He lived in a top floor corner flat just on the river near the Museum and Imax cinema. This corner flat enjoyed a bedroom that was in the top of a corner turret with a wood beamed rafters over it. It was a great flat, but Simon was giving it up to move in with his fiance.

Simon and I would meet a couple of times a day for coffee, mid way between our respective offices. I wasn't busy and his project was on hold for a while as the client was running acceptance tests on the most recent deliverable, so we had the time to kill. Our legendary coffee breaks would last almost an hour (remember there were a couple each day). Obviously during these breaks we would chat about many things, but me being me the conversation would often turn to the DVD players I would like to get, or the DVDs I would like to own. We both love comedy films and talked a lot about Austin Powers 2, which was rumoured to be in the works at that time. It was only while I was in Munich that I first saw Austin Powers on a rental video at a fellow students flat.

Before Simon and his fiance could move into their new place it needed some serious painting and decorating, and the good friend that I am I offered to help. I am not the most practical person in the world, but I can paint a wall. So a few weekends of help later the place was ready to go. I also helped with the move, shifting stuff out of old flats and into the new one. All of this was actually a lot of fun, and Simon was a friend so obviously I didn't mind helping in the least.

About a week after the big move Simon and I were meeting for one of our coffee breaks when he gave me a present. It was a thank you for the help. A really wonderful gesture from most people, but Simon has a little bit of an evil streak in him so things were not all that simple. The gift was a Region 1 import of the Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery DVD, and I didn't even own a DVD player! ... yet.

He knew what I would do, I swear to you now that he knew what I would do. I am sure that you know what I did. Of course I did, I knocked off of work at 5:30pm, grabbed a friend and went to Saturn (a large electronics chain in Germany) and bought a TV and my first DVD player. The Panasonic DVD A350. By 6:30pm, after a short cab ride home, I was watching my first DVD, hearing it in Pro-Logic surround.

I was up most of the night, watching the film, the film with commentary and all the special features. What a revelation it all was. In one way I was very lucky, as Austin Powers was one of the best of the early DVDs. While Contact will always claim the crown of the first Special Edition DVD, this wasn't far behind. An excellent screen-specific commentary from director Jay Roach and star/writer Mike Meyers as well as 6 deleted scenes. Not much by today's standards but considering the time absolutely brilliant.

Looking back now it is amusing to note the other special features trumpeted on the cover; Star Highlights (clips from other films the stars have been in), Special cameo menu (audio clips from the film over the "full motion" menu!), trailer and cast biographies (thank God these went the way of the dinosaurs as a claimable special feature). Another downside is the horrible Warner specific "Snapper" case, those cardboard cases with the cover art printed directly onto them so if you damage it in any way there's no replacing the case. Finally I was shocked to discover that all of Christian Slater's scenes had been removed from this copy, later discovering that those scenes had never appeared in any US version (theatrical or home release).

So that was the story of my first DVD, something I always think about when I see it on the shelf. To me now the New Line musical stab that they only sometimes use before films will always simply make me think of DVD in general (something ingrained in me partly because my second DVD also had it at the start). Austin Powers is a fun film, it always makes me laugh, and while many would not consider it a stand out film, to me it is a stand out DVD in my collection simply because it was the first. There are many more standouts in my collection, each with their own (personal to me) story behind them and I hope to tell you about some of them soon. In the meantime please tell me about the story, or not, behind your first DVD.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Site update ...

Just a quick post to let you know that I have updated the site template so that the Latest Good Reads ... section is much better than the default one that Blogger provides. Even when I am not updating the site with new content there's always something interesting to read in that section. It has its own feed you can subscribe to and there is a separate web page (the link behind the title of the section) to see the complete archive of Good Reads. Enjoy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Things are never where you want them ...

Thank you all for the messages wishing me a speedy recovery, not that I was near deaths door or anything, but much appreciated. I have mostly spent the last 3 days sleeping, which is what I seem to do whenever I am ill. Perhaps it is just a way of recovering from the fact that I don't sleep much the rest of the time. Who knows.

In between naps I have taken advantage of Sky Box Office and caught up on some films that I missing in the cinema. Yesterday I watched The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (so should have been called Three Fast, Three Furious), which was crap (although that is my favorite genre of films). Great cameo towards the end, and strange to see the creepy kid from American Gothic all growed up. He's still got that annoying drawl though.

Also yesterday finally saw X-Men 3. Enjoyable, but like all the X-Men films I found it left me expecting more. Not a disappointment, but still not quite what I hoped for. Seems to be the way with all of the superhero films of the past few years. I really enjoyed the new Batman, but looking back still felt there was something that stopped it from being a great superhero film. Even more so with Superman Returns and let's not even start talking about Hellboy!

Yesterday I also caught the latest Transformers trailer, as recommended to me by She-Ra and Biko. Looking very good, and so glad to see that they have got the original voice of Optimus Prime back again, who was also the voice of K.A.R.R. (K.I.T.T.'s evil predecessor, see here) obviously of great excitement to me as according to certain friends I look like Michael Knight's evil twin.

Today was much better film watching, with Inside Man. I love a good heist film and this was a very good one. Despite some very heavy handed comments on race-relations, to be expected from Spike Lee, I really enjoyed it. Well worth a watch if you have not had the chance. It was one of those films that really made me wish I had the DVD so I could see more about it.

One of the other things that I did while I wasn't feeling too well was play Sky's CTU Agent online game. A link to the site and a passcode was displayed at the end of a 24 trailer on Sky One. When you get to the site you enter your name and mobile number and the you are logged into the CTU mainframe. On there is the usual fluff (download the ringtone, look at profiles of the bad guys from previous seasons). Then out of the blue you get a phone call, and a scrambled voice tells you to stay alert, expect orders from Jack and watch your back. Cool. Then come a series of text messages sending you to other sites in the web and codes to get into them, until finally you crack into the Chinese Embassy site where you get to watch the 8 minute preview for Day 6.

Okay, it was all a bit hokey, but it held together well and was a very welcome diversion for someone not feeling very well.

Thanks again for putting up with my absence, especially to those who added to the things to watch post.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

While I am out ...

Perhaps you could all contribute to something; a list of TV shows on now, or about to be, that are worth watching. Here's what I am currently hooked on, add your own through the comments.

  • 24 (starts on Sunday on Sky One @ 9pm with a double bill, in fact double bill for 3 weeks)
  • Prison Break (Mondays on five @ 10pm)
  • Battlestar Galactica (Tuesdays on Sky One @ 9pm)
  • e.r. (Thursdays on E4 @ 9pm)
  • Greys Anatomy (Thursdays on LivingTV @ 10pm)
  • Heroes (starting Saturday 19th Feb on Sci-Fi @ 10pm)
  • Ugly Betty (Fridays on Channel 4 @ 9:30pm)
  • The OC (final season on Tuesdays on E4 at 9pm)
  • Shameless (Tuesdays on Channel 4 @ 10pm)
Please add your suggestions, leaving day, channel and time to help everyone.

Tupper's Self-Referential Formula ...

Normally a link like this would be a mild curiosity and therefore kept to the Good Reads section of the site, but this simply freaked me out too much. This is a formula that when plotted draws itself!

Tupper's Self-Referential Formula -- from Wolfram MathWorld

Sorry for the lack of updates, but I have been off work (all forms) due to not feeling well, but this link couldn't wait. Will be back as soon as I feel better.

Monday, January 15, 2007

18 months with a Mac ...

It is now 18 months since I bought an Apple Mac , a 12" iBook to be precise. At the time it had been a little under a year since making the move to Linux, but that had not turned out how I had hoped. No regrets though, despite the investment in a new PC and a copy of Suse, I am still glad that I gave it a go so that I know that Linux isn't the desktop OS for me.

Looking back on that period it was definitely more of a move "from Microsoft" than towards anything specific at first, and I had long held reservations about Apple and their OS, actually OS 9 and before. The ideals of Open Source attracted me, but in the end the pain of managing my computer more than using it just proved too much, and through all my learning of Linux I kept coming across people saying wonderful things about Apple.

In June of 2005 I caved, and on a bit of a whim one evening after work I went to the Apple Store in Regents Street and plunked down the cash. Not too much though, this was an exercise in toe dipping after all. So I went for the most basic, and therefore cheap, model I could. The 12" iBook, with no extras.

In some ways it was the perfect decision. It is still the only laptop I have ever owned (not counting the one my current work make me lug around), and being the 12" model it is suitably tiny. It now sits in the lounge, somewhere near the sofa, in sleep mode so that when I want to get online I simply reach down to grab it and flip open the lid. Immediately it wakes up and connects to the wireless network and is ready to go, something that I still find fascinating coming from the sleep-mode-hobbled Windows world.

The one thing that I would have done differently, given the chance, would have been to add a little more memory when getting it. 256MB is simply not enough for me, too many apps open at any one time. But now it never quite seems worth adding more because this machine should be relegated to simple browsing once I finally get a new iMac.

Ah yes, the iMac. As you can see I am now completely sold on Apple Macs. Toes have been sufficiently dipped and the waters found to be lovely. Much as I would like to own a super-duper Mac Pro with 32" CinemaHD monitors there is no way I could ever afford such a luxury. For a time this was the cause of some dilemma for me as the original Intel iMac just did not seem like enough. Dutifully Apple read my mind and released the wonderful 24" iMac which nicely occupies the middle ground between the base iMacs and the Mac Pro machines. My purchase is now only on hold for bonus time, the inclusion of Leopard and any possible announcements of new hardware in the coming weeks/months.

My conversion is very much complete, I know this because I find myself being a Mac evangelist to everyone who engages me in any form of computer related discussion, much to the annoyance of my co-workers. This did not start as a conscious thing either, I just found myself espousing the wonders of Mac again and again. Not the rabid, foaming at the mouth faithful, sort of rant that some people do, just simply recounting anecdotes of how much easier my dealings are with my Mac above any PC I have ever owned (and there have been quite a few).

I think part of this sense of a need to convert others comes from being in a minority. The innate understanding in the human mind, the animal instinct, that safety comes from numbers and that by converting more people to Macs we will ensure that they continue. That more users means more and better software that again pushes the hardware that again attracts more users. It is exciting to be involved in something near the start of this virtuous circle. At least I hope that is where we are at.

Looking back it is hard to believe that it has only been 18 months. In that time I can say I have only begun to appreciate the change. There are far more changes to come for my relationship with Macs. I am already behind the curve (in fact two curves) by having a G4 powered Mac. The move to an Intel powered iMac will be a major change in power, performance and therefore experience. By the time I do get an iMac it will probably be delivered with, or shortly have loaded on it, OS X Leopard, a change I cannot yet fully comprehend given how little we know about it. All in all I think the next 18 months will be even more exciting and fun. I will, of course, keep you well informed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Pirates of the Eastend ...

"DVD? New films? Not in cinema yet? Only 4 pounds?"

If you have spent anytime in pubs in London you will have heard the above. Sitting there quietly enjoying drinks with friends when all of a sudden someone, mostly a guy, will sidled up to the table, being careful not to be spotted by the landlord, and shove a perfectly fanned set of plastic wrapped, photocopy covered crap in your face.

Yesterday, while on my way to poker night I got off the Central Line at Liverpool Street and went above ground. Not the correct stop for a direct route to Archway, but I required lots of change to make cashing out at the end of the night easier (we're not big spenders). As I rose up on the escalator I spotted in front of me not one, but three of these purveyors of illicit unreleased cinema. This is a most unusual sighting as, like the Olsen Twins of late, you rarely see more than one at once.

I knew who they were, or more importantly what they did, because of two things. Firstly having worked in the area, and therefore drank in the area, for many years I recognised one of them. The other give away was their bags of booty, bursting at the seams.

Right then and there I should have launched into a tirade on the wrongness of their royalty stealing ways, but I couldn't. I was far too distracted by their clothes. Do not fear dear reader, I had not come over all Trinny and Susannah. No, it was the fact that they were in a uniform!

All three of them wore the same hats, same jackets and the same Baurer bags full of illegal DVDs. I would not have been surprised to see a company logo stitched into the back of the Jackets, perhaps a skull and cross-bones with "We ripping you off longtime" underneath it.

Maybe they have a union? Could we one day face the Greater London pirate DVD seller strike? Here's hoping.

p.s. I did quite well at poker coming home £13.50 up on the night. All is well that ends well.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Poker night tonight ...

Tonight is our monthly poker game round at Pegleg's flat. Undoubtedly I will not do well, but it is one of the few regular get togethers for all the lads. Last night was a friend's birthday, so drinks out in Islington catching up with some people I don't see enough of.

Because of poker night tonight there won't be anymore posts, I just thought I would catch up quickly. As ever if you want something good to read don't forget to checkout the "Latest Good Reads ..." further down the page.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Re-Post: 200 Player Levels..How Close Are We?

Another Re-post, again from almost 10 years ago. It is great to think about how far multiplayer gaming has come since this point in time, especially looking at the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). As an extra special treat for you all, once you have read the wondering article I wrote, scoll on down a little further for an interview I did, shortly after writing the article, with Charlie Wiederhold, who was a games designer at Ritual Entertainment at that time and had spoken a lot about multiplayer games with lots and lots of players.

I am having a lot of fun reading through my old website, it's bringing back a lot of things I had forgotten. For example at one point I was getting a couple of thousand hits a day and had moved the site to be part of QuestGate (a family of games related websites). Still more Re-posts to come, but for now enjoy how we once thought 200 players in one game would be amazing!

200 Player Levels..How Close Are We?

Written by Matt Large (31/10/1997)

"How many Quake players does it take to change a virtual lightbulb...........how many can you get in the room?"

The word went around a few weeks ago that because of the way QuakeWorld is coded it is theoretically possible to have up to and above 200 players on a level. This happens because it is the server that takes the network traffic hit. So to support this you would need a massive SMP server with truck loads or RAM and at least one T1 connection to the internet.

Currently there are many limitations that prevent this from being done, firstly the client graphics engine could never cop with that. We've all seen even GLQuakeWorld chug along at busy times. Secondly the required size of level cannot be supported.

Even though it won't happen soon, this news prompted great debate in the online gaming community. Some thought the idea was great, others thought it was terrible. However, following in the great tradition of previous online debates, the majority realised the current impracticalities and debated the maximum current size and future developments.

Serial-Cable Killers to Serial Killers.

Multiplayer games have evolved very quickly during the 90's. Previous to this home gamers had to use serial cables and play two payer games. The lucky ones had access to LAN technologies, but these could take hours to setup, and then there were few games that supported them.

The first popular LAN enabled games were in the EBS (Electronic Battlefield System) series of Falcon 3/Mig 29/Hornet. The other big proponent of networks, some may say visionary, was Peter Molyneux and his company Bullfrog. Syndicat:American Revolt (the first of the Syndicate series to be networked) was an immediate success. Not because of its expansion of the levels available, these were handled badly, the learning curve being too steep, no it was the addition of network play that sold this pack.

While all this was going on with the hardcore gamers, one company was about to take networks to the masses. Id gave the world Doom in 1993 and immediately offices around the world had their networks besieged by games of Doom. While slow to react, the rest of the industry soon caught on and a slew of LAN games followed, arguably the best being Rise Of The Triad which was designed around the idea of office games, there was even a site license version!

Network games had truly moved from the Saturday serial game to the out of hours office tournaments.

Go 4th and Multiply.

Doom and its impersonators gave the world 4 player games, Syndicate:American Revolt increased this to 8 player games but beyond that there was nothing. This wasn't surprising. The network code in Doom had made even these small games seem as if they were eating bandwidth and you were unlikely to find more than 8 players at once in most buildings.

Then iDoom was released, this allowed Doom to be played over the internet, again it terrible network code meant that the minimum access was ISDN, but it did start the ball rolling.

With the internet as a forum for arranging and playing games it was no problem finding 3 like minded people. The problem now became that of frustration at only being allowed 4 players.

Id came to the rescue again, rumours of 8 player plus games being played with their soon to be release 'Quake' engine were ripe. Then in a surprise move Id released 'Qtest', a demo of just the network code, to test the internet play. Players the world over went mad for it. Not only did it allow up to 16 player but it provided a dedicated server which reduced latency and improved it interaction with other network resources.

Immediately clans were formed, 24 hours a day servers went up and using the innovative QuakeC new styles of play were added, including the now infamous Capture The Flag (CTF). The population of the world of online games "praised be" to John Carmack, he'd shown them the way forward. But many forgot that this was a man for whom a completed game held no interest at all. While gamers enjoyed the freed of 16 player games he worked on the next generation.

New Worlds.

the proliferation of internet Quake games again spurred the industry on. Many, at first, forcing their current projects to accept internet play, a mistake that would see many fine games fall at the wayside. other companies promised all and delivered little.

Many people rested there hopes on the first bastion of network play, Peter Molyneux and on his rumoured tour de force game 'Dungeon Keeper'. Rumours had promised a game that would allow constant play in player created dungeons, a system that would learn your style of play and keep your dungeon for you when you weren't there. First one, then many slips, caused by his decision to leave Bullfrog after the takeover by Electronic Arts, forced this game to be held. When it was released mid 1997 it was acclaimed from all around, even without some of the advance AI functions promised.

While others worked, Lucasarts missing the boat completely with Dark Forces and then producing lackluster play and performance with X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter, John Carmack had a pet project. He called it 'QuakeWorld'.

QuakeWorld changed and added to the original. It was multiplayer only and required a dedicated server, but promised lower latency and improved facilities for arranging games.

When used QuakeWorld allowed automatic downloading of skins, patches and levels. Interfaces were provided to allow game info such as max and current player numbers, levels being played etc to be viewed with out the need to join. This was to be use by 'QuakeSpy', a program that checked against a list of servers and offered a simple graphical way to join games.

However, it was the innovative predictive routines that made QuakeWorld so good. With one command, 'pushlatency', a player could invoke a client side system that predicted what was happening at times when the network information was delayed. With this system 32 players, with decently low latency, could play in one arena.

Beyond QuakeWorld.

So back to where we started. Currently the online gaming community waits with baited breath for the release of Quake II. We know that the network code itself is better than the original bit it seemed for a while as though, in the retail version at least, there might not be any of the QuakeWorld predictive routines. Now John Carmack has told us that they fit into the new code nicely.

With new network code, predictive routines, a better rendering engine and larger levels the future for mass online game of Quake looks good.

However, we must not forget what I said about John Carmack earlier. A finished product means little to him, so what's he working on now?

The Holy 'Trinity'.

Id's next game engine is codenamed 'Trinity' and is generations ahead of the Quake II engine in all respects. On the graphics side we will see an engine that can only be played on accelerated systems, but it is the network play that we are interested in. The news about this is sketchy, and untrustworthy. Rumours say that levels will not only span into each other as can be seen to some degree in Quake II (follow the view of the big gun as you progress) but also into other server. This would allow you to look out over levels on other servers from the level you are on. Finally, we will see players running around holding the weapons they're using as opposed to a generic gun, thus allowing you to play different tactics.

Another change to remember will be how all of this is interfaced to the user. We now have GameSpy, which is a version of QuakeSpy that is expandable to deal with all Quake engine games. How will this system work with servers that interact with each other? Data feedback in to live web pages will also enhance tournaments and clan play. How about a Java applet in a web page that provides a lurkers view of a running match before entering.

One thing is for certain, the future of network gaming looks good. Now id only Lucasarts would release a dedicated server for X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter, with a drop in, drop out deathmatch mode!




Week Begining: 29/12/97

Thur 1st January:

Charlie Wiederhold on all things deathmatch:

I sent Charlie Wiederhold, games designer at Ritual Entertainment, two e-mails on the 16th and 20th of December, last year now, and tonight I recieved his replies. Ritual are currently working on the Quake II engine game SiN which is set in the year 2097 and at last is a game that features a female lead villan. She is the brillian biochemist that is the source of the drug U4 that the players HARDCORPS law enforcement agency, privatised of course, is trying to stop. Not only is this vile, but probably beautiful, woman releasing this drug but she also plans use it to force evolutionary changes to the human race, why I don't know but she does. Well that's enough plot, onto what Charlie has to say;

I wanted Charlie's opinions on some of the key elements that are/will be shaping deathmatch play in the near future, firstly I wanted to know how he felt about the current trend to have more and more players in one arena.

NGS:
> I agree that we are some way off having the infrastructure in the community
> for regular 100+ player games, but do you think that moves towards larger
> arenas is a good thing? Would you still prefer to play a select few
> individuals in a confined level?

CW:
"I definately think that playing a selected few will always be the
most popular way to play. However, I think there is always a place
for large amounts of people. It's like a bunch of kids going to the
park to play football or baseball. You may have way to many people to
play a real game... but you make two teams and everyone plays and has
a good time. I definately like the idea of eventually watching large
scale *virtual* battles. Like with a complete command structure and
everything. Talk about a simulation that could be a lot of fun.
Unfortunately we are a loooong way of from something like that really
working well."

So how will these "large scale *virtual* battles" be acomplished in level designing terms? I asked Charlie about his recent comments on designing these big arenas.

NGS:
> I read your .plans including the ideas about having large
> vertical maps and shutting off lifts or wide ones and shutting down
> teleporters. These would make 100+ player levels feasible but what do you
> think could make them "great" to play in.?

CW:
"Well, it is more of just losing some of the creative aspect. If you
are forced to make sections and then have looong elevators you are
bound to that design concept. I don't like that and don't really like
it as an option. It wouldn't affect play too much except for the fact
that the map would be in definate "chunks"."

NGS:
> Both the 32 player project and the CTF expansion project created some nice
> 32 player levels but these took a long time to tweak until the played well
> with that many players. How long would it take to create and then tweak a
> 100+ player map?

CW:
"I really couldn't say... since there hasn't been one done yet. But
the logical guess is at least a bit longer than the 32 player maps."

Finally a subject which I seem to be fascinated by at the moment, for some unknown reason, and that is Game Logging. I asked Charlie about the recently proposed standard for DeathMatch logging.

NGS:
> An additional question to the last lot I sent you (sory to bother you
> again), but are you planning to support Fritz's (the author of GibStats)
> Logging Standard Proposal?

CW:
"I have no idea, that is something that would most likely have to be
decided when we start pulling all of the deathmatch elements
together."

I'd like to say thank you to Charlie for taking the time out to reply to my questions, I know what a bad time coming back off holiday and trying to get back to work can be without someone firing questions at you.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Coming attractions ...

There's one advantage to posting at 3 in the morning and that is that it appears that I posted yesterday, at least according to the date header. In truth we all know that I didn't post. I was recovering from a few too many late nights working on Scorched Toroise.

Firstly, thanks to Tom and She-Ra for their comments on my recent post Playing with time ... They added a lot to the conversation so please go an check out their thoughts.

Next I just wanted to give you a heads up on what to expect over the next couple of weeks. I am working on some more TV related articles, however I need to make it clear that I will be making very clear any posts that may contain spoilers. Not just saying that the post may contain spoilers, but also trying to quantify that, for example "May contain spoilers relating to seasons 1 through 4".

There are some more re-posts coming, as and when I resurrect them (hint, there's one to be posted right after this). I have also got a series of articles planned about the modern web, designed for the less technical minded of us.

Personally, right this second I am writing this post while re-watching the first episode of Stargate Atlantis on DVD, season 2 due out soon. Most of the work on Scorched Tortoise was done infront of the complete Battlestar Galactica in preparation for last Tuesday's opening to season 3 on Sky One.

This weekend She-Ra, myself and the rest of the guys are getting together for our occasionally monthly poker game. So expect tales of how I lost my shirt, early next week. Till tomorrow ...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Re-Post: Morden and Co V's Win98 build 4.10.1666

When I first restarted blogging over the holidays I said that I wanted to re-post some articles from my previous online lives. Unfortunately a lot of that material had disappeared into the ether that is the net. However, thanks to some wonderfully simple technology some of it is back from the dead.

The following article is a first impression of a beta of Windows 98. It was written sometime in late 1997 for a website I used to run called Network Gaming Site (or NGS for short). Most of you will not bother to read it, but if you do you should particularly enjoy reminiscing about a much easier period in our technology history, where even the most simple innovations were enough to be exited about.

Morden and Co V's Win98 build 4.10.1666

Written by Matt Large (sometime in 1997)

"NOTE: After Microsoft Windows 98 is released, users will be able to purchase new PCs with Windows 98
already installed and will most likely never need to run the Setup program"

extract from Introducing Windows98 by Russell Borland
Microsoft Press


I know what I thought when this build on Windows 98 landed on my desk, and it went along the lines of "any Microsoft Beta which has "666" in the title isn't going anywhere near my computer!". My worries were not alleviated any when Richter did a fresh install of it and found that Quake II and many other games refused to play. The problem was never tracked down but he believes that it was something to do with an incompatible DirectX 5.0, interesting as I'm quite happily running Quake II and all my other games.....Oh I've gone and given away the surprise, okay I did give it ago in the end.

It was a Setup!

Here is the first, and one of the biggest shocks about Windows 98, a major feature enhancement that Microsoft are not throwing in our faces with their marketing for the product. It has a GOOD, nay GREAT Setup program. I thought Win95 was good when it managed to leverage a graphical interface on to the system in the first minute but this, wow. I've now had the joy of sitting though a Win98 install three times, well not exactly sitting through it as this is truly hands free. Once you've created the Emergency Disk and hit the "Okay to start installing Windows98" button you can safely go away. If you come back 40-50 minutes later, and all has gone well you will be looking at the Windows 98 desktop, all ready to work with. Setup will now do all the rebooting required, it was quite a shock to have my back turned and hear my PC reboot itself in the middle of an OS install! Not only this but it also give you quite a good estimate of the time remaining in minutes, however for old times sake someone has ensured that the last block of the status bar takes 20 minutes but at least you now know.

Taking in to account what had happened to Richter after attempting to do fresh installs on both of his computers I decided to try installing over the top of an existing copy. The first machine I tried it on was my server, currently a Cyrix P133+ with 16Mb and 420Mb and 540Mb drives in it. The OS I was installing over was one of the many and unfathomably different versions of Win95 OSR2 (apparently there are something like 5 different versions a-e). During this first attempt everything went well until the final reboot that should have finished the install, when Win98 finished loading (including the desktop) a little dialogue came up informing me that I had a corrupted registry and that I should reboot so that registry checker could remedy the situation. 5 reboots later I came to the conclusion that registry checker was making no attempt at all to remedy anything! So that machine came down to a fresh install which went without a hitch, and so it should with very little in the way of hardware and nothing fancy in the graphics department (I need all the speed I can get out of it for the Quake I/II server!). To be totally fair this wasn't really Win98's fault, it wasn't until I was discussing it the next day with QuakeGod that I realised how many OS's and hardware changes that computer had been through without a fresh install. I bought the computer in late 1994, when it was a 486DX2 66 with 8Mb RAM and a 420 Mb hard disk, since then the C: drive hasn't changed but it is now the spec I mentioned earlier, also the OS has gone from MS DOS 6.22/Win 3.1 to Win 3.11, then through 3 different Beta builds of Win95 to the final release and then OSR2 without a fresh install. That;s 7 OS's, no wonder it had a corrupted registry!

With that machine up and running fine, including the games that had given Richter problems I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind and update my main machine as well.

One small step for a man...

Again I tried to install over the top of Win95 OSR2, this time the hardware spec was a K6 200 (running at 210MHz and I don't know why) with 64Mb RAM and 1.2Gb and 3.2 Gb Quantum Fireball hard drives. Also installed on this machine are a Matrox Millenium II (only the 4Mb version), an Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card, it also has an HP DeskJet 310 and a U.S. Robotics Sportster Voice 33.6 FaxModem hanging off of it. The install went fine, I didn't touch it after starting the final phase, it required one extra reboot while working through the PnP detection of all my hardware but after that it was fine. All of my previous settings were picked up, even those from IE4 which I had inadvertently left on even though Microsoft's instruction plainly say to take it off before installing so it'll probably fall over irrecoverably in the next few weeks complaining of the wrong Explorer version.

The first thing that is done after the install is complete is a window that pops up and informs you that Windows98 is now attempting to speed up the launch times of your applications. This is one of those features that sounds so good and says it has done its job only for you to not actually notice any difference in performance, however this time I did...but only to my Microsoft apps. All the Office 97 components now load faster, and I'm almost sure Frontpage98 loads faster but aside from that it all seems pretty much the same.

Yay or Nay...Votes please.

So why should you get Win98? Well aside from that fact that it's the latest version of Microsoft's flagship OS, and you know how much support the give, or rather don't give, to none current OS's, a lot of work has been done since Win95 came on the scene back in August of 1995. If you ask most home users they will state that as the date of the dawning of the 32-bit age, however most power users will happily point out that Window NT has been around for a lot longer, and some very strange people will point out the 32-bit OS's that out date even that, some will even go on to say that we can't forget OS/2 (much as we may try!). The Win32 system has therefore been developing at an increasingly fast rate for many many years, the launch of Win95 added the push of general comsumerisation of Win32. The need to move to 32-bit computing is not only that of the consumers but also that of the soft/hardware companies who need that extra functionality to continue to improve products.

So were does this leave us today? Frankly we're in a strange situation, according to Microsoft's predictions back in 1995/96 by now we should all be sitting back in front of Cairo, or even its successor, having gone through the Windows96 patch and with Windows97 having been the last in the Win9x family. Cairo, for those that don't know should have been the successor to Windows NT 3.51, it was to have included the Directory Service, new User Interface and many of the enhancements that have since been released with the stop gap NT 4.0 or as Beta trials in their own right. Development on Cairo went seriously wrong somewhere along the way and Microsoft was forced to change tack. A large part of the problem was that all their original prediction were born out of the idea of a world that wanted to be connected, just not through the outdated medium of the Internet, when they realise that the Internet was the way forward Microsoft also found that they had lost any advantage they had in the lucrative server and high end workstation market that NT was aimed at. They needed to corner this market and did so through NT 4.0. With this product, that was stable by their usual standards, due to the fact that the base product wasn't that far from NT 3.51, came many Internet technologies, it wasn't the expected Cairo launch but it did allow Microsoft some breathing space while they reevaluated their plans. The new, and still current plan is to unify the Win95/WinNT products after the next generation, i.e. Win98 and WinNT 5.0. NT then is the future of computing, so why not go today? Well going to NT 4.0 is not the best plan, you can't upgrade directly to it and it lacks two very important components. Plug And Play for the desktop users and Power Management for the laptop users, this is why this product was never aimed at anything but the corporate desktop environment, but NT 5.0 is a different matter entirely.

I will undoubtedly go to Win98 just so I know it well from a professional point of view, I am planning to stick with the Beta versions from now on, but it will only stay for as long as I have to wait for NT 5.0. As for others going to Win98 I'd say yes to the casual home user/games player, they should hold on to the Win9x platform until the stable WDM (Win98/NT5.0 compatible) drivers are available for all their hardware as well as a stable version of DirectX 5.0/6.0 on NT. For those of you who, like myself, tend to live on the Bleeding Edge of computing just for the sake of having a kick ass computer, be it for games or Excel recalculations, then I'd say no, hold of until the release of NT 5.0.

What's in the box.

For a quick list of the new features of Windows98 I'll hand over to the Introducing Windows98 book (available from who else but the Microsoft Press!).

  • Win 32 Driver Model Not too useful now but new hardware is bound to need it by early 1999.
  • FAT32 support Get OSR2.
  • FAT32 Conversion Utility One way only, better option is to get Partition Magic 3.0.
  • Power Management Improvements Only if you have a TX or better motherboard.
  • Multiple Display Support Fun but not too useful.
  • Support for a New Generation of Hardware How many USB or Firewire hardware do you have, wait for NT 5.0.
  • Integrated Internet Shell (baring the federal courts!) Get IE4.
  • Windows Scripting Host Nice if you can program scripting languages such as VBScript and JScript.
  • Display Setting Enhancements Nothing great, you can dynamically change colour depth, supported in OSR2 (I think!).
  • Setup Enhancements Read the main article for news on the excellent Setup.
  • Start Menu Organizer Wizard Not tried it yet, can't see it being to great though.
  • Internet Connection Wizard Get through download, OSR2 or Plus!.
  • Built-In Support for Microsoft Intellimouse There are many Share/Freeware programs to do this.
  • Dial-Up Networking Improvements (including Multilink Channel Aggregation) If you've not got, or getting ISDN don't worry.
  • Disk Defragmenter Optimization Wizard Get Norton Utilities 3.0, much better (but don't install with the patch!).
  • Windows Tune Up Wizard
  • Built-In Support for Infrared Data Association 3.0 Get through download.
  • Online Services Folder If your reading this you're probably settled on one ISP so don't worry.
  • Client Support for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol In OSR2.
  • Remote Access Server
  • PCMCIA Enhancements All PCMCIA support extras are well worth it for anyone with a laptop.
    • Support for PC Card32 (CardBus)
    • Support for PC Cards that operate at 3.3 volts
    • Support for Multifunction PC Cards
  • ActiveMovie Get OSR2.
  • Support for Intel MMX Processors
  • Distributed Component Object Model
  • Client Support for NetWare Directory Services Get through download.
  • 32-bit Data Link Control
  • Internet System Update Wouldn't let this do its stuff on my PC anyway!
  • System File Checker Useful, but I expect it will be downloadable soon.
  • Microsoft System Information Utility Been around for years, not too sure I'd label it a feature?
  • New Dr. Watson Utility Annoying but useful.
  • New Backup Utility If you backup anyway you'll have found a better solution by now.
  • Automatic ScanDisk After Improper Shutdown Get OSR2, although this goes right through and continues loading rather than pausing before or after.
  • Advanced Internet Browsing Functionality Get IE4.
  • Suit of Tools for Internet Communication Get IE4.
  • Personalized Internet Information Delivery Get IE4.

Life with Win98.

So far, three weeks, life has been fine. I've had a few unexpected crashes, but then this is Beta code. Not only has this coped with many games but also my continued University work. The programs I tend to write for University bring down computers at the best of times, Win98 seems to be coping. All the following software has worked fine:

Serious:

  • Office 97 (all the modules in the Professional edition).
  • FrontPage 98.
  • Borland C++ 5.02.
  • Visual Basic 4.0.
  • Smalltalk Express.
  • Paint Shop Pro 4.14.

Games:

  • GLQuake.
  • Quake II.
  • Age Of Empires.
  • Atomic Bomberman.
  • Dark Reign.
  • Grand Theft Auto (3DFX version).
  • Jedi Knight.
  • Red Alert.
  • Shadows Of The Empire.
  • Moto Racer (Polygons Version).
  • Tomb Raider 2.
  • Plane Crazy Demo.

I've not been able to test X-Wing V's Tie Fighter as it crashes, but then it was doing that before I installed Win98! Note where applicable games tested with Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card.