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Archive January 2004
Tuesday 27 January 2004
A book I've particularly enjoyed recently, brought to me by Holly; 'Gun, with Occasional Music', by Jonathan Lethem. It's a dystopic sci-fi detective story. The language is just a little bit more extravagant than one would expect of such a genre, as if a literary fictionographer were exaggerating Sam Spade or Max Payne:
"Cold Turkey was a merry-go-round I couldn't get off, and instead of a wooden horse I was riding a porcupine."

"... as well as the assurance that anything went, as long as both parties walked out more or less alive. That was what hadn't happened here, and the inquisitor at the door let us know it was Celeste Stanhunt it hadn't happened to."
The setting is a good one, and wrapped gently around the reader rather than stuffed down their throat. The plot is reasonably sound, though the twist is a little obvious. My only problem with the book was the ending, which seemed a bit limp compared to the rest, leaving me wanting to read another book to fill the gap. On the other hand, I can't really think of an ending that would be better, either. Regardless, I wouldn't usually blog a book - it has to be exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, and this is the former. Or it was when I read it - you might get a bad version. [17:19] [0 comments]
A bit of geeking - it seems my server changed mysql version at some point without my knowledge, so I had to recode a lot of things that were using mysql's "rand()" function. That was annoying. At some point mysql changed from having a rand() function that will return random numbers to having a rand() function that will only return random numbers if it's first been provided with a good random seed during the current connection, and will otherwise return the same sequence of numbers for each new connection. Because, of course, everyone wants an entirely predictable and repeated sequence when they ask for a random number. I suppose it would be useful for people who want to pretend they can read computers' minds, but otherwise, what a bloody stupid change.

The virus I mentioned earlier, after being added to my filters, still resulted in another ten or so messages today from servers bouncing 'my message', people responding asking who I am and why I'm sending them attachments (but not having run the attachment, surprisingly), and antivirus software helpfully telling me that I attached a virus even though it knows full well that the virus in question spoofs source addresses. All this led to me finally getting around to setting up one half of SPF in the hope that some mailservers will have the other half installed and thus 'my messages' will not get delivered as much, which will result in fewer returned copies. More likely, I expect, is that 'my messages' will just be bounced with a "failed SPF test" message instead of "had a virus in it" messages. I wasn't able to fully test the SPF setup because it will require a bit of nameserver propagation first, but the bits I was able to test seemed to be working properly. [16:42] [0 comments]
My noodles came with a URL, an apparently associated game, and some text:
Eat MAGGI 2 Minute Noodles, log on to www.noodolbot.com, and prepare to party, Noodolbot style!

Create your own Noodolbot character, give it a Noodolbot name and try to become the world's best 'Bot by playing Noodolbot games!

Play on the weekend! Play after school! Play when you should be learning to burp the alphabet! Use Special Codes from the back of every MAGGI 2 minute Noodles pack and play more, more, more!!!


After all, playing is all Noodolbots ever do... it's all you'd ever do too if you were born in a junkyard and lived on 2 Minute Noodles!
I'm living proof of that last paragraph. But alas, my Special Noodolbot Code wasn't accepted by the site, so I can't play their games. I did enjoy their history of Noodolbots story though. And it had fewer exclamation-marks than the packet did. [06:19] [42 comments]
Eurgh, a horrifically virulent new virus that has either affected at least 40 people whose address books contain my email address, or that sends itself out several times per infectee and has infected fewer. Regardless, I have received 40 copies of this virus in my email in the last twelve hours, and the virus was first discovered today according to McAfee. If my contact with it is any indication, the internet will be stumbling around drunkenly for a few days this week, then, as all its bandwidth gets devoured by people who run executable attachments from strangers.

But at least it's called "MyDoom". That's pretty cool. Even if it is also known as "Shimg", "MIMAIL" and "Novarg", which are rubbish names. Unfortunately, it also means I've had to add zip files to the list of types as attachments from non-white-listed sources that result in messages being silently deleted at the server. [04:34] [5 comments]

Monday 26 January 2004
You know how America has "Presidents Day" and "Independence Day" and "Thanksgiving" and "Columbus Day" and so forth? Well Australia has none of these things, because nothing ever happened here, and there hasn't been anybody famous and politically important.

Hence, here there is only the endearingly pathetic "Australia Day". There's also "ANZAC Day" which is in remembrance of Australian and New Zealander soldiers who have died, for some reason, at some time. There isn't any specific war in mind or anything, because Australia hasn't really been part of a war, it's just sort of generously thrown some soldiers along into someone else's. ANZAC Day is also in remembrance of biscuits.

I'm not suggesting there are insufficient public holidays - just that the excuses for them are cute. I suppose "the Queen's birthday" is vaguely equivalent to Presidents Day, and there is a Labour Day. There's also, here, "Adelaide Cup Day", which is a public holiday for, er, horse racing. Or possibly for a coffee-mug. That's not Australia-wide; Melbourne has Melbourne Cup Day instead, for example.

It's quite surprising, really, that there isn't a generic "America Day", given the number of arbitrary days, weeks and months American presidents declare. But then, those aren't generally holidays, they're just declared so that newspapers with nothing to write about can say "ha ha, it's spaghetti month starting tomorrow" and presidents can feel like they're doing something important.

Particularly notable in the arbitrary proclamations is that Australia Day is superceded in America by both "National Sanctity of Human Life Day" and "Religious Freedom Day" on the same day. You can have whatever religion you like so long as your religion objects to abortions, America. [11:47] [5 comments]
Oh no! Scare mongering! "Hair Dye May Raise Cancer Risk, U.S. Study Shows".

Apparently, women who've been dying their hair dark colours for 24 years or more are twice as likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer.

54000 Americans per year are affected by non-Hodgkin lymphoma per year. Since we don't know what percentage dye their hair, we can't calculate proper figures, but the worst-case scenario is that if nobody in America dyes their hair now, then hair-dye could potentially double the figure, which would mean a 54000 in population-of-America chance of hair dye causing you cancer.

Using 250 million as a loose 'population of America' figure, that's about a one in four thousand chance of hair dye causing you cancer for each year after the twenty-fourth that you've been using it. Which isn't very high.

Only about a third of the figure are killed by the cancer, so we can knock that down to one in twelve thousand chance of dying of hair. Except!
"Hair coloring products have undergone tremendous change over the last 20 years," added Zheng. "Since 1980, many carcinogens have been removed from some formulas."
So, in fact, the study tells us that you could minimise your risk by going back in time and not using hair dye before I was born. Lucky for me my parents didn't go in for partial-birth hair-colouring, no matter what the Bible said.

Modern hair dyes are unlikely to maintain even close to that level of risk of causing cancer, though scientists have discovered that modern hair dye may quadruple the risk of getting super powers from cosmic radiation. [08:22] [0 comments]

Sunday 25 January 2004
From some observation, careful analysis, and a lot of spontaneous making things up, I have divined the meanings behind the percentage scale of personality-match used by okcupid.com. It runs something like this:

Below 10% - you shouldn't go near this person even if they're the last person on earth.
to 20% - you should only go near this person if they're the last person on earth. And you're desperate.
to 30% - maybe if you're trapped together on a desert island with no hope of escape.
to 40% - maybe if you're trapped together on a desert island with some hope of escape.
to 50% - maybe if you're trapped together on a desert island and probably going to be stuck there for a couple of months or so.
to 60% - maybe if you're trapped together with no company other than San Franciscans.
to 65% - maybe if your only choices are between them and the people in Washington DC.
to 75% - they're probably better than anyone you'd find in Chicago.
to 85% - you should probably express an interest in this person even if you're in Seattle or New York.
to 90% - you should probably express an interest in this person even if you're somewhere sensible - such as not America.
more than 90% - if this person tries to escape your clutches you should glue them to the furniture until they love you again. Unless they're yourself, in which case you should see a psychiatrist. Trying to escape your own clutches is bad for the intestines. Also, if you're less than 90% compatible with yourself then you're rubbish. [11:14] [15 comments]
Despite its focus on dating, okcupid is quite amusing. Take the quiz, chortle at question 46, be irked at how completely wrong the result is, then spend several hours obsessive-compulsively answering all 462 post-quiz questions that are currently in their database, only to be told that you're 93% compatible with the person you're already with, and only 86% compatible with the next most compatible person in the entire world.

It's quite a clever design though - user-submitted questions being automatically sorted for relevance is a clever way of providing whatever filter one might deem important. The mathematical explanation of how the match percentage is calculated seems very much fair and sensible. And the site creators have a pleasing subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle sense of humour. [05:03] [2 comments]

Thursday 22 January 2004
Tsk. It seems lockpicks are pretty much illegal in South Australia. How am I supposed to be a superantihero if I can't pick locks, eh?
15. (1) A person who, without lawful excuse --
...(skip irrelevant)...
(b) has custody or possession of an implement of housebreaking.
...(skip irrelevant)...
is guilty of an offence.
...(skip to glossary of terms)...
'implement of housebreaking' includes a picklock key, crow, jack, bit or other implement of housebreaking.
Canada's law regarding lockpicks is rather clearer, despite including the phrase "reasonable inference". Ah, trusting in the reason of the people, where has such folly gone? Canadians are also allowed 'lawful excuse', but are more obviously allowed to possess a lockpick even lacking that.
351. (1) Every one who, without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on him, has in his possession any instrument suitable for the purpose of breaking into any place, motor vehicle, vault or safe under circumstances that give rise to a reasonable inference that the instrument has been used or is or was intended to be used for any such purpose, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
The UK makes it clearer still that you're definitely okay to have lockpicks in your own house, and that taking them round to get a friend into their home is probably alright too. It looks to me like the UK law is such that possessing lockpicks isn't a crime unless you're arrested for it in which case it is. Which is rather endearing.
United Kingdom Theft Act 1968 Section 25(1)
(1) A person shall be guilty of an offence if when not at his place of abode, he has with him any article for use in the course of or in connection with any burglary, theft or cheat.
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.
(3) Where a person is charged with an offence under this section, proof that he had with him any article made or adapted for use in committing a burglary, theft or cheat shall be evidence that he had it with him for such use.
(4) Any person may arrest without warrant anyone who is, or whom he, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, committing an offence under this section.
America, of course, varies its laws regarding such things by state, ranging from "if you have lockpicks then you're a fucking terrorist" to "lockpicks are only illegal if we catch you with them stuck in someone else's lock (fnar)". But tsk, South Australia - you're usually so permissive. [07:53] [4 comments]

Wednesday 21 January 2004
And yet another review. Who's been spending too much time with entertainment products recently, eh?

Today it's Max Payne 2. I quite enjoyed the original Max Payne - the bullet-time and fancy diving made it more fun than your usual first person shooter. As well as being its selling-point gimmick.

So, of course, the most important thing for the company to do for Max Payne 2 is make the bullet-time relatively crap and ineffectual, prevent the player from diving into rooms in slow motion as a means of assault by firstly preventing forward dives, secondly making the dive motion change direction if you look around while diving, thirdly making the bullet-time not slow enough that you could turn and shoot while diving anyway, and finally making it so that the player isn't even allowed to shoot while diving.

So now it's a really fun game because you can, er, run into a room and then shoot. The same as any other first-person shooter. Except crappier.

Still, it retains the comic-esque plot telling which is nicer than the more common cutscenes that games use these days, and the plot remains amusingly self-deriding and Dick Tracy flavoured.

Oh dear, I mentioned cutscenes, which brings me to another point. While it doesn't use cutscenes to advance the plot, it does use them for dramatic effect. The dramatic effect of really getting on my nerves, by having a cutscene in the middle of a delicate combat situation, which ends with Mr Payne standing in a more dangerous position than where I left him before the cutscene, facing a different direction so I don't know which way I want to run, and getting shot at from an unknown direction. Several times throughout the game.

Dollar value of this game: $5. Maybe $10 if you liked the look of Max Payne but never got around to playing it, and somehow find the sequel available and the original not. [12:19] [7 comments]

Tuesday 20 January 2004
RavenBlog now has an rss feed, only about 24 months behind the zeitgeist. Because now I actually know someone who uses RSS feeds, so it seems like it might possibly be worth it, as it never did before. [12:57] [5 comments]

Monday 19 January 2004
Another two movies. Hoorah!

First today is Underworld, which really should have been called "Vampires Versus Werewolves", especially since the title isn't even previously used. The movie was very funny, in the same way as Blade and The Crow, but with the added bonus of a really poor piece of scriptwriting or scriptreading. The vampires evidently referred to the werewolves, in the script, as "lycans". Which seems fair enough when written, as a contraction of lycanthropes. Unfortunately, the actors (and/or director etc.) decided to pronounce this with a schwa-sound for the a, and the emphasis on the first syllable. I was quite bemused at the beginning of the movie to hear the lead character talking about battling with the lichens.

As the genre goes, though, this isn't a bad movie. To enjoy it I suspect one has to have one's tongue in cheek, and ideally also some plastic fangs and a wookie-wig. No, those should just be available, your tongue shouldn't be in them and they shouldn't be in your cheek.

The other recently watched movie was Intacto. Lovely concept; people stealing other people's luck, and using it to win at gambling. Horrible execution. It seemed like it was supposed to feel like Cemetery Man, in that the events in the movie are quite random and weird, but it completely failed to feel like Cemetery Man, in that the random weirdness isn't entertaining or interesting, it's irritating and boring.

It felt like they didn't actually bother to write the movie, just had the idea and started filming. Possibly started filming it as a five minute short then padded it out afterwards. Really a very disappointing movie indeed. Which is a horrible waste for such a nice idea. [14:47] [9 comments]
I'm sure we all know how smileys are an unnecessary and possibly damaging extension to the written language - that conveying emotion vaguely through pictograms is less compelling and less evocative than it would be to encompass the emotion in the words you use. Or so I thought! But these days one can get 2000 smileys free! And oh boy, are they the most useful smileys you can possibly imagine. Look at them!
2000 free smileys! Oh boy! I cannot resist their fiery charms!
Note - the 'click here' aspect of the ad won't actually work, because I don't want people to start actually using these monsters.

Anyway, as I was saying - no more will we have to painstakingly compose letters such as the following, when smileys can encompass all.
My darling levitating frog,

After drinking an infinite quantity of beer unfeasibly quickly, my 'statue of liberty' felt rather queasy - I imagine it even turned green. I was so red and angry and gritting my teeth that I couldn't help but fly a small spaceship only large enough for my head straight to my intermittently grinning pimp, where I repeatedly fired my gun that squirts flames or maybe an X on a stick such that the back of its handle disappears.

My goodness, did he turn green and rocking back and forth when I delicately and repeatedly cupped his buttocks in my hands. Oh how I combed my hair into a point or possibly wore a black party hat while bouncing up and down as my teeth grow and shrink!

By now you're probably thinking "how's the baby?" - well, as ever, its head closely resembles a potato and its mouth can't decide whether to be in the proper place or somewhat skewed towards its left side. The devil with it, I say!

I'll tell you next time about the wobbling ghost and alien hitchhiker, I promise. Until then, I magically slice my top-hat out through the side of my head to you!

Your googly-eyed severed unusually round head.

PS. Argh, I'm having a stroke.
[02:18] [14 comments]

Friday 16 January 2004
I have a book. It's called The Twist, and written by one Richard Calder. The front cover quotes William Gibson as saying of it "dark, edgy and inflicted with just the right degree of lyricism". If you've ever read Gibson you'll know that "just the right degree of lyricism", in his mind, is "gibbering on like a person with tourette's syndrome who believes that every word in the dictionary is a swearword, as well as some that aren't in the dictionary". You may think that's a horrible clumsy simile, but that's because you haven't read this book. In comparison, my simile is a masterpiece of graceful writing.
"Further in, the architecture becomes as imposing as any commemorating notables interred in some Brobdingnagian Père Lachaise."
How does one come to compose a sentence like that? Did he originally write "further in, the architecture becomes imposing", and then someone asked him "how imposing did it become?" and he replied "hm, I don't know, about as imposing as any architecture that commemorates notables in some Brobdingnagian Père Lachaise, I suppose", and the other person said "oh, that imposing. Now I get it. You should put that in the book, it's much more illuminating."

Surely the point of drawing a simile is to give the reader a bit of additional insight, or possibly just instill a little mood. Generally, that mood shouldn't be rage at the author. And that's just my objection to the matter of the sentence. There's also the problem with its form. A first reading will tend to make 'commemorating notables' a noun-phrase, forcing the reader to double-take to get the proper meaning of the sentence - what meaning there is to be had, anyway.

Now you might think "tsk, you've just picked out the worst sentence from the book, haven't you?" Well, I might have, it's a pretty nasty sentence, but even if it is worst, it isn't worst by far. To pick another example entirely at random:
"Here, Boot Hill transforms itself into a place of dead giants, interred for long centuries in a massive Golgotha, a petrified jungle of cistic prominences, a towering boneyard."
Wow, I want a Boot Hill - that's much cooler than Optimus Prime. Seriously though, someone's been coughing up adjectives all over the inside of this book, and it isn't pretty.
"And these bones have been carbonised, fused into struts, beams, architraves, girders, lintels; all is shrouded in black, a pall that honours the town's contemporary population, the unknown souls who hide behind shuttered windows and barred doors, and those who wander restless, in the black, refracted light of the funereal day."
Oh alas.

But who am I to call such writing rubbish? Science Fiction Age says it's "stunning" (which, admittedly, might not have been a compliment), The New York Review Of Science Fiction says it's "as rich, dense and intricate as any recent SF" (which, admittedly, also might not have been a compliment), and Washington Post Book World apparently claims it's "brilliant". I suppose some people like this sort of thing - it certainly conforms to the "show, don't tell" philosophy of writing that I hate. After 66 pages, about two pages of story have been told. [12:00] [6 comments]

Tuesday 13 January 2004
And another game - Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. It was horrible in so many ways. How many ways? Let me count the ways. No, don't, let me just enumerate a few of them instead, it'll be quicker.

First, the name. It's so long that even the acronym is too long, so it gets referred to as KotOR, not SW:KotOR. I suppose it has to be, if it's going to squeeze Star Wars into the name, since every combination of words fewer than four is already used by some piece of Star Wars merchandise, somewhere.

Then we have the substance of the game. It comes on four CDs. No game should come on four CDs, ever, for any reason. Even less so if it's only going to have about one hundred 3D locations many of which reuse textures painfully much, and none of which are at all intricate. If software pirates can compress it down smaller than three CDs, and you're going to be installing three of the CDs to the hard-drive so there's no question of compression making things too slow, then you can bloody fit it on three CDs. Aside from which, you should be compressing your data better than that in the first place. Make your audio mp3s, and make your textures jpegs, and the whole game should be fitting on a single CD.

But, more important than that, don't take an XBox game and make it use mouse-and-keyboard for input, but remain in the same input format as you used on the XBox version. That's just stupid. Hold the right mouse button and move the mouse to turn is not nearly as convenient as using a joystick. How hard could it be to include gamepad support for a game that's a conversion from another system where it used a gamepad? Even less hard than it would be to make the interface not a bag of shit. They failed on both counts.

More important, even, than that, how about not having the game be full of crash bugs, not having it be completely arsely slow and jerky even on a 2.4GHz machine with a stupidly good graphics card, and here's an idea, how about having the game be fun? I know, I know, I'm asking too much.

Here's an easier task then - how about having it so that when you win, the game doesn't say "your entire party has died, click here to return to menu" after the completion sequence? Maybe it doesn't do that if you play out the light side rather than turning to the dark, but that would be even worse. My party didn't die, there was no conceivable way that the completion sequence could possibly have implied death for me, and, adding insult to injury, the completion sequence was crap, too. Apart from using the word 'doomed'.

The only thing good about the game was that you could be rude to your companions, and tell them to shut up. But even that was tainted by the fact that they bloody wouldn't.

Value of this game in dollars: play it only if someone gives you five dollars to. [22:39] [5 comments]

Thursday 8 January 2004
My first post of the 'new' year, only nine days in, or eight for people who are on that slow side of the world over there. Why so little posting recently? Because computer games ate my soul. That's right, computer games have become voracious unstoppable aethevores as of the beginning of 2004. But it's okay, having one's soul eaten is pleasant, really. Join us. Join us.

Which games, you ask? Well I'll tell you. The first game was Fallout, an RPG of similar flavour to Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, except with a less atrocious interface and superior plot flexibility. In the subplots, anyway. Yes, even better than Planescape's. About the same length as Planescape, but on one CD instead of three that keep demanding to be swapped around. Recommended if you like the genre.

The second game was Halo: Combat Evolved. I must now say "Hello! Wombat Evolved" because nobody else on the internet has ever said that. Halo is the most fun I've had playing a first person shooter, beating Duke Nukem and/or Deus Ex. The cheesy predictable plot is fairly fun, the occasional vehicles provide a bit of variety, and the maps were somehow navigable despite being almost Quake-ly same-ish, and despite the lack of automap. I suspect the reason for this is that the maps were mostly linear; while you may sometimes have to go back, or find yourself doing so accidentally, it's not easy to accidentally go around in circles as I tend to when not provided with any sort of sense-of-direction indicator in FPS games. Also the classic game-navigation method of "if there are monsters there, you're supposed to be going that way" works most of the time. The only things that annoyed me about it were the occasional annoying 'jump puzzles', and that to a significant degree it performed the requisite "getter harder towards the end" by having fewer save-points rather than by actually making the situations any trickier.

In part, also, my additional enjoyment of the game may have come from playing it using a Logitech Rumblepad rather than the traditional keyboard-and-mouse combo. There were marginally too few buttons to perform all of Halo's functions, but enough for all the important ones, and little thumb-joysticks are much less intrusive than a mouse or trackpad for turning-around motions. It's not often, after all, that one has to re-crank one's limbs before continuing to turn. I'm still not sure whether Halo actually supported the rumbling of the rumblepad or not - if it did, it was so intrinsic to the game that I didn't notice. The rumblepad, anyway, is quite nice. Very smooth analog joysticks, a direction thing that mostly does diagonals when you want and not when you don't, a nice unexpected 'throttle' slider, and more buttons than I've seen on one of those things before - but not so many buttons that one couldn't still shake a stick at them. So, that and both games are recommended.

Perhaps in 2004 I'll be saying only nice things, eh? Ha! [20:11] [6 comments]