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Archive February 2004
Saturday 28 February 2004
Recently I've been grumbling a lot about the lack of a decent turn-based strategy game for PC. Particularly, I've been wanting something along the lines of Lords of Chaos or Laser Squad that'll run properly on a modern OS. More recently still, I asked someone the very vague "are there any good games?", and received, as a reply, a pointer to The Battle for Wesnoth, an open-source freeware game that's a much closer approximation of what I've been wanting than anything else I've found. Unusually bearable graphics and sound for an open-source project, reasonable enough plot as far as I've played, slightly broken English that isn't too disruptive, and it hasn't crashed or done anything really stupid and annoying yet. Pretty good for an 18MB download. [02:28] [1 comment]

Thursday 26 February 2004
Haven't had one of these for a while - a rant!

It's an anti-open-source rant, or rather, anti the expectation of open-source. People will glibly ask programmers "why don't you make it open-source?" I'd like to draw an analogy, but I don't think there is one - instead I'll make do with a series of slightly broken analogies, and explanations thereof.

It's like asking farmers to give away food. You're asking for the results of someone's work, to be given to you for no reason, with no recompense. Nobody would say to a farmer "why don't you just give away your crops?" at harvest time. This analogy is broken, of course, by the fact that open-sourcing of code is an unlimited resource, and by giving it away the programmer still retains it.

It's like asking farmers to let other people grow crops in their fields, then. Why wouldn't they? It doesn't cost them anything, does it? No, but it would mean people trampling all over the crops they were growing themselves, and then when they try to sell their mangled crops the market would be gone because everyone would have grown their own food, or sold variants. But it doesn't cost them a thing. Nobody would ask farmers to let other people grow crops in their fields.

It's like asking secretaries to work naked. Why wouldn't they? It doesn't cost them anything, does it? No, but it exposes things they might rather keep private. It would probably make them uncomfortable. And you'd probably get a good solid slap in the face if you suggested it.

Before asking a programmer why they don't open-source something, ask yourself why you don't do your job without reward, naked, and with hundreds of extra people trying to micro-manage your work. Unless you're an open-source programmer yourself, in which case just shut up, I don't care.

I'm not suggesting there aren't reasons to open-source - just that there are bloody obvious ones not to, and that asking a programmer why they don't is very much akin to any of these other questions. Similarly, there are reasons for secretaries to work naked, reasons for farmers to give away food, and reasons for farmers to let other people grow crops in their fields. And similarly, people doing any of these are in a minority for a reason. [14:03] [17 comments]

Monday 23 February 2004
Computer scent technology isn't a new idea - there was a company working on it for games, at least a year ago - but I don't think it was proposed as an email thing at that time. Why not pay to receive scented email - it'll be great for spam and, er, more spam. Oh, and idiots could use it to spice up their emails, like they do with stupid emoticons. At a cost of only 250 quid plus refills when supermarkets and travel agents spam away your entire stock of scent, who could resist? At least the game idea was slightly compelling - that adding the scent of grass and trees when you're outside in an RPG, and the scent of blood and metal in a battle, would make it that little bit more immersive. But who wants to be immersed in spam? Sure, that's a great title for a gameshow, but it's not a very compelling offer. Even internet weirdos don't seem to be taken with the idea.

They haven't really explored all their options, either - email is perhaps the single least useful place to embed scents. Imagine the web! People could add stupid smells all over their websites. There would be websites offering thousands of free scent combinations. Best of all, there would be scents that don't occur in nature, which people would plaster all over their stupid geocities sites, which would ever after be thought of as the smell of animated gifs. You could judge websites inane without even opening your eyes - and even with the midi sound muted! And spyware could record which smells you seem to like, and pump those smells at you when you're looking at spyware sponsors' products.

Best of all, "Telewest says its 'scent dome' ... would only work with a high-speed, broadband connection." Even though "a scented e-mail would contain electronic signals that would tell the dome to release the smell of flowers, perfume or coffee." How can this only work with a high-speed connection? They're mixing 20 base scents. You can't possibly require more than a few hundred bytes to encode that, including foolishly verbose header information.

My guess is the whole thing is just a scammy exploitation of news for free brand-name-awareness advertising. And thus I am helping, by linking the article and mentioning Telewest. Twice. [04:44] [17 comments]

Wednesday 18 February 2004
Hoorah for increasingly ridiculous esoteric spam-filter-evasion by spam. Apparently I can "gaerner profwessional resspect" by getting a "Un1iversity Dewgree" such as a "Baqchelors, Masfters, MBsA, or Docdtorate (Ph3D)". It doesn't require any "bosoks", and "dConfiwdentiality" is assured. Quick, sign me up!

Also, they will "brerak doswn the wa1ll that has hefld your earpning poewer bpack", which suggests that, but for the asking, they would also shizzle mah nizzle up the bizzatch. Bargain. [15:13] [19 comments]

Tuesday 17 February 2004
Mark Latham, new leader of the not-currently-in-power major party of Australia, is fantastic. Seen today arguing for allowing the press to show anything from parliament (which seems an odd thing to be arguing about - surely whoever is arguing against this looks terribly shifty and evil as a result), including something along the lines of "oh come on, politics is just showbiz for ugly people. If we all looked like oil paintings we'd be in the movies."

He's also known for swearing too much and for breaking the arm of a pickpocket. This is the first time ever that, if I were in a position to vote, I would be wanting to vote for one of the two major parties. The UK's third party has always looked eminently more sensible to me, and America's third, fourth and fifth parties are all better than their top two. Not suggesting there aren't other places where I'd prefer to vote for a major party - just that I haven't lived in one until now. [06:46] [8 comments]

Friday 13 February 2004
Last night I learned a bit of Go theory to supplement my vague instinct and even vaguer knowledge. Previously my knowledge consisted of the rules plus "eyes good, especially in pairs" and "edge territory good, middle territory bad".

Now, however, I have sufficient knowledge of scary Go jargon that I'll mostly recognise what it means in context, though I have no recollection of what the words were off the top of my head. Mostly it seems to be Dragonball Z characters and brands of watch, such as Goku and Seiko. While I don't remember any of the terms, the concepts have all been alternatively indexed in my brain with terms that wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, such as gloopy and shadow.

Then there are a couple of terms that were given in English in the first place, which I remember the term for but still have indexed differently by my magical brain of +3 contrariness; nets are indexed as traps, open ladders are bent nets, and so forth.

The upshot of all this is that my Go-playing ability will now be such that I won't be able to find any opponents it's sensible to play against - people who are good at Go will still trounce me even with a 9 handicap, and now I'd probably be able to do the same with rank amateurs. Hoorah!

The lessons were courtesy of Xopods, excellent teacher, patient with my incessant sidetracking, through the rather excellent teaching interface behind the download link at kiseido.com, which allows games to be rewound, alternative branches to be played out, and bits of board to be highlighted and marked in the interests of enlightenment. My thanks to him and them. [02:38] [26 comments]

Tuesday 10 February 2004
An amusingly stupid idea: motorflirt.com. Make it so that scary stalkers can contact you based on your license plate! Or, on the other hand, perhaps a tremendously devious idea on the part of the people who have set it up - make it so idiots will try to contact people with an SMS based on their license plate, charge a premium SMS rate, and send them back a message that says "that person doesn't have an account, so your message wasn't delivered - thanks for the fifty cents, sucker!" or words to that effect.

But the fun thing is the dodgy comic strip on their front page (at time of writing, anyway), which should really read more like this:
"Wow, check out that guy. Wish there was a way I could contact him."
"There is! Just walk over there and talk to him, he's parked and his car has no roof."
"I don't believe you. How does that work?"
"Simple. Just do what you're doing to talk to me now, but over there and facing him."
.o(What a stupid woman. I can hear her from here.)
.o(Can't see this working, but here goes.)
"Wow, you were right, he could hear what I said."
.o(It's her! How do I talk to someone so stupid? As I'm parked, not driving really really slowly or round in circles as the viewer of the comic strip might have imagined, I will respond with one syllable words.)
"Is that your mobile?"
"Yes. That's why it was in my bag. For fuck's sake. And that man thought I was stupid. Oh my god, he says I'm cute!"
Of course, the technology has other uses than this flirting it suggests. "Is that your mobile?" "Yes - it says 'u cut me off I will kill ur ass'. I shall reply with 'haha n00b fagot'." Thus combining Road Rage and Annoying Internet Twats into one delicious ball of violence. Or so it can be hoped. [11:54] [24 comments]

Saturday 7 February 2004
Movies again. Today, for your culinary enjoyment, I comment upon Big Fish and Returner.

Big Fish is very very boring. It takes pretty much the entire first half hour to even get started, such that we almost gave up on it; we would have if it had been no effort to replace it with something else. It gets a little better after that half hour, but still, it remains painfully slow - there's 125 minutes of it, about 75 of which are sustainable, and fewer than five of which are actually entertaining. There were no more than four or five scenes that amused, each of which was shorter than 60 seconds. Then there was lots and lots of stuff that was probably heartwarming or something. Unfortunately, we keep our hearts in our chests, where they can't see the screen or feel its radiation, so trying to be heartwarming doesn't make a movie better.

Luckily for Tim Burton, having the line "directed by Tim Burton" in the advertising makes any movie, no matter how shit, utterly fantastic and everyone will love it. Rush out and see it now! IMDB people rate it 8.1 out of 10, and it's nothing to do with hype or Tim Burton's name being cited thirteen times in the trailer! And none of them, in their comments, say anything that resembles "I want to have Tim Burton's babies"! At all! They only comment on the movie itself, honest!

The trailer goes something like this:
Tim Burton's Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton, in the magical Tim Burtonish style of Tim Burton, director of other movies such as Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands and Tim Burton's 'who cares it's by Tim Burton it must be good'. Now here's a picture of a fish. TIM BURTON!
Returner was a little better, but still a little slow (especially considering it's a sci-fi action movie rather than a heartwarming "look at me I'm a director I am" movie). Its time-travel was both horribly flawed, with more unresolved paradox than you could shake a stick at - a stick that doesn't exist - and horribly predictable, with a twist ending that's 'hinted at' about half way through the movie, where 'hinted at' means 'a huge neon sign burns the exact script of the ending into your retina'. But, you see, the difference is that this is okay, because it's a fluff action movie that's all about the guns, coats and explosions. The time travel plot doesn't really matter. But the alien looks like E.T., which is a bit distracting. [23:54] [15 comments]

Friday 6 February 2004
Latest soul-devouring game: Gunbound. It's a Worms-esque game, with horribly annoying music (which thankfully can be turned off) and standard Japanime cutesy graphics.

Rather than Worms' huge variety of weapons, the player chooses a tank at the beginning which has three different attacks; primary, secondary and super-shot. The super-shot takes longer (meaning you're likely to miss a turn if you use it) and can only be used again after a number of turns. The secondary attack generally takes a bit longer than the primary but does more damage or has a wider spread.

The player also chooses three to six powerups before a match (six slots, some powerups occupy two slots); powerups range from double-shot to medical kits to teleportation (performed by shooting where you want to be), and each can be used only once during the match.

Various environmental effects are to be had, also, including 'Thor', a flying thing that shoots an extra little laser-burst at wherever a weapon lands, and hurricanes, which generally cause one's shots to go awry, but in a pleasing predictable (and therefore compensatable) manner.

On the downside of the game, it only runs in conjunction with the official Gunbound server, which makes it a bit like a Yahoogame - full of stupid people who will call you a n00b if you miss a shot and a variety of inane cursewords when you subsequently win.

Also slightly suboptimal is the system of 'avatars'; you can purchase either with game-coin (earned during matches) or real money various outfits for your character, which have various helpful effects - which means that people who haven't played it much will be at a tangible disadvantage in addition to their lack of experience. Luckily, the effects of the outfits are fairly minimal, generally giving only 10% or so extra health/damage/armour.

Despite its flaws, it's a bit more fun than Worms, as well as more free and more easily internettable. It's really a shame that it doesn't have a LAN play or hotseat mode though. [01:22] [4 comments]