August 2005 Archives

Making things up

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A long time ago, but not so long ago that I've yet forgotten about it, a certain someone (who I shan't name on the basis that he'll probably step forward to identify himself anyway) tasked me to come up with the titles of three short stories (there may have been a fourth, but if so it's name escapes me). The three titles (that I can recall) are:

  1. Revenge of the Amnesiac God
  2. Joy
  3. The Peculiar Adventures of Pluckrose and Growlpetal
I'm still hopeful that I'll one day see the finished stories, but in the meantime, I thought I might try to start filling in the blanks myself, basically making a stab at some creative writing and posting the results up here for all to see. I have a few motivations for this: having suggested the titles, I obviously have some attachment to them and I'm loath to see them fall by the wayside. There's also the fact that I've been at a loose end searching for interesting things to write about that don't concern the dreaded f-word, as well as the simple reason that don't I feel I've been challenging myself adequately lately. Of course, it may just be that I'm in a particularly masochistic mood and the idea of opening myself and my works (such as they are or might be) to public ridicule seems like just a darn peachy idea.

But mostly I want to start making something. I have a venue and an audience (yes, that's you - now sit back down I'm not done with you yet) so it would practically be a waste not to. The titles above are simply a place to start. Not, the only place to start though. I suppose before I start anything new I should finish off something else. About seven years ago I wrote a prologue for a short story. It's actual origins stretch back even further than that - nearly 14 years I believe. It's been following me around for that long at least (it's even been lurking here on this site). Perhaps it's something I'm fated to revisit every 7 years or so. But let's say that I'll make a stab at finishing it now. It's been a long time since I've looked at it and there's are a few changes I'd make now (which I still might), but small things mostly.

This is probably beginning to sound as though I have some sort of plan. Let me disabuse you of that notion. I have no real idea how it will work or if it will work. I'm notorious in my own mind for thinking up an idea and leaving it to fester without ever doing anything with it. That may well happen again here, although now that I've made a vague sort of public commitment I'm hoping not. I'm also not going to dedicate my blog to it. Rather it's going to be an ongoing process and I'll post up new chapters as and when I'm ready.

And when am I going to begin this grand endeavour? Why, tomorrow of course. Start as you mean to go on after

...despite the vaguely Giger-esque content

Oxymoronic design

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The New York times is running an op ed piece in defence of evolution. It might be nothing you haven't seen elsewhere, but it's nevertheless pleasing to come across a cogent argument with all the nonsense about intelligent design that's currently flying around.

Personally, I don't think I can adequately convey my dislike for intelligent design. However it pretends otherwise, it's nothing more than religious dogma wrapped up in pseudo-science. That said I do find it rather amusing that it regards the identity of the intelligent designer to be irrelevant when it's clearly anything but. Hmm, could it be Penry, the mild mannered janitor? What I'd really like to see is the opponents of intelligent design use it to suggest that space aliens are the progenitors of the human race, or otherwise use it to deny the existence of God. The reaction from the religious right would surely be interesting to behold.

The biggest problem with intelligent design is that it's trying ascribe values to God's workings that make sense from a human perspective, and a blinkered perspective at that. This is what God would do, because this is what I would do, as it were. Now say what you will about Catholicism, but the idea of an ineffable God actually has something going from it (from a purely atheistic perspective at least). It presents it's congregation with the concept of a supreme being who's motivations are not merely unknown, but by definition unknowable. It's a lovely dichotomy isn't it? Here's God in all his mysterious glory, so mysterious, in fact, that you can never understand it (Naturally, the conclusion I came to was why bother believing in something I can't ever understand; One mans faith is another's bunkum). So who, I want to know, is arrogant enough to deny that evolution might be part of God's plan? Who claims such insight in the divine workings of a being they can't begin to comprehend? It makes no sense to me. It really doesn't. If someone's belief in a supreme being is so fragile that it can't withstand the evolution of a scientific theory, let alone the theory of evolution, does attempting to discredit the theory begin to address the underlying problem?

This is why I dislike religion, or any attempt to organise belief systems. I have no problem with the concept of belief (why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast), but to me belief is a very personal issue. I'm free to revise my beliefs as I encounter new information. I can take aboard new theories. I don't feel any great desire to denounce other humans beings who don't share my viewpoints (though a small number of exceptions do exist - those who believe the world will be a better place if they stick sharp pointy things in people I care about, for example). Religions are oil tankers of belief. Vast repositories of the stuff, of near unstoppable momentum, in which new concepts are but a drop in the ocean (I wonder, is there an analogy to an oil spill? A religion spill?)

Sigh. Why can't we all just get along?


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I've been feeding on the cinematic equivalent of candyfloss recently; a diet consisting of summer blockbusters of varying quality (courtesy of a UGC nee Cineworld's Unlimited access card) most of which, like the confectionery, have turned out to be pretty enough to look at, briefly distracting and ultimately insubstantial. Consequently I've been hankering for something a little more filling. "Crash" - not to be confused with David Cronenberg's earlier film of the same title - proved a more satisfying treat.

Briefly, it's a series of intersecting events involving a number of inhabitants of Los Angeles. Structurally it's reminiscent of Magnolia more than anything else I can recall, even down to it's unlikely coda. On the other hand, it's really a wholly different kettle of fish altogether.

The whole film takes place over little more than 24 hours or so and principally deals with violence born out of misunderstanding - most often relating to race which seems to form predominant theme of the film - and it's ultimately tragic consequences. Despite that description, I should make it clear that it's not an overtly violent film - there's little excess of that sort shown in the screen, although what we're left with remains stark and uncompromising. There's a rich and complex set of protagonists involved. Even those you loath - and you will loath at least one of them - aren't completely devoid of redeeming virtues. Unusually, we're not given much of a chance to identify directly with them, however, rather we connect with them on an emotional level instead as we witness what they go through. This is easily the films biggest success - it's really does drag you kicking and screaming from one emotional plateau to another. In particular it features one scene that delivers a sort of catharsis to which I can't begin to do justice. To be honest, I'd praise the film as worthy of viewing for this moment alone, but the rest of it stands scrutiny too.

Crash isn't a film you'll walk away from feeling you have all the answers, but realising you've been asked the questions is as satisfying in it's own right. It's great stuff of the sort I'd like to see more.

Go see it.

Fire Fire Revolution

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Egads! Might I suggest Hot Hot Hot as an appropriate choice of song. Link courtesy of Martin B.

Found via boing boing - the Lilac Chaser is particularly effective. There is no green dot...


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During a chat with a time-zone displaced insomniac this morning, the topic of conversation wound it's way towards, as is almost inevitable in such a situation, sheep. I used this segue to reveal, quite pertinently I thought, that in times of sleeplessness (which I'm not experiencing at the moment though I suspect I have due cause - I discovered today that the inland revenue has spent the past year trying to track me down, and in that intervening period has been fining me for some sort of non-compliance, as well as charging interest on said fines. Fortunately a pleasant chap I spoke to on the phone assured me it was all a bit of a storm in a tea cup and that a carefully worded and suitably apologetic letter on my part would work wonders. But I digress...) I have been known to count sheep. Well, no, that's not true. I don't actually count them. That would just be dull, but the alternative of saying something along the lines that I experiment with sheep instead carries entirely the wrong sort of connotations.

When I experience trouble sleeping you see, it's usually because something has happened, an event of some great import, good or ill, that my mind cannot but help flutter around as a moth around a light bulb. In such a case I need a distraction, something benign to occupy and settle my thoughts. Rote counting just isn't enough prevent my attention straying back to where I wish it not, so I modified the counting sheep trick, replacing the counting with a new rule which states that each sheep must cross the fence in a different manner. It's much more fun I promise, and it's something of a challenge to continually invent new fence crossing methods without repetition. It may not work for everyone, but it really does help me sleep, and there's probably some insight to be gained from the solutions I devise to shift sheep from one side of the fence to the other. I'll leave you to decide whether the chainsaw wielding quadruped who demolished the fence with uncommon vigour (for a sheep) came at the end of a good or bad day...

The view from the window

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The weather's been decidedly inconstant today. Each time I've glanced out the window, the small section of sky visible to me (it's a poorly placed window, in a poorly designed house) varied. Serene blue skies, clouds both pillow white and murderous grey, and the staccato patter of raindrops. The day fluctuated between all these and more, with no rhyme, no reason. It was a welcome distraction from the unremarkable rote of work on day when I didn't go outside. Such days always set me on edge a little. The concept remains new to me, spending a day at home, never venturing outside. Once it would have been completely alien. For a period of a decade or more I don't think I ever spent a day without journeying into the outside world, however briefly. Even today was a rare exception, and a good reminder why. Such stagnation doesn't become me and I'll make more of an effort to explore my surroundings in future. I rather think I need to.

Hold me - Hellblazer #27

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Forget Keanu Reeves, here's John Constantine courtesy of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. This is how it's supposed to be.


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In the immortal words of Johnny 5: "Input. Need input."

Lately I've been increasingly aware of the limitations of home-working. The daily stimulus of interacting with others, even in an office environment, is sorely missed. To be honest, I've been struggling for things to write here recently. Looking back at entries from times past made me realise just how much I drew upon the inanities of office life, however, dull for inspiration. I just don't have that on my own. It's not true to say that I'm completely cut off from the world, my family is still present in my daily life, for example, but I'm not as comfortable writing about them. It's easy to poke fun at an office, for example, but it's quite a different matter to take shots at family members (how ever attractive the idea may occasionally seem),

So yes, I really need to find myself another job, if only so that I may interact with a wider range of human beings on a regular basis. Problem is that's not going to happen for a while yet. The all consuming flat has been so named for a very good reason. It's swallowed virtually all of my savings, and for the first time in a long while I find myself uncomfortably in debt. It's not a disastrous situation by any means, with my current best estimate seeing me crawling back into the black at the end of October, but I much prefer solvency. For purely fiscal reasons I'm likely to stay with my current job, probably until some point around April, to allow me to pay off my credit card bill and build some savings again. And them I'm going to take a very long holiday and hopefully, finally, do a bit of travelling and catch up with some people I haven't seen in entirely too long. I'm not promising anything just yet, of course. I'd planned on going around the world for my 30th birthday, just over two years ago, but ended up buying a flat instead - and look how that's turning out. So on the basis that past performance may very well indicate future losses, I'm not going to pencil anything in on the calendar. But please feel free use anything I've said against me in the future - I'll probably need the reminder...

It was another one of those mornings which began with a message from my manager pleading for my assistance to get rid of Paul McCartney, who was popping up all over a porn site where he shouldn't have been. Perhaps we should just let it be, I replied. I couldn't help it, really I couldn't. Given that it was an otherwise quiet morning, and that I had to replace the visage of the illustrious Mr McCartney with that of rapper 50 cent, I stalled as long as I could. Don't worry we can work it out, I replied when he insisted. Do you know what's wrong with it? I've got a feeling. Can you fix it soon? With a little help from my friends. Is it done yet? It won't be long.

And so on and so forth. Of course, I'm not sure he actually caught on in the end, which probably left him with the impression of having had a slightly odd conversation with me. I should have known better.


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I've spent the last few days, perhaps longer, feeling utterly uninspired. Even the simple matter of string words together to form a coherent sentence is an effort, and having done so the results hardly seem worth it. Worse, like some latter day Salieri I seem unable to derive much joy from the works of others at the moment, their brilliance serving only to drive home my own inadequacies. On the bright side, it's more self-loathing that's in evidence, rather than jealously. I've always found the latter to be decidedly unbecoming.

And that's quite enough of the whinging, thank you very much. Moving on to a different matter altogether, I wonder if you can help me with something. Somewhere within the cavernous confines of the Museum of Modern art in New York is a painting I rather liked. I can't recall the name of the artist, nor the name of the piece, nor can I offer much in the way of it's location within the museum, all of which has been somewhat hampering my efforts to track down a print of the piece in question. The best I can do to describe it is to compare it with a mix of differing styles of classical Japanese artwork thrown into a blender and then poured upon a canvas.

A prize to anyone who can give me the name of the artist.

Masters of Deception

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I stumbled across a link to an entry on this site a year or two back. Some fascinating content within.

Advice wanted

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So the tiler has been and gone, my tiles are on the wall and I'm mostly happy. Mostly happy, but not completely. I checked things over earlier today and discovered that the stainless steel sink in the kitchen, previously shiny and new and honed to a pleasing satin finish - a state in which I've been careful to maintain it - is now badly scratched and marked. I can only guess is that some grout wound up settling in the sink during the tiling process and the tiler set about removing it steel wool, scratching it to heck in the process. The sink wasn't cheap, and I'm a little upset about it. I'm planning to broach the subject with the tiler on Monday, when I'm due to pay him, but I'm not completely certain what to say. Should I try to haggle with him over the cost of a replacement sink? Indeed do I have any legal right to? Or am I simply blowing this out of proportion, and should I simply leave well enough alone, say nothing and pay him, and then quietly seeth over my sink and it's manifold imperfections until I can stand it no longer and stump up for the cost of the replacement and it's fitting?

What would you do?

The Island

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The problem with The Island is that Michael Bay takes a potentially interesting premise, with scope for some interesting philosophical ramifications, and then blows things up. It's a Michael Bay film, so a certain amount of wanton violence is expected, but it still feels like a strange choice of subject matter for him, almost as though he took a potentially interesting premise and then went off looking for opportunities to blow things up. Whilst watching the film, I couldn't help but think what I have done to fix it, and pretty soon came to the conclusion that if you were to take a different director, a heavily modified script, and then go off and make a completely different film instead the results would likely be better. Still, Bay has a certain visual flair, so the film is pretty enough to look it, as are Ewan MacGregor and Scarlett Johansson, although visually it's relatively realistic vision of the future (i.e. one that looks very much like today), sits uneasily with some of the more fantastic elements on display. As blockbuster action movies go, it's all thoroughly ok - damning with faint praise, I know.

'Secular gravity', heh

Does anyone else find idea more than a little creepy? Personally I'd have the greatest hits of the Looney Tunes playing on mine...

It's not easy being three

Roses are red (and pink)

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Frustratingly my laptop crashed whilst I was fiddling around in Photoshop. Consequently I've lost the original psd containing the graphics for my new theme and shan't be doing any of the tweaks to it that I'd planned (it wouldn't be too hard, just more effort than I feel able to put into it right now). It'll do for the moment at least - it's called Rose, it's still very pink, and you can see it for yourselves by choosing it from my handy dandy theme selector over at the side. One day I promise to do a theme that doesn't rely on visual cliches like drop shadows, but that's in the future just now.

Like building a replica viking ship using 15 million lolly sticks? All in a good cause, of course.


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How did it get so late? It's been one of those evenings when I checked my watch at around 7 o' clock, and then looked at it a few moments later to discover the hour's gone midnight. Simply a matter of distraction on my part, or have I been the subject of sinister alien experiments? Without completely ruling out the latter, I suspect the former is more likely (which is, of couse, exactly what a conductor of a sinister alien experiment would like you to think). I've been playing around with another new theme for the site, in lieu of actually having anything interesting to write. It's not quite yet finished, since as is so often the case with these things there's rather a large gulf between the initial conception and the final execution. In this case, the end result is considerably... pinker.

Hopefully I'll have it finished for tomorrow, at which point you can judge for yourselves (but just remember: pink. You can't say I didn't warn you.)

Given all the troubles I've had getting things delivered over the past 8 months (good lord, has it really been so long?), the phone call I received this morning concerning the very last items I'm ever going to have delivered seemed only fitting. I'd been expecting a call, to tell me exactly when the new tiles would be delivered and the old tiles picked up for return, so I was glad to actually receive it - phone calls that mysteriously go awry are another item on my increasingly lengthy list of personal bugbears. Of course, the answer to my question of when the delivery would take place wasn't quite what I'd expected. The answer I was given was "now", with "now" being a little sooner than I'd anticipated. From what I gleaned from my conversation with the delivery man who was wondering why no-one was answering the door to my flat, it seemed a phone call somewhere along the line had mysteriously gone awry. Imagine. Negotiations with the delivery man commenced as I explained that it would take me 67 minutes for me to actually reach the flat. Immune to his complaints that I was going to throw his schedule off by another 67 minutes, I stood my ground until he agreed to wait for my arrival. Yay me. Sixty seven minutes later I duly turned up (punctuality is important kids), and mollified the delivery man somewhat by helping shift what seemed to be awful lot of rather heavy (but pretty. Did I mention they're pretty?) tiles.

The tiler even turned up on time again. Plasterer's still awol, but progress is progress...

Swooshier than Star Trek

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The coolest door on the planet, or a lawsuit waiting to happen...

Experimental games

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A few surreal diversions. Not all great games, but they make for some interesting toys, Tower Of Goo and Rainy Day in particular. Unfortunately, most of them are windows .exe's. Sorry Mac users.

The price of progress

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Did Christmas arrive early and someone forget to tell me? The tiler came back to my flat today and actually did some work. Coupled with the fact that he also failed to deliver unto me anything resembling bad news, this represented something of a radical change in the nature of our relationship. By the time I'd arrived at the flat there were even tiles on the wall, witnessed with mine own two eyes! My heart leaps a little right now just thinking about it. Whilst it would go against my deeply ingrained sense of modesty to claim that I have good taste, I can state for certain that I'm very partial to the taste I do have: the tiles look really rather pretty.

On the other hand I was also reminded of the cost of my taste: I picked up the receipt for the new tiles in the post today. As I remarked to Jonathan earlier (who deemed it quote worthy, hence my reproduction of it here), it's amazing how much larger numbers look when they're printed next to a pound sign.

Words fail me. Depending on your point of view, these are either hilarious or downright terrifying...

Fingers crossed

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I'm just about to head off to make my weekly pilgrimage to my flat. According to rumour (I'm not sure what else you might call it), the tiler will there, actually putting up tiles. I'm slightly sceptical, having failed to lay eyes on this near mythical creature several times in the past, but hope springs eternal. On the other hand, my attempts to decorate the living room and bedroom seem to have stalled rather badly. The decorator recommended that several walls be skimmed before decorating, in order to smooth out the various bumps and kinks they've accumulated over the years. This should have happened last week, but the plasterer, whose task it is, but his wife was taken ill and he's been tending to her. He might be able to start again this week, then again he might not, but I bear him no ill will anyway. Certainty cannot stand in the face of my flat.

Apologies for my non-entry last night, by the way. I wasn't wholly absent, rather I was tending to my blog in an attempt to get the tooltips to display for browsers such as Firefox which don't display them by default - now my linky pithiness is there for all to see. Gaze upon my works ye mighty and despair. It's all done through the magic of Javascript. IE and Firefox users, should see a natty fade in/out effect on the tooltips, Opera users won't, and Safari users may or may not - the documentation I've seen on it's opacity settings was a little vague - let me know if it doesn't work and I'm sure I can sort it out.


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The enactments may be lost on non-video games fans, but they're a lot of fun if you recognise the references. I laughed rather loudly at the Zelda sequence

Spike Jonze's Weapon Of Choice video. It's an old one, I know, but it's still utterly fantastic and bears repeating.

Stupid, stupid windmill

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I would have made it under par without it honest. I came 8 over as it was. Hmph.

Tenacious me

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Good grief, that actually proved surprisingly difficult. The problem is one I'm sure every blogger encounters sooner rather than later: what exactly to do with those amusing links you stumble across on a semi-regular basis, which you'd like to share with the world, but which don't quite merit a full entry on their own? Jonathan raised the issue earlier today, and since it's one that's vexed me in the past, I decided to sloth into action.

All I wanted to do was to create a new category to contain all those interesting links, to exclude that category from the main index and archives, and then create a new index solely for my new category in the sidebar. My belief was that this would be a relatively simple operation. As seems to be my present lot in life it turned out to be somewhat more complex than I'd anticipated. Creating the category proved easy, as did adding the new index to the side bar. Even the subtraction of the new category from the main index wasn't too hard - although it did require the use of the terribly useful CatEntries plugin. The problem however was removing the link blog category from my carefully maintained archives. The difficulty here is that CatEntries doesn't recognise the archive date boundaries. Rather than just showing the entries for particular month, each archive page instead showed all the entries from the year dot as a result. Whilst it was rather interesting seeing all my entries together and the progression of my writing, it was of limited usefulness. However, seek and ye shall find is the motto of the day. The solution I discovered over here works rather well, although it's rather scary in some regards and requires the addition of two more movable type plugins. One of these is a terribly cool plugin which enables direct access to the MySQL database. Having raw SQL sitting around in the templates is far from ideal, but then I couldn't find any alternative short of actually learning perl and diving into the Movable Type api (not a wholly unattractive proposition, but far more work than I'd planned to put into this). I've updated all my templates now, including the rss feeds and everything seems to be running just fine.

Of course, having done the cool technical bits now, I'm left with a rather embarassing lack of content in my shiny new link blog. Any suggestions...?

It was all his idea honest...

State of play

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I meant to write something about E3 back in May, but it came and went without comment from me. What's E3? Wait, you're not familiar with the yearly Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, when the great, the good (and often the dire) co-mingle and tout their wares for the year ahead? No, well, it's probably not everyone's cup of tea, though it's definitely something I pay attention to; this year more than most. The gaming world, or the console side of it at least, runs on a 5 or six year cycle, you see. With the now venerable PS2 launched in 2000, the current cycle is nearing it's end and already the major players are busy mapping out their plans for the years ahead. Most of their schemes were laid before the public for the first time at E3.

Let's quickly recap the state of play with the current generation of consoles first. The winner, by a considerable margin was Sony. A late entry to the console wars with the first PlayStation, Sony quickly came to dominate the gaming landscape. The anticipation for the PS2 put paid to Sega's ambitions with the Dreamcast, and proved a near insurmountable obstacle for Microsoft and Nintendo.

Microsoft, with their Xbox, confounded my expectations slightly, getting far more right than I'd expected them too. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the absence of Microsoft's usual arrogance, replaced with an unusual willingness to listen - the original controllers, for example, were widely mocked by gamers around the world, and Microsoft to their credit went back to the drawing board and came up with a design that's lauded as much as the originals were despised. They've also gone a long way to providing a cohesive environment for developers and by all accounts they've done a sterling job pioneering online gaming with Xbox Live, and though they've been unable to catch up with Sony, they've carved themselves a respectable niche. That said, they completely failed to make a dent in Japan, largely due to their library of western focused games; Halo, the crown in Microsoft's IP crown belongs in a genre which has little popularity in Japan.

Then there's Nintendo. I find it entirely fitting that Nintendo's recently opened retail outlet in New York is named Nintendo World. Nintendo do seem to operate in their own unique corner of the world where, if they're not complete unaware of what Sony and Microsoft are up to, they certainly come across as ambivalent towards it. I believe the Nintendo made some fundamental errors with the launch of Gamecube - primarily aiming it at too low an age group. Nintendo have stated several times their goal to expand the audience for their games beyond the usual demographic of 25-35 year old gamers, but in do so they've not payed as much attention to that key demographic as they should. And, for the moment at least, that's where money lies. Nintendo have continued to cede market share to Sony and Microsoft this generation, and whilst that's far from good news, it should be remembered that Nintendo remains a hugely profitable company with liquid reserves in the billions of dollars.

So what's coming up next? Each of the major console companies announced new hardware at E3. Sony have come up with the imaginatively titled PS3, Microsoft have come full circle with the Xbox 360, and Nintendo are promising a Revolution. Most information came from Microsoft and Sony with Nintendo showing little more than the design of the box. What's clear, though is that the battle for the high end is being fought by Sony and Microsoft, whilst Nintendo are gamely attempting to broaden the appeal of Nintendo world.

In raw technical terms, Sony appear to have the edge of Microsoft. Don't worry, I'm not about to going into the raw details. Suffice it to say that both are tremendously powerful machines, though not as powerful as the raw numbers may suggest, and come complete with a new set of idiosyncrasies for developers to get their heads around - multi core cpu's for one. Broadly speaking I don't expect to see much graphical difference in games, at least for the initial round of games. Still, there are still some significant differences between them Like it's predecessor, the 360 comes with a hard drive to supplement it's dvd drive whereas the PS3 with a blu-ray drive, one of the potential successors to dvd's. The 360 supports high definition televisions but only at 720p, while the PS3 on the other hand supports twin 1080p displays.

However, the most important similarity between these two competing consoles will be cost. Neither of these machines will be cheap to produce. Merrill Lynch recently estimated the production cost of a PS3 console at just shy of $500. The 360 may be cheaper to produce, but not vastly so. Console manufacturers generally rely on selling their hardware at a loss, hoping to turn a profit on the games themselves - the licensing model is such the the console manufacturer will claim a fee for every game sold for their platform, regardless of who produced it. Even if Sony retail the PS3 at $399 they stand to lose just shy of a billion dollars in their first year if they sell the 10 million consoles they're predicting. Even for a company the size of Sony, that's a considerable hit. Of course, no pricing has been announced for any future console yet, but Sony's president, Ken Kutarugi, recently went on record saying that the PS3 would be "expensive" and that "the PS3 can't be offered at a price that's targeted towards households." To be honest, I find Sony's position to be absolutely bizarre. They've stuffed the machine with an array of extraneous functionality which raises the price whilst offering games little in return. I mean 6 USB2 ports? And the support for twin 1080p displays when it's debatable whether even the machine even has the power to do much with them? All that's missing is the kitchen sink. Someone at Sony should have been keeping an eye on costs and that doesn't seem to have happened. Either the price will rise for consumers, or else Sony will absorb the cost to keep the price low. The net result is still costly for Sony. Just to put that into perspective, for the last couple of console generations the launch price has been $300. Deviating to far above that risks alienating consumers. By comparison, Microsoft seem to have done a better job loading the 360 with the essentials without skimping too much. The primarily downside in terms of cost is the hard drive. I was initially sceptical about that at first, viewing it as an expensive luxury, but it's since become clear that Microsoft are planning on stepping up their foray into online gaming with the 360 and they have big plans for making money through downloadable content. In this context the hard drive could well turn out to be a shrewd investment.

And then there's Nintendo, a bit of a black horse again. Unusually, Nintendo isn't trying to compete at the high end, claiming to have realised that regardless of how powerful the machine may be, it's not going to fundamentally alter the way we play games. Pictures of the Revolution show a very small machine, around the size of 3 stacked dvd cases according to Nintendo's publicity. The size of the machine limits it's power. It makes no allowance for the sort of heat generated by the fastest processors. Instead Nintendo have stated their desire to produce a console, that's small, affordable (certainly cheaper than the PS3 or 360), powerful enough, and which can appeal to a broader spectrum of gamers. The last part is the interesting bit. Nintendo are claiming that the Revolution really will offer a revolution, something that will change the way we play games, as well as the demographic that will play them. The controller will be the key they say. There's plenty of speculation as to just what the new controller will offer. Hints have been dropped by Nintendo, but nothing more. Shigeru Miyamoto has said in several interviews that current controllers are to complex, confusing users to with two many buttons and sticks. Given that the average controller has 3 control sticks and between 8 and 10 buttons, it's a point that probably has some merit (the fact that it comes from the man behind Mario, Zelda and some of the most influential games ever created should lend it extra weight). Still, it's difficult to say exactly what the new controller will offer. Speculation has ranged from the reasonable (a gyroscopic sensor, a trackball), to the feasible but unlikely (a touchscreen on the controller), to the truly outlandish (3d holographic displays, vr headsets). My money is on the gyroscopic sensor, and I like the idea of a trackball, particularly as consoles move online and interfaces become more complex. And just think what a cool conversion of Marble Madness you could do with a trackball. Nintendo have promised we'll know more before the end of year. It's worth pointing out that raw power alone doesn't necessarily define the winner of the console wars. The PS2 was by far the weakest of the previous generation after all, and Sega's Genesis/Megadrive managed to trump the superior SNES a couple of generations before that. The handheld market also offers an interesting view of what might happen, with the innovative Nintendo DS holding it's own (despite it's horrible industrial design) against Sony's technically superior, and infinitely more graceful PSP. Coupled with the fact that Nintendo are the only company talking innovation in the games themselves means that they could well be on to something.

Anyway there are interesting times ahead. Microsoft will be first to market with an ambitious world wide launch for the 360 this November, trying to avoid the fate that befall the Dreamcast as games sat on their wallets and waited to see what Sony came up with. The PS3 is expected for Easter next year, whilst the Revolution seems to be slipping further back to the middle of the year. My bet is that Sony will retain their top spot, but that Microsoft will achieve a much closer second and that Nintendo will continue to be Nintendo, producing games that only Nintendo can.

Remedying ignorance

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My approach to learning is probably more passive than it should be these days. I've fallen into a pattern of accumulating the stuff in passing rather than actively seeking it out. That's not to say I don't go looking for it - I do, but usually either as a result of an immediate need, or else because it lies in one of those small niches which intrigue me so. It's probably time I started hunting out knowledge for it's own sake again, starting with one of the many areas in which I have a mild interest but little insight. The history of the world and it's nations is certainly one of these, as I discovered today when I browsed through the CIA's factbook. It's offers more of a collection of facts and figures about the various nations of the world, rather than an in depth history, but it piqued my interest.

If anyone has a recommendation for further reading on this subject I'll be much obliged. A beginners guide perhaps - I suspect the complete history of the world will encompass a not inconsiderable body of material...

Until tomorrow

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I've started and stopped writing about half a dozen different entries just now. Nothing's taken. Nothing's stuck. It's not that I can't think of anything to write - plenty springs to mind - I just feel incapable of doing any of it justice. I start, look at what I've written, look at it's phrasing, try to estimate it's worth, then scrub it out and start again.

I'm still at a low ebb after the weekend, even after getting things mostly sorted out yesterday. I feel emotionally drained; no longer upset, no longer excited. I want to write something stirring, something which invokes colour, and passion and movement, but all I can conjure is an emotional monotone, grey and still.

A famous quote from Walt Whitman keeps coming to mind:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I had to look up the full context of the quote to find this bit of text. Having done so I feel almost embarrassed to repeat it, realising that until now that I've been ignorant of it's full context: the poem Song of Myself. I'm too tired to do much more than skim it right now, but even a quick glance reveals many lines of lyrical beauty. Even without such context, I'm still enamoured with the few lines I quoted above, so elegantly articulated.

It feels apt now. I find comfort in it, in the knowledge that we are not fixed creatures, that what I write now shall be different from what I'll write tomorrow. In the thought that this is the only moment in my life, here and now, that I could possibly have written these particular words in this particular order. And that tomorrow shall be different.

Moving on

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My flat seems to have developed it's own particular equilibrium. I've been close enough to it over the last few months (too close!) that I should have probably realised this sooner. Things go wrong, then things go right. And vice versa and so on, etcetera, etcetera. Today's disaster is tomorrow's distant memory. The tiles were sorted out today - the manager provided a sympathetic ear as I regaled her with my woes. In an unexpected turn of symmetry she also regaled me with hers - in the midst of some home improvements herself she's also have problems with a tiler. Whether because of that or no, she agreed to allow me to return my previous purchase in favour of something new - subject to a restocking fee, but I shan't complain. I may even have found someone to buy the tiles from me instead - I'll find that out tomorrow, but it feels good that such options are suddenly blooming around me. The end result is stretching increasingly far from my original conception, but it's still in the right neighbourhood. The new tiles are scheduled to make an appearance a week from today. The tiler tried to curry favour by saying that he'd be able to start that very day, so I've decided to give him one last chance. He's by no means my favourite person in the world, but right now I'm placing expediency over whatever grudge I may hold against him.

Even my radiators turned up today after seemingly vanishing off the face of the earth for a few weeks. This was to have been my final delivery - cause for celebration after the troubles I've had getting things delivered, but that honour is now reserved for the final batch of tiles. I'd been expecting a few more upsets before the flat was finished and I received more than I'd bargained for in that regards. Still, I have a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that the worst is now behind me and that I'm in for a bout of smooth sailing. I'm certainly due for one.

Touch wood....

The utterly delightful flash game Grow has sprouted an utterly delightful sequel, Grow RPG. They're both wonderful - go, play, enjoy.

And speaking of utter delights, I'd also recommend taking a peak at these copyright breaking scans from the recent Spider-man/Human Torch series. It's written by Dan Slott, who's lately been doing some sterling work for Marvel applying a comedic spin to some of the more obscure corners of the Marvel Universe (possibly the only way to deal with characters as diverse as She-Hulk, The Mad Thinker (and his Awesome Android), and Squirrel Girl). All the elements in the story, from the Spider-Buggy, the Red Ghost and his Super Apes, and the Hostess Fruit Pies are drawn from Spider-man canon and the result is delicious slice of whimsy. Go, look, enjoy.

Damn it

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I hate tilers. I know, I know, hate is an awfully strong word to use, but it begins to sum up the mixture of fury and disappointment I'm feeling right now.

After delaying by two weeks, the tiler finally made it to my flat today. I know this because I got a call from him telling me that he'd turned up at my flat today. The brief moment of joy I derived from this was almost immediately tempered, however, when he followed up the news of his arrival by telling me that my tiles are completely unsuitable. Just to recap a little, these are the tiles I showed the tiler before ordering. Unfortunately it seems we got our wires crossed. My recollection is that he told me the tiles were too large for the floor. That was fine - I ordered smaller tiles for the floor to compensate. Unfortunately, the tiler now says that the tiles were so unsuitable for the wall that it never occurred to him to mention that small, salient fact to me. He just assumed I knew. I rather desperately wish he had thought to bring it up, because these beautiful, expensive tiles of which I'm so fond are also non-returnable. Did I mention that they were expensive?

Not the first time since this all began, I could weep.

I'm still trying to arrange a second opinion, though the fact that the tiler was adamant about their unsuitability to the point that he said he'd rather walk away than try to apply them doesn't give me much hope. I've also launched an appeal with the tile shop, saying that I'd be perfectly will to pay a restocking fee, as well as buying any replacement tiles from them as well. I'm not expecting this to yield any results in my favour either (such would actually require good fortune, a quality in which I've been notably lacking of late), though I should find out on Monday when the store manager, who's the only person able to make such a decision, returns.

I'd actually been entertaining thoughts of moving into my flat next weekend. How foolish was that? Goodness only knows when it will be ready by now. I don't even know whether I'll be able to afford new tiles, let alone when I'll be able to get a tiler to fit them.

I'm really not very happy right now.

Just a mo

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Mo Mowlam's one of the few politicians for whom I have some fondness. Intelligent, outspoken and unafraid to veer from the party line when it conflicted with her beliefs. In contrast to some other politicians who seem to spend their time in the Commons preparing a career for themselves as soon as they exit the political arena, Mo always gave the impression that she was simply doing the right thing, regardless of the cost. I'm slightly disturbed then by several of the reports I've read concerning her current illness. Perhaps they're trying to emphasise the severity of her condition, but those I've seen have read disturbingly like obituaries. Needless to say I hope there's some life in the old biddy yet - we could certainly use a few more like her.

Two weeks notice

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Bah. And to think I was pleased to find a tiler who could start at such short notice. Everyone told me what a near miracle that was, and how they'd had to wait week if not months until their tiler was able to start work. Of course, I was slightly concerned when he first failed to turn up when he'd originally announced he'd be available. Still, if my experience has taught me anything it's that deadlines are surprisingly stretchy when it comes down to it. Then he rescheduled again, for last weekend. That didn't happen, but when he said he'd be able to start on Wednesday for certain I could feel my confidence in his reassurance waning. And sure enough, today came and went. The tiler is currently trying to persuade me that he'll really be ready for absolutely gosh-darn sure this Friday. I have my doubts. I'll give him one last try, but failing that, can anyone recommend a decent tiler?


In the pages of Miracleman, a comic originated by the ubiquitous Alan Moore who later passed the torch to Neil Gaiman, Gaiman posited the theory that the occurrence of one genuine impossibility would eventually lead to a cascade of previously impossible events coming to pass. It's a theory I've long been fond of, and which I'm now beginning to wonder has some basis in at least a small subset of fact, this particular subset involving Apple.

A few months ago, Apple breached the first of those seeming impossibilities when they announced their intention to transition to x86 hardware. It seems that move has now opened the door for yet another product I never thought way see the light of day from Apple: The monumental multi-button mighty mouse.

Oh, at first glance it may appear like any other mouse from Apple, but a closer peek at the specs reveals not just one button in evidence, not two buttons, oh no, not even three buttons. No dear reader, it seems when Apple preaches what was once considered heresy, they do so in as loud a voice as possible. What we have here, though it's protrusions are cunningly disguised, is a four button mouse. And with a rather nifty scroll ball to boot (the functionality of which is something Apple's mice have been missing for entirely too long).

It's been some twenty years coming, but it's here at last. Joking aside I'd love to have been privy to the discussions at Apple prior to it's release, and I'm curious as to how it will be received. I'm equally curious to what barriers remain for Apple to breach now. Perhaps we'll see MacOs running out of the box on generic x86 hardware yet...

Small mercies

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I was on the verge of having a small whinge last week, when the tiler and decorator both informed me that there would be delays before they could start. So close, I thought, though In truth I was expecting at least one more delay (my delay sense was tingling all week), so this didn't come as a big surprise. And since I'm certain my karmic balance has been slipping into negative figures lately I decided to hold off on any complaints. Then I had a conversation with the electrician today about the electric hob that still requires connection. To summarise, the conversation went something like this

"But it's a gas hob, right?"
"Um, no. It's electric."

The electrician hadn't provided any wiring for the hob, mistaken as he was in his belief that any flat with a gas connection must have a gas hob. It's a surprisingly common misconception which probably means I made a wrong choice somewhere along the line and just haven't realised yet. Still, had the tiler tiled and the decorator decorated when they were supposed to, the electrician would have had to tear holes through their handiwork to install wiring for the hob. For once a delay has worked in my favour - perhaps my karma is in better shape than I thought. It feels good.

Not long to go now, hopefully. Perhaps next week. Or the week after...

Bright ideas

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Shopping for a lightbulb today, I was pleased to note that Philips (at least - there may be others) have started to display the expected lifetime of their various bulbs on their boxes. In our increasingly energy conscious society it seems like a commendable idea, and hopefully one that should give shoppers pause to consider the false economies involved in buying cheaper bulbs.

It also started me wondering whether a similar idea should be extended across all electrical appliances. Not their expected lifetime - I imagine that would prove rather troublesome, but say perhaps the amount of energy they'd typically consume an in year based on average usage, perhaps in kilowatt hours (it would also be terribly helpful if energy companies would also provide customers with the cost of electricity in kilowatt hours for this purpose). Imagine, for example walking into an electrical store and being able to tell at a glance how much the usage of a particular appliance would cost you over a year or longer. I realise that in this country we already have labelling for appliances, rating them A to F for efficiency, but this strikes me as an abstraction too far and it certainly doesn't give consumers any indication of how much more A rated appliance will cost them to use relative to a B rated item or lower. I can imagine that the present system will encourage a subset of enlightened purchasers to choose the more environmentally friendly option, but I doubt it would have the visceral impact of raw pounds and pence figures.

It's a thought anyway.