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October 29, 2002

Slamming the Debate

Hi everyone! Sega Soccer Slam finally came in yesterday, and by crikey, it's fun! It really is - it's three-on-three (not counting the goalies, but then again, who does) football with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. I don't know whether it can be played multiplayer, but if so, I think it'll make a great party-game.

I've been doing some fiddling with the Black Talon site, mainly turning character sheets and backgrounds into write-ups. I still have to do that report for Saturday's session. I'm not sure when the next session is going to be; as getting everyone together over the next few months is going to be tricky, my players suggested having sub-sessions for the two fireteams. It's a good idea, but I'm looking forward to doing some writing for Honour and the Regiment, a module I'd like to run at Macquariecon in December. I need to have a blurb in soonish, so I need to decide which to do - I'd prefer to do one or the other rather than try and do both.

The comedy debate on Sunday was good fun. H.G. Nelson was compereing, and he was in form, although with the acoustics of the hall of the gallery where they held it, we were wishing he'd slow down a bit. Being a comedy debate on gayness at the time of the upcoming Gay Games, it was equal parts jokes, opining, personal history and social commentary without really sticking to a debating format. Then again, it's been years since I quit the debating club at high school...

I'll be working from home tomorrow, I have to analyse a few large spreadsheets of assets, and I wasn't getting the time between interruptions to do it today. Jake will also be popping over tomorrow afternoon, which is good, because we've not seen him since his housewarming earlier this year. Komala won't be with him, unfortunately.

October 27, 2002

Daylight Saving Sucks

Hi everyone! Is anybody missing the hour of sleep they've effectively lost with the clocks going forward? We are, a little, especially after last night. It went off well, despite the fact that I'd only done a lot of the prep work (which wasn't too much) that day. It did identify a few things I could have done better, though.

On the plus side, everyone had a good time; the players are really coming together and getting a hang of how Heavy Gear does things. Heck, so am I!

It's still a little disconcerting to have the computer room so darned quiet; neither of our PC fans make that much noise. I've caught myself panicking when I hit the On switch for my PC; for an instant, I think it's not working!

We've been talking about having a Christmas party at our place again this year, but I've yet to do anything about actually sending invitations and the like. Must do something about that.

Tonight's the big comedy debate, so we'll be getting ourselves sorted to head into town this afternoon. We're definitely looking forward to it!

I also want to do a little maintenance on the Black Talon site sometime. I have character notes from almost everyone, and they've given me carte blanche to mutilate them into online write-ups. This should be fun... :-D I also want to put up some notes on the NPCs they've met so far.

Time to go to work...

October 23, 2002

Rebuilding the Red Dragon

Evening all! Or, I suppose, Morning All would be more appropriate. It's twenty minutes to midnight as I start writing this, and considering the reason I'm up so late, it'll likely be gone twelve by the time this gets posted. Ah, well...

So what am I doing? Re-installing Windows XP on Vickie's PC. For some odd reason - and I have this sneaking suspicion that the "odd reason" was the drivers for the CanoScan FB610 - it kept blue-screening during shutdown or restart, and would automatically reboot, which is annoying, especially if you're trying to turn your machine off. Still, a clean re-install and a careful following-of-instructions when it came to the drivers seems to have fixed the problem. I'm just re-loading all Vickie's documents from my hard drive now.

I took yesterday off work to do the work. The new motherboards and processors are in both our PCs, and a new power supply has been installed in Vickie's PC, as has a new video card. The wonderful thing is, with the cases closed the fans are as quiet as mice. It's great to be able to sit at my PC and not be distracted by the fan noise, which was comparable to a miniature jet engine - although, on the other hand, I can no longer fire up my PC with friends around and watch them act like Kenny Loggins is about to burst through the door singing "Danger Zone"...

Red Dragon was good on Monday night. Although Edward Norton was good as the protagonist, and Anthony Hopkins was back in the Hannibal Lecter groove with not a stumble, I think the most memorable performance was from Ralph Fiennes, playing the villain in such a sympathetic fashion that we couldn't quite hate him. What really made the night, though, were the appearances of not only director Brett Ratner, but also Sir Anthony Hopkins himself, to introduce the movie. Yes, Sir Anthony was actually there. He stood at the front of the theatre, said hello, gave his commiserations over Bali and enthused about what a great experience he had with Brett Ratner. It was hard to match this grandfatherly figure with the sleek, deadly presence on screen.

After the movie, Brett Ratner came back and did a Q&A with James Valentine of the ABC, and fielded questions from the audience. It was very interesting to see the man in the flesh, especially as Red Dragon was a serious departure for him: his most famous movies so far are the Rush Hour series.

Vickie's home, and is grousing about how nothing's working, so I'd better get back to it. ;-)

October 20, 2002

Bombing Run

Hi everyone! We had a very good night last night. Steve was actually popping over just to inspect the land and figure out what we want to do; he's working on a quote for the goods and labour and should be able to get in to do it in a couple of weeks.

Picked up the new hard drive yesterday morning. There was a small bushfire near Harris Technology; I could see the flames while I was waiting at the lights. Emergency Services were already onto it, so there didn't seem to be any need to dial 000. For all I know, it may have been a controlled burn.

Nick wound up popping over after 4.30; he had a good drool-around at the motor show that morning. It was great having him over; not only was he a great sounding board for Honour and the Regiment, he came up with some wonderful ideas of his own. I'll start working the module out after Black Talon this coming Saturday; I've already made about three pages of notes after our brainstorming session.

Nick and I drove out to pick up fish and chips and A Knight's Tale, which Nick had never seen. He thoroughly enjoyed it, although he was taking some cynical stabs (he freely admits that when inspiration hits him, it's usually in the form of a critique). After that, I introduced him to Halo, which I think he's fallen in love with, and Rallisport Challenge, which, as he's a major rally nut, he liked very much. As he's a PS2 man, he's glad that both are on their way to PC. It was fun playing RSC multiplayer against him; he was always offering suggestions and constructive criticism in a very friendly manner. I couldn't help noticing the differences between Nick and Cameron, who offers some advice and then gloats that he's leaving me in the dust all the time, even when it's obvious there's no contest. A loyal friend, but very, very competitive.

Okay. I know I said it before I splurged on the Xbox, but I'm officially on a game-spending freeze until next year. Heck, I think it's fair to say I'm on an overall self-spending freeze. Next month is a big birthday month for both of us; the natal dates of several friends and relatives are in November. And of course, December has a very big present-buying event.

The latest issue of Australian Personal Computer arrived on Friday. On the cover discs was the Unreal Tournament 2003 demo, which I decided to install and try out. Now, most of you computer gaming cats know I have nausea problems with First-Person Shooters, so I was actually quite surprised that running UT2K3 didn't cause me any trouble. I also found one of the game modes, Bombing Run, to be very enjoyable; it's sort of like Capture The Flag crossed with basketball. There's this "bomb" (basically the ball of the game) that starts out in the middle of the field, and when you pick it up, you can't use any of your guns unless you throw it away. The objective is to get the bomb into the opposing team's base and launch it through their circular goal. The team with the most points at the end of the match, or the first team to reach the target number of points, wins the game.

I think I'll be keeping it on the PC for the next time Cameron's friend Glenn organises a LAN party; I imagine it'll be a popular choice. I might even pick it up next year, unless someone gets it for me for Christmas. ;-D Just joking, folks. I'm not too fond of the idea of someone spending something like $100 on a Christmas present for me (and yes, that includes that R2-D2 toy I linked to in the last news post).

October 18, 2002

I know what I want for Christmas.

Check him out.

Just got in after a couple of hours in the city with some work friends. I got dragged off to the Slip Inn by Mary, along with Craig, Kylie and Anthony; we met up with a few others along the way. It was nice to do a bit of socialising, although I did my usual social gathering thing - shut up, stood back and listened. I seem to be pretty good at that. Still, the conversation was by and large about cars and people I don't know, both of which lose me fairly quickly.

It was interesting to go back there; I used to go semi-regularly back between early 1998 and early 2000, when I was still working for Advantra. I don't really think it was my scene then, before I even started drinking socially, and now that I do - well, it's still not my scene really. Too loud, too crowded and, to take a page from Notlih, too Square John. The main redeeming feature was the free alcohol. Between 6PM and 8PM Fridays, the Inn has a list of six beverages which are absolutely free. On the list this evening was Heineken; my favourite beer. Guess how many I had?

Two.

I wound up absconding at a quarter past seven - I don't like staying out late when Vickie's working, it just doesn't feel right. Of course, I wound up getting off the North Shore train to Hornsby at Chatswood (pit stop), then waiting a quarter of an hour for the next Hornsby train, then waiting ten minutes at Hornsby for a train to Normanhurst. There you go, eh?

Dragging the conversation back to the nerdy, Vickie and I went through our budget and decided we had enough wiggle-room for us both to get upgraded. I'd like to thank Baz Manalo for pointing me toward Eyo and Computer Market in the hopes of saving me some dosh, but I just couldn't get them to match Adelong's quote (especially as Computer Market won't go any lower than their catalogued price). Also, neither had the sort of motherboard I was looking for (ATA-100, no on board sound, video or network). So, this morning, I called William at Adelong, got him to confirm that all the parts were in stock and then faxed him our purchase details. William reckons the kit should be delivered by Monday - so far, Adelong seems to be doing a pretty good job of getting my good will back, and although they didn't have the ASUS main board I saw on their site, they had a slightly cheaper Gigabyte board that looks like it will do the job, even if it has on board sound.

So, basically, I'll be upgrading both Vickie's and my PC to AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processors and Windows XP Home Edition. Vickie will also be getting a GeForce 2 video card (which ought to easily do what little graphics capability Vickie will need), while I keep my old GeForce 3. I'm also buying a new 80GB hard drive from Harris Technology tomorrow. This'll give us effectively 2 PCs' worth of spare parts, which we're looking toward building as a gift for some family in Melbourne. It might need some RAM, a floppy drive and a monitor, but once it has those, it ought to easily do what they need it to, especially if we build it with my current Athlon 1.2GHz processor and board.

Steve the Handyman will be turning up tomorrow with a couple of trailer-loads of soil and some timber to keep it all in the one place, and Nick will be popping over to talk Heavy Gear stuff (and probably commandeer the Xbox for some Rallisport Challenge).

Vickie 'n' me also have tickets to see the advance screening of Red Dragon on Monday night. It'll be introduced by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins himself, with a Q&A with director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) afterward. I think we'll be getting in there very early indeed.

October 16, 2002

Dust and Echoes

Halo. It's finished.
- Cortana, Halo

On Monday night, after two weeks of on-and-off play, I completed Halo. Definitely well worth the cost of an Xbox. It does have its faults, but thankfully no (or very few) bugs. It's just like I thought it'd be - the Wing Commander of first-person shooters. Cinematic all the way, but not enough that you switch your brain off. You need to be thinking with this one.

So what's next? Well, I could wait until late next year for Halo 2... but there's other fun to be had. As I just played it through Normal difficulty - I've already started through again on Heroic. And then... there's multiplayer, especially the fun of going through the campaign co-operatively. The ideal would be two Xboxes with two TV screens, but as that's pretty much out of the question (especially as I don't know anyone with another Xbox), I'm thankful we've got a nice big 68cm screen so that split-screen mode will still look good!

So - anyone up for the Halo campaign with me? Vickie? Gav? Anyone?

No. I think we're just getting started.
- The Master Chief, Halo

In other news, I've been doing a little shopping around for Vickie's upgrade, and I find myself going back to my old nemesis, Adelong Computers. Some of you cats on the IMAGinewS list know about the pain I had with them late last year when shopping for a new monitor after Vickie's 17" died. This time, I'm going to them for a preliminary quote, which I may take into Computer Interchange and ask them to better. On the other hand, some of the costings Adelong have provided so far look pretty darned impressive, and I've asked them whether they have the parts on-hand to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle. I'm waiting on them to give me a price on the Big Upgrade - the one where I go bonkers and upgrade both our PCs at the same time (and with the same motherboard and processor). I'll let you know how it turns out.

October 13, 2002

Rent or Buy?

With one of Vickie's houses in Cairns having been sold, we've been doing some serious thinking about residence. In our minds has always been the plan that we'd buy ourselves a house somewhere with the proceeds from the sale of both houses going toward a deposit; I believed that the loan replayments would be cheaper than the rent we've been paying.

That idea took a battering when we browsed the papers and the windows of real estate agents. I'm sure this is no surprise to Sydneysiders, but house prices around here are astronomical, and they only appear set to go higher. I think the average house price is around the half-million dollar mark. The idea sunk entirely, though, when Vickie started using the mortgage calculators on the web-sites of various banks. At the moment, we pay a little over a grand a month in rent. If we did take a loan out, we'd be paying about three times that amount every month; we simply can't afford it, even if we found a place in Berowra (an idea I'm not fond of, simply because it's so far away).

So, we've been taking stock of our situation and our options this morning. We've decided that we'll stay where we are for the time being. Even with the traffic noise and the hill, this place has been "home" for most of our time here thus far. It's also conveniently located; it's a little closer to everything than Mt. Colah was, and most of our friends can get here with few problems.

It's meant we've had to let go of some of our plans (ones that we were really hoping we could put into action), and perhaps placing our fate in the hands of the owner. However, the owner has given no indication of selling the house over the past year-and-a-half, and we believe that she's not intending to sell for the foreseeable future. Also, it'll mean we can keep some more money in the bank.

Vickie's also seriously considering putting her remaining house in Cairns up for rent; there haven't really been any serious offers on it since it went up for sale, so renting will give us some more income and help Vickie offset her mortgage on the place.

We'll have a couple of things coming up soon. One is that we'll finally clear out our previous residences. Vickie's son, Karl, is going to be sending all the belongings Vickie still has in her house down here, and I'll need to head back to Mt. Colah and get all the stuff I have stashed away in the wardrobe of my old room. Of course, we won't have room for all of it, so we'll be going through what we need and don't need and holding a garage sale. All you IMAGinES readers who can get here are getting first notice: We don't know when we're having it, but we'll definitely have it!

We'll also be putting together a list of things we want to do here that we'll present to the real estate agent. Nothing really major; we just want to put up some more pictures. But as we will be long-term tenants, effectively guaranteeing the owner an ongoing revenue from the place, we think it's reasonable to make a few requests. Heck, we've had the real estate agents tell us that we're fantastic tenants during previous inspections.

The upshot of it all? This house in Fraser Road was just going to be our temporary residence until we could get the Cairns properties sold and a buy a house. In the meantime, it became our home in our hearts. Now, we're actually accepting it.

October 12, 2002

Geared Up with an Xbox

Morning all! I was writing this last night, when a minor system error convinced me I was up a little late. So, here I am finishing this off Saturday morning!

I think I can officially say my splurge is over. I just bought three new Heavy Gear supplements in two days - Raids & Raiders Thursday, and both the Spaceship Compendia yesterday. All three look like they'll come in handy for the Black Talon Campaign. Heck, Raids & Raiders has stuff in it that I think should have gone into the Black Talon Field Guide (and no, I'm not talking about the Dark Series space Gears)!

I also picked up Dead or Alive 3 for the Xbox at Grace Bros. George Street at 15% off yesterday. Grace Bros. has a sale going at most, if not all, of its stores; 15% off all PC, GameCube, PSOne, PS2 and Xbox games (I bought Halo at Burwood under that deal). It ends tomorrow, so if you want to take advantage, you'd better get your skates on.

Although it's tricky to get the hang of, I look at DOA3 as rounding out the staple console game genres. When someone drops around and wants to play something, I'll have 'em covered: I have a shooter (Halo), a car racer (Rallisport Challenge), a party game (Fuzion Frenzy) and now a fighting game. The only things I don't have are a sports game and a platformer. The sports game situation should be fixed by the end of the month; I've traded in Project Gotham Racing at Electronics Boutique toward Sega Soccer Slam, which looks like a whole bundle of fun (yes, I know it's not a "legitimate" sports game; see previous comment re: "bundle of fun"). They were out of stock, so it's on lay by/pre-order for when it arrives. I'm in no real hurry to get a platformer; the currently available offerings seem less than thrilling. Still, there's ToeJam & Earl III, due out near the end of the month, which looks wacky enough to be fun! There's also an Australian platformer in development for the Xbox, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, so I might support the local talent instead. One (or maybe both) of those will probably go on the Christmas list, depending on the reviews they get.

You did read it right above; I traded Project Gotham Racing in. It was on the cards before I even bought the High Octane Pack anyway, and trying to play PGR was, for me, an arduous experience. I dunno; the learning curve was too steep, and continually going just a second or two over the required lap time to progress to the next level, even after I (sort of) got the hang of cornering just got too annoying. Comparatively, Rallisport Challenge is most enjoyable, especially as it gives you some wiggle-room on most corners. As there aren't often barriers, you're not penalised as much for missing the corner aside from a slight loss of speed (in PGR, you will hit a barrier if you miss a corner, any corner). And Cameron and I had a blast in multiplayer when I hauled the Xbox over to his place last Friday night.

So yeah, there's nothing else I want to blow some disposable income on. Now I'll start shopping for the stuff I actually need, like new clothes. Actually, I've already started; I bought myself some new socks on Monday. Yes, I know, you all really needed to know about the socks. Come on, quit bitching; you should be expecting that sort of stuff from this list by now!

I tried calling Cameron yesterday; I wanted to see whether he was interested in seeing Goldmember this evening (Vickie hates Austin Powers with a passion, so I'm not about to subject her to the third in the series). Unfortunately, he didn't answer the phone or reply to the message I left. One only hopes he was busy with something worthwhile, like work or girlfriend.

The next Heavy Gear: Black Talon session has been set for October 26th, so I'd better get my skates on and get writing. I have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen, though, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I'm also tweaking the website a bit, and I need a little help with something, so I'll probably update it again in the next couple of days.

Nick Irving has also asked me if I can help him write a Heavy Gear module (presumably for MacCon). As it'll (probably) be less work than writing Honour and the Regiment in two months, I've said yes - also, Nick has a pretty funky idea. I be liking.

Although he could just be making up a legitimate excuse to pop over our place and plant himself in front of the TV with Rallisport Challenge...

So what's on for this weekend? General cleanup, I think; we'll go through the joint and get some stuff tidied up. And, if I get my way, there may actually be a little Neverwinter in the offing. ;-D

October 07, 2002

Long Drive on the Long Weekend

Ahhhh... I love long weekends, don't you?

Yesterday was interesting. We drove up to Old Sydney Town, and spent an hour or two there, wandering around, watching the blacksmith and the NSW Corps recruitment (which was hilarious). Lunch there was also very nice; they do a great battered fish, and Vickie loved her ploughman's lunch.

Terrigal fell flat, though. We left Old Sydney Town earlier than we'd planned; we'd missed half of the shows and demonstrations by the time we got there (around midday) and weren't too interested in the rest at the time, so it wasn't long before we'd seen almost everything. We arrived in Terrigal at around three - and the amount of traffic just trying to get into the town was horrendous. Vickie would have liked to have gone shopping, but the only place we could park was over in the large car park on the head (near the famous fish & chip shop), and getting back into Terrigal proper would've meant a walk up and down the big hill. So, we stayed for ten minutes and got the heck out of town (and the inbound side was still thick with people trying to get in).

We stopped off on the way back at a place called the Fragrant Garden, in Erina. It wasn't quite as fragrant as we were hoping, but it was still a lovely little spot, a great place to stop, revive, survive for a while. They have this great shop which is in a yurt-style building (please correct me if I'm wrong; it's the closest term Vickie and I could think of). It has a huge cascade window; basically a waterfall on glass. The sound is very relaxing; quiet enough to be tranquil but loud enough so that you're not thinking you've left a tap running somewhere. Vickie bought herself some bottles of essence and this wonderful thing called a Therapillo, which is this silk beanbag filled with lavender that goes over your eyes when you're trying to relax. It feels nice and cool on your eyelids; I imagine it'd help put you out like a light if you need to sleep.

Needless to say, dinner out at Terrigal didn't happen. I think I just needed to consider the fact that it's a long weekend in the middle of the school holidays (oh yeah: NRL Grand Final Night, too) when I was planning yesterday. I also got nailed on the way home. Important Travel Tip: When travelling South on a Sunday, never use the F3 until you hit Mount Colah. Just use it to bypass Hornsby, because no matter how smoothly-flowing the traffic looks before the Hornsby Shire border, it will be banked up by the time you hit Berowra. The Pacific Highway might be a twisty, turny, upsy, downy road, but trust me, it's virtually traffic-free on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

After all that driving around, we didn't feel like heading out again; in fact, after we got home, Vickie turned to me and said, "Darling, I know it's my birthday dinner, but what I'd really like right now is for you to get us some takeaway of some sort and a couple of videos." (I love this woman.) So I pootled out to Thornleigh for three DVDs - Hardball, Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and The Interview - then went to Pennant Hills for some Fish and Chips for Vickie and a cheese burger and chips for me. Meanwhile, Vickie got to watch a technical hitch test Billy Idol's cool and crowd-pleasing skills to the limit - in case you didn't watch last night, Billy Idol was going to do the musical warm-up for the Grand Final, except the pickups for the backing band's guitars refused to work, so he had to leave the stage after ten minutes. I don't mind Billy Idol, so that was definitely a poor effort by whoever was meant to organise the show - okay, sure, someone can screw up, that's understandable, especially with something that complex, but at an event like that, what really makes you look bad is when you can't fix the screw-up in short order. Very unprofessional.

But regardless, we watched Hardball and Lock, Stock last night. Hardball was your standard cynical-adult-coaches-down-and-out-kids'-team movie, set in the Projects. What elevated it above the crowd was its unusual setting, the kids themselves and a standout performance by Keanu Reeves; he made us believe that his character, Conor, was an absolute drop-kick loser at the beginning of the movie. He looked that bad, jitters and all.

I thought Vickie would like Lock, Stock, but I was a little worried that she wouldn't. I needn't have been; she got a good laugh out of it.

Vickie went to bed at about midnight last night... and I crawled in a couple of hours later after playing some more Halo. Have I told you it's fun yet? I have? Well I haven't told you it's great fun. So there.

Today, we'll pop into Hornsby to do some more shopping - for essentials, this time - and maybe have a fiddle with Neverwinter Nights. Not sure whether we'll make into Newtown - sorry, you Necro guys. I know I said we'd be there for a quick hello.

October 05, 2002

Xbox Pwnz J00

Evening all! The semi-planned splurge for Vickie 'n' me came about yesterday and today. I am now the (slightly) proud owner of an Xbox game console. And before anyone says anything, I will save them the effort: Indeed, I am Microsoft's butt monkey. Whatever. ;-)

I picked up the High Octane Racing Pack (which has Project Gotham Racing, RalliSport Challenge and the book Diary of a Champion by Mark Skaife), Fuzion Frenzy, an extra controller, a Controller S (for those digitally challenged of you, including Vickie), an Advanced AV Cable and, of course, Halo. On top of that, I finally bought The Matrix on DVD and the copy of Neverwinter Nights I've been meaning to buy for Vickie for ages. We'll probably fiddle with that on Monday.

Oh yeah; Halo is fun. I be liking very much so far.

Tomorrow is our big outing; we'll be off to Old Sydney Town and then on to Terrigal.

Sorry to all those who were expecting us at Necronomicon this arvo; we were busy with shopping and suchlike today. With a little luck we should be able to make it down for a little while on Monday (no, I'm afraid we won't be staying for the pub, especially as we both have to work the next day).

We've also set a tentative date for the next Black Talon session; October 26th. So I'll have to get writing between now and then! I think November is going to be a busy month for the lot of us, so the date for Session 3 is a little hazier.