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February 28, 2003

An Oily Situation

This Saturday, at the very least, is going to be a busy one. With all the rain we've had lately, the grass on the lawn has exploded; I'm getting stuck into it tomorrow morning with the mower. John T's house party is on that afternoon / evening, so we'll need to pick up some supplies for that as well. I might use some of Sunday to do some catching up on work stuff; we're going to be a man down for a while, so I need to sort out where we are and what'll be coming up.

Vickie picked Madam Lash up from Kmart this arvo. Thankfully, the bill came in at $50 under the initial estimate, but the fat lady hadn't sung yet. Kmart identified not one, but three separate oil leaks. We've booked the Madam in for another session next Thursday, where they're going to replace all of her seals. Kmart estimated the cost at $500. So, after Friday, we'll have spent around $750 on the Madam, and she won't even have had her pink slip inspection yet (which, plus green slip and re-rego cots, will take us over the grand mark). As her rego is due at the end of March, Freelancer and those Heavy Gear miniatures might have to wait just a little longer...

And speaking of the Heavy Gear miniatures, Boots piked on our painting session this week; apparently his Gear Krieg players decided that they wanted a session on that day. Knowing that getting players in one place is like herding cats, I can sympathise with the guy.

Enough of my rambling. Time to get dinner and do some serious relaxing.

February 27, 2003

Demos and Delays

Good morning! Working from home today, so I'll make this quick.

Boots and I have made a date for next Tuesday to get started on the Heavy Gear miniatures. The eighth is a bit awkward for Dan, so we're postponing the next session for the moment; instead, I've suggested I do an early playtest of the InSpectres module I have planned for Con*Descending; as I have the player characters pretty much down, I should be able to knock something solid together adventure-wise by then. The extended time might give me the chance to put an order in for the Heavy Gear miniatures I don't have...

Madam Lash will be dropped off at Kmart this morning. I need to check whether the estimate I was given for the repairs included parts. I think it did, but best to be sure. Vickie will pick her up tomorrow on the way to work.

Still no further word on lunchtime soccer on Thursdays.

I downloaded the Freelancer demo from GameSpot last night. It looks great, and gameplay-wise, it's everything Privateer fans like me have been pining for for years. You get the first story "episode", and then you get to tool around a single star system until you level up to level 2, at which point the demo ends - a bugger, as I was looking forward to selling my ship and buying a heavy fighter only available to level 2 pilots. But, I suppose, that's what gets you hooked on getting the game itself...

As my laptop is busy trying to sort out my new mail as it comes down the phone line, I thought I'd dodge back here and slap some more news up. It appears part of the money pressure this month (at least on the geek side) has been let up; Disney Interactive has announced that Tron 2.0 won't be released in the US until the end of August. It's a bit of a bugger, as I was looking forward to getting my hot little hands on it in a few weeks. Still, at least it's solved the "Will I buy Tron 2.0 or Freelancer first?" quandary.

And in the meantime, just check out that new Lightcycle. It might offend some fans of the classic design (even though that's going to be in the game too, as it should), but I like it. Not to mention that Jet Bradley's face is suddenly looking much more detailed. If this is any indication of quality, I say that any qualms I have about getting the game in August instead of March are definitely appeased by the thought of all that extra development time...

February 21, 2003

Cons and Campaigns

Evening all! Another working week done, and a nice relaxing weekend of nothing in particular to look forward to. It's great, isn't it?

Heavy Gear is progressing. Gav dropped over on Wednesday evening and donated his supply of Green Stuff - Citadel Miniatures' modelling clay - to the cause. The next step is to hook up with Boots sometime soon, so we can convert the team's Gear miniatures into Dark Series models (it looks like Boots will be dropping over this coming Tuesday night). So far, the eighth of March seems to be okay with everyone for the next session, although I have to confirm with Dan when he gets back from the U.S. - assuming, of course, that his return flight gets him back before the eighth, which, as I have no idea what his itinerary is, it may not.

As we still don't have any opposition miniatures, the next session is definitely going to be a roleplaying-oriented session; Miki Hirami may well get to make use of her Investigation skill! Regarding the miniatures, I took a quick look at Dream Pod 9's web site this evening, to see what their prices plus shipment to Australia came out at - and with four Battle Frames, two Hovertanks and two Weapons Packs coming out at a little over AU$150 including shipping, I think I might just order the kit directly from the manufacturer.

Still, that may have to wait. Madam Lash's rego expires in March, and the service we put her in for late last month revealed that not only does she have an an oil leak, but also that the boot on the right-hand joint of the CV shaft has torn; there's no oil left in the joint. As there's no way of telling how long it's been gone, the best bet is to replace the entire CV shaft. All up, we're looking at $300 or so for the repairs, and then there's rego on top (which I still have to book an inspection for), and I have no real idea how much that's going to cost. As is, it looks like the Black Talon minis and Tron 2.0 are going to be put back a little further.

In the meantime, I'm sure you've been seeing Mandi's posts on the IMAGinewS list for Con*Descending at the University of Sydney over the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend. She's been nagging Boots and I to write modules for it; Boots caved last week, and I finally gave in a few days ago. I'm still saving Honour and the Regiment for MacquarieCon this year (I'm not going to haul all that Heavy Gear kit any further than Epping), so instead, I'm going to try something a little different.

After reading Steve Darlington's RPGnet review of InSpectres, I decided to download it. With the current exchange rates, the price of US$10 came out at a few cents over AU$16, and frankly, even with its plain layout and lack of any illustrations, I think it's worth every dollar. It takes a different approach to roleplaying in general, in that the character statistics and number crunching are extremely minimal, and rolling well allows players to actually embellish (and even steer) the plot the way they want to! It looks like the sort of thing that might go down well at a convention, and I've already made up characters for it. Now, all I need to do is think of a hook and some potential twists and then write a blurb before March 22nd, and I'm in business! I intend to playtest it a few times before the con, so if anyone would like to volunteer to try it out (even those of you who've never done this roleplaying thing before, as InSpectres is very easy to pick up) please let me know; you'd be most welcome!

As Tuesday's lunchtime football (soccer) had a low turnout (the organiser, myself and one other) we'll probably be switching to Thursdays.

Beyond a shopping trip, Vickie and I have nothing planned for the next couple of days. Who knows; Vickie may even drag me off to see One Hour Photo! Next Saturday's a different story, though: John Tuggey has invited us to a party at his place. Should be fun!

February 16, 2003

This Is My Theory

I have this theory when it comes to Neverwinter Nights, and it might well be applicable to D&D in general: When creating a party, do not, I repeat, do not leave home with out at least one dedicated fighter character. As I think I mentioned in my last news post, Vickie and I are consistently getting our posteriors served to us on the family silver (the family in question being the long-established Waterdhavians of, I believe, Waterdeep). We keep crawling our way toward enough experience points to earn a level-up, only to have some big, tough critter and his/her/its minions knock us back down to almost Level 2. Although Perin Nertoppho, my handy rogue, is definitely good for getting at loot in locked chests and disabling traps, his halfling constitution doesn't give him a long combat lifespan. And even though Goldenrod Starkeeper, Vickie's able ranger, is very adept with a bow, fisticuffs isn't quite her game either. I'm thinking of importing one of my other characters, Rente Arnesen, a fighter who's already at something like level 5, thanks mainly to experience on the Frendeer server.

I've been making notes on the next episode of Black Talon, and I fully intend to be sitting down at my PC tomorrow night, staring at the screen until I start writing campaign-related stuff down. It's also getting close to the end of the month, and I don't even have a new rant for you characters yet. On top of that, some of you cats are applying the heat for more Slamdance. I'd say "I'm working on it", but how many times have you heard that before? I do have a writing schedule, where I work on stuff while Vickie's at work, and it's about time I started following it.

Things got a bit busy at Gav's place yesterday, so I'll be giving him his Delta Green books some other time soon. Also, Jake got back to me on the Treasure Planet front; he and Komala were interested.but unfortunately, it looks like it's come to the end of its cinema run. (sigh) Ah well. The next movie Vickie and I intend to see is One Hour Photo.

It looks like lunchtime soccer may be a going concern at work again, on Tuesdays at least. Aside from that, I'm thinking of going swimming at Hornsby pool after work (again, while Vickie's working - I don't want to take away from our together time). I need to lose some of the weight I put on across Christmas.

Time to get some kip; I was up a little later than I otherwise would have liked.

Back Into It

Good afternoon, everyone! We're back into the old swing of things (i.e. work). There's been a change on my front, though - I've been moved up to the top floor of my building! (Okay, okay, it's only a four-story building, and I was on the third storey beforehand anyway. Lemme have some joy out of this, okay?)

We're still trying to pick up a bargain laptop for Vickie on eBay, but we keep continuously getting overbid. I have the feeling our budget won't be able to cover a laptop, but we'll see how we go...

We finally got back around to Neverwinter Nights last night; we started at around nine thirty and finally finished off at two o'clock this morning! We're now halfway through Chapter 1, and we keep having to respawn (which takes away gold and experience points) when we meet the Waterdhavian creature behind the troubles in each suburb of Neverwinter. Going through single-player must be tough... Apparently Cameron bought himself a copy recently, but he keeps experiencing bugs and performance problems. (He had some with Black & White, too - and he used to knock me for the trouble I had.) I'd invite him to join us, except I can't run an Internet game from my PC with the way our network's set up at the moment (maybe after I get that Linksys hub I have my eye on). We might be playing a little more today, after Gav drops over. In the meantime, I've been exploring some of the servers that are up and running on the Net for NWN, and looking at upcoming games on Neverwinter Connections; I might squeeze myself into a game sometime. As a result I've not done much dev work on the Kingdom of Hyatt module lately.

Some interesting things have been happening with the Heavy Gear: Black Talon campaign, and we haven't even played a module since December. Altin has decided that the overall flavour of the campaign just isn't working for him, and has decided to bow out early and gracefully. The big shopping trip happened yesterday, except it wasn't quite as big as I thought it would be - the Tin Soldier only had one standard Battle Frame miniature and no Hovertanks whatsoever. Still, everyone else has their miniatures (as Altin has stepped back, I've bought a Black Mamba for Dan). We've tentatively scheduled the next session for March the 8th (we'll have to check it with Dan, as he's in the States vising rellies and going to conventions at the moment), and I'll have to get writing on the next episode. Altin and I have already been collaborating on some ideas for having Altin's character, Louis-Pierre Garcon, taken out of the campaign.

I'm still chugging though Legendary difficulty on Halo at the moment; I'm trying to secure the grav-lift into the Truth and Reconciliation, and it's pretty tricky. All of a sudden, those Covenant plasma weapons are able to cut through my shields like butter, and the shielding on a Red Elite can withstand one hit to the head from a sniper rifle before the bastard drops.

After the shopping trip, Vickie and I went to see Star Trek: Nemesis at Hornsby. As Star Trek movies go, it was very good indeed, although Dad wrecked the ending for me on Friday night.

Gav is dropping over today; I'll be giving him his Delta Green books back, and he'll be loaning me the Forgotten Realms sourcebook. I've been thinking of picking it up myself, as it'll come in handy for creating NWN modules.

As yet, no-one's expressed any interest in seeing Treasure Planet sometime. Is anyone keen?

February 10, 2003

Fond Farewell

Hi, all! Last day of leave today; back to the old grind for both of us tomorrow. As today's the first day we've had alone for two weeks, we decided to spend it together. I shot an e-mail off to Boots with our apologies; thankfully, he was all right with it.

We got Jillian to the airport at half past twelve and had a relaxing lunch with her for an hour. While she was packing, Jillian started asking me about the cost of setting up a cheap, 486-type PC; her intention was to give Vickie a "glorified typewriter" to start seriously writing on, without the distraction of the Internet and her PC's other functions. The issue of space came up, until Vickie had the brainwave of getting a cheap, used laptop - and then Jillian gave her some money to buy one. We've been cruising eBay this morning for one that will capably run Win98 and MS Word 97, and we've put a bid down on a used Toshiba.

After lunch, we saw Jillian to the entrance to the departure gates and said our goodbyes. We miss her... but, we must admit, we still don't mind having the place to ourselves again.

Before we left home, I had a surprise phone call from Marcus, who's been meaning to buy my 100 Mbit hub from me for a couple of months (and who's been meaning to pop up to Fraser Road and see us for ages). After we left the airport, Vickie and I popped over to the home of Marcus and his lady, Nell, in St. Peters, where we met Monty, their flat-mate and an old acquaintance from my year at Macquarie Uni, and their dog, Bo, who seems to have bits of shepherd, kelpie and collie, and is very friendly. (Vickie and I are both dog people, so he was our dog fix for the day.) From there we went to a café in Newtown, where we got to do some catching up. Vickie, Nell and Marcus spent a lot of the time swapping travel stories, which were great to listen to.

I nipped out to get some videos and fish and chips last night, and we watched Reign of Fire, which really wasn't as bad as the aura around it at the time (general word-of-mouth along the lines of "it's getting bad reviews") indicated. Sure, there was nothing new or ground-breaking there, but I thought Christian Bale was fantastic and made his character very believable. It was also fun to see Matthew McConnaughey in what was, I think, his first serious "action" title, and definitely playing very out of type (although I wish he'd stopped turning almost every exhalation into a grunt). I have to agree with Gavin, too; the posters for the film had Apache choppers everywhere, and the only helicopter in the film was a reconnaissance/troop carrier bird. 'Twas a bit disappointing. Still, the action sequence at the beginning of the film was very well executed, especially the skydivers/dragon-bait sequence. (On top of that, the chopper was used in the most emotive way I've ever seen a vehicle used in a movie.) The dragons themselves were exceedingly well done; they actually looked as though the people who put the film together sat down and thought, "Now how would an animal such as a dragon look, work, move and behave if it actually existed?"

With all this business about laptops and hubs, I've been looking into the costs of setting up a wireless network at home this morning. I've been thinking about it for a month or two as an alternative to drilling holes in the floor and running a Cat5 cable to the Xbox if I subscribe to Xbox Live. With the possibility of a laptop, I also began thinking that a wireless network card would be a perfect way to link it to Vickie's documents on her PC and the printer while still allowing her to work from somewhere comfortable. However, after totalling the cost of a wireless access point/4-port switch, wireless PCMCIA card and a wireless Ethernet bridge for the Xbox, holes in the floor (which we'd probably have to drill for the TV antenna we want to put on the roof at some stage) and a long Cat5 cable are looking like a much less expensive alternative.

Vickie has a chat to run this afternoon at Robinson's Place in about a quarter of an hour. I'll be dropping in there for a while.

And finally, just a quick reminder to everyone that Valentine's Day is this Friday. Got a card and/or pressie for your special someone yet? I also have a birthday on the same day to buy for!

P.S.: Anyone fancy seeing Treasure Planet sometime?

February 08, 2003

Slack Day January 03

Good morning, everyone! Today has been officially declared a Slack Day. We were planning to head to the Summit Restaurant for dinner tonight, but as we've splashed out enough on good food over the past few days (Doyles, Le Kiosk, Toscani's, the Swagman's Post, etc.), and Jillian's reason for coming here was to see us, we've decided to have Jillian's last dinner in Sydney comfortably, at home.

Boots did in the end drop over on Thursday, at half past twelve. He and Jillian got on great; they sat for ages, discussing history, wars, social issues, it was great to sit and listen (and occasionally contribute) to. He had to head off to work at three thirty, and Jillian didn't get any photos, unfortunately.

That night, we were off to see Orpheus in the Underworld at the Sydney Opera House. It was the first show I'd ever seen there, and it was hilarious. If you're worried about it being an opera, don't worry, it was entirely in English, although the nature of operatic singing made it difficult to hear what was being sung at times (they projected supertitles above the stage, but craning the neck to read what was being sung was a little annoying), and loaded with topical references: for example, Orpheus' costuming and hair were suspiciously reminiscent of former British pop star Gary Glitter, and when Orpheus, the pre-eminent violinist of ancient Greece, brought out his "cute" class of students, none were older than fourteen. We also had the character of Public Opinion, who was very much based on Pauline Hanson. Oddly, we didn't see much of the title character, but I couldn't fault the production at all (ladies, you'll want to go to see Pluto in his tight vinyl trousers).

Instead of training it to the Opera House, we wound up taking cabs both ways - yes, it was more expensive, but we definitely travelled in comfort. The cab drivers we had were also good - on the way, we had a man who was interested in getting his kids to the opera as a way of exposing them to the variety of the arts, and on the way back, we had a man who definitely loves the theatre, and was familiar with quite a few back-stage and production-related shenanigans. We had good conversations with each, especially Jillian.

Yesterday was pretty busy. We had lunch at Doyles in Circular Quay, and I tell you, their battered barramundi and chips was worth every cent of the $30+ they charged for it. In fact, I think it's the first time in living memory where I've ate all the fish and left chips on the plate. Jillian and Vickie indulged themselves with lobster (although Vickie started paying for it almost immediately after we left with a nasty bout of indigestion, it was so rich). We trotted off to the Powerhouse Museum, where we discovered to our delight (well, Vickie's and mine, anyway) that the season of the Star Wars - The Magic of Myth exhibition, which we thought had ended on the second of February, had been extended until the twenty-fifth! It was good, if smaller than I expected. They had costumes and props a-go-go, and I loved looking at the huge Star Destroyer model at the front of the exhibition and actually seeing all the battleship model parts they'd used in putting it together! Vickie was glad to see the Chewbacca outfit, and it wasn't until I saw her outfits that I realised how small Carrie Fisher actually was! And if I'd had the cash, I would've bought myself a Jedi Starfighter toy from the shop; it really looked that good!

After popping home for a breather, we met Jake and Komala for dinner at Toscani's in Hornsby. We were hoping Cameron could make it, but I'd given him a lift back home yesterday morning after he dropped his car in for service, and he reckoned that as he was working that night, he wouldn't be able to come along. it was great to catch up with Jake and Komala, whom we don't see as often as we'd like to; discussions on dogs and artistic creativity abounded (trust me, you had to be there).

Tomorrow, we're dropping Jillian at airport in the afternoon will probably spend the rest of the day getting ready for the coming working week. Boots is dropping over again on Monday, and on Tuesday, we'll be back to work.

Oh, by the way: I've posted a few new Photos in the IMAGinewS group site; look under the "Jillian's Photos" folder. After seeing her camera in action, I really have to get us a digital sometime soon!

February 06, 2003

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox Game)

Halo: Combat Evolved has an interesting history behind it. It's developed by the publishing studio Bungie, best known for their Myth series of real time strategy games, but much beloved amongst Mac gamers thanks to the Marathon first person shooter trilogy. In 1999, Bungie officially announced development of their newest first person shooter, Halo, for PC and Mac; there was even speculation of a PS2 port (based on the release of Bungie's PC action game, Oni, on PS2). Screenshots and hype abounded, and gamers started drooling.

Suddenly, during the first half of 2000, Bungie was purchased by Microsoft. Development from Halo was immediately switched from the PC and Mac platforms to Microsoft's upcoming Xbox console (the "Xbox Only" stamp put the kybosh on any PS2 port), with release on PC and Mac promised for sometime in the future. When the Xbox launched in the US in November of 2001, Halo - now Halo: Combat Evolved - was its flagship title. Many credit the initial strong sales of the Xbox to Halo: Combat Evolved, and without a doubt, the title has almost become synonymous with Microsoft's console; in citing the Xbox as the world's most powerful gaming console in their 2003 Book of Records, Guinness used a half-page picture of Halo's lead character, the Master Chief. PC and Mac development has since been out-sourced to third-party port developers Gearbox Software (PC) and Westlake Interactive (Mac) in order to free Bungie up to work on the Xbox sequel, Halo 2.

With all this colourful history, you couldn't be faulted for thinking that Halo: Combat Evolved has suffered as a result. Make no mistake, Halo: Combat Evolved could have benefitted from a bit more development time - but the Xbox's most popular launch title is still deserving of its accolades. After playing through the Campaign mode twice and indulging in some multiplayer action with friends, I can definitely say that Halo: Combat Evolved is a spectacular action title - but not without some rather unfortunate and glaring drawbacks.

As with many games, the actual story is told through a series of cutscenes. These cutscenes, rather than being full-motion video (made famous, if not popular, by the Wing Commander and Command & Conquer games) or pre-rendered computer graphics (favoured by the makers of the later Final Fantasy games), are rendered entirely by the in-game engine. This is not only an excellent immersive tool, but also shows off the game's technology right from the start of the Campaign; the Halo engine, combined with the Xbox's graphical power, is easily capable of creating scenes that could come out of a high-budget Hollywood SF flick (even if the motions are a little stilted and the faces rarely stray from one general expression).

The Campaign mode of Halo: Combat Evolved immerses itself in the trappings of space opera science fiction. If you read the manual, you learn the back-story, although it isn't vital to your appreciation of the game. At the commencement of the Campaign, you're treated to a five minute cutscene, telling how the spaceship Pillar of Autumn has emerged from a blind jump from the planet Reach to find itself in the vicinity of a massive, ring-like structure (the Halo of the title), which turns out to be an artificial space habitat with continents and seas on the inside surface. The enemy of the game - a coalition of alien races known as the Covenant - show up in force after following the Autumn from Reach and board her. In response, the ship's captain gives the order to thaw out your game avatar: the Master Chief, an armoured super soldier whom all the crew and Marines of the Pillar of Autumn look up to, and not just because you're tall - when you arrive on the scene (usually by yourself), any Marines already there make comments like "The cavalry has arrived!" and "... until you showed up, I thought we were cooked!"

After a brief but effective tutorial (which is worked seamlessly into the game world as a post-cryosleep systems check), you're dumped into the action. The captain downloads the ship's AI, Cortana, into your battle armour and orders you to safeguard her against capture - if she falls into enemy hands, the Covenant will learn the secret that must be protected at all costs, the location of Earth. Once Cortana is inserted into your armour, she becomes your adviser and briefing officer, monitoring Covenant comm-channels, keeping in touch with friendly units and formulating mission objectives. Suddenly, you're fighting your way through short Covenant Grunts and menacing Elite troopers to a lifeboat that takes you to the ring's surface, where the action and mystery unfold. It seems that Halo has some sort of purpose, and it's up to you to find out what that purpose is before the Covenant do...

Of course, this is a video game, not a movie, and the cutscenes, while fantastic, occur infrequently enough that they don't interrupt gameplay. Thankfully, you also don't find yourself playing the game and wishing you were watching another cutscene instead. The graphics are superb, and the system is capable of detailing the environment and other characters with nary a drop in frame rate (fixed at a nice, pleasant, non-nausea-inducing thirty frames per second). Gameplay is broken down into ten levels, with a significant load-time between each, but each area contains several hours of gameplay, with split-second loading times at regular, but widely-spaced, intervals. Most of the levels are designed gorgeously, both internally and externally, with huge shafts and chasms, sweeping vistas, seas that stretch to the horizon and, whenever you're outside, the ever-present loop of the rest of the Halo, stretching away, up, over, down and back again. If you switch on your suit's torch light or use the scope of your sniper rifle, you can pick out all sorts of bump mapped detail in every internal surface. And, of course, there's cover enough for you to intelligently take advantage of it, but not so much that the levels feel needlessly cluttered with obstacles.

The action is fast and smooth. As stated before, the Xbox is capable of rendering lots of both allies and enemies on screen simultaneuosly with little or no drop in frame rate (drops will usually happen if you lob a grenade in an alreadysitively hate the obstacle course race against time right at the end of the game.

The thing is, I gritted my teeth, put up with the repetition, played through the game twice and had fun doing it. The challenge of the AI, and the way the game played out slightly differently each time thanks to it, was enough to overcome the level design problems for me, but I can understand why the level design might frustrate and bore some enough to seriously detract from their enjoyment of the game.

In summary, Halo: Combat Evolved is a very enjoyable first-person shooter that almost does everything right. It provides a satisfactory and solid single- and multi-player experience with gorgeous graphics, frenetic action that rewards tactical thinking, and a well-presented story. Even with its level design issues and more minor problems, you may well find yourself picking up your Xbox controller for yet another play-through, especially if a friend joins you in the fun; it's simply that compelling.

Reviewed On: Xbox with Advanced AV Cable, LG RT-29F flat-screen TV using S-Video Input, Marantz SR440 amplifier with 2-speaker stereo output.

I'll Take a Hotel on Mayfair...

Good morning, everyone! It's been a busy week thus far. The Board Gaming Day went bloody well; I just wish it could have gone on longer, but being a Sunday, several folks needed to get to work the next day. Still, we managed to squeeze in some Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond..., Monopoly and a card game that Mandi introduced to us called Bartok. Gav loaned me a couple of his CanCon purchases: the Delta Green: Dark Theatres anthology, which I just polished off last night, and Cthulhu Live: Delta Green. In return, I loaned him my two Delta Green fiction books; Alien Intelligence and The Rules of Engagement - I have the feeling that if I ever actually run any Delta Green, Gav will be playing the grizzled veteran who knows most of the secrets.

The Jillian's Visit schedule has been chopped and changed a few times. Monday's Rocks, Gardens & Chair day became a strictly Rocks day, as we (well, I should say, Vickie and Jillian) prowled the Rocks looking for bargains. Jillian wound up buying a rock opal frog, as well as various items from an Aboriginal craft store. We had a very nice lunch at the Swagman's Post Café on George Street. I absolutely have to recommend it; if not for the good food (which it is, by the way), then for the lovely courtyard they have at the back, bounded by the rock wall that runs behind the North end of George Street. It's great for getting away from the noise and bustle of the main stretch. If you want to find it, the address is 35 George Street, The Rocks. I recommend the Swagman's Breakfast, even if the plate is too small for the amount of food they put on it.

We got out of the house later than planned on Tuesday, mainly because when Vickie and I were ready to go, Jillian was still posting on forums and hadn't started getting ready yet. (sigh) These Americans, I tell you... So we spent a little less time shopping in Dymocks than I would've liked, but we got a good view of the city from the Tower and had a lovely dinner at Le Kiosk in Shelley Beach (a nice little cove past the right-hand end of Manly's main sea beach). The Blue Mountains plan had been scratched a few days ago, so we were thinking of heading back into the city to do the things that had been left off of the past few days, as well as a return trip to the Museum of Sydney for Jillian and her treating us to lunch at Doyles Circular Quay, but after being the pack-mule for the shopping trip (let no-one tell you books aren't heavy) I was getting tired of seeing the inside of a train every day and begged off. In the end, Jillian took a trip by herself into the city and managed to squeeze the Botanic Gardens, Mrs. Macquarie's Chair and the Museum of Sydney while we rested and did some grocery shopping.

Boots is meant to be dropping around today, but when I call his place to get an ETA, the phone rings off. I get the feeling he's in bed doing his "dead to the world" act, so maybe we'll see him around lunchtime. Later on, it's off to see Orpheus in the Underworld, which should be lots of fun.

We re-scheduled lunch at Doyles for Friday, after which we'll be browsing the Powerhouse and then meeting Jake and Komala for dinner in Hornsby.

Oh yeah; I'm also playing through Halo again, this time on Legendary difficulty. I saw something on Bungie's official community webpage about an alternate ending if you complete the game on Legendary, and I was off. I tell you something, Legendary difficulty is pretty fucking tough.

February 02, 2003

To Our Pioneers

At approximately 1 o'clock this morning, Australian Eastern Daylight Time, contact was lost with the Space Shuttle Columbia sixteen minutes away from her scheduled landing as part of Flight STS-107. For reasons yet to be determined, she disintegrated midair over Texas. All seven crew died on board. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of the crew, as well as the good people of NASA, who are even now looking for the accident's cause. Our hopes also go out to the worldwide space effort, whose uphill battle to get us to the stars has just become much steeper.