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March 30, 2003

Invitations and Upgrade Plans

Morning all! I think I'm going to have to make a minor change to the way I use names online. Jake has now established himself an online presence, and now that I'm getting advice from PC hardware guru Cameron K at work, I want to avoid confusion between himself and my old mate Cameron. So, henceforth, Jake shall now be referred to by his nom de Net, EvilHayama, whilst Cameron (the old mate one, not the PC guru) shall be referred to as Cazman, or the Cazman, whichever works.

Vickie won a competition! She did, she did! As a donor member of the Art Gallery of NSW, Vickie received an entry form in the e-mail about a pair of competition for some free tickets for movies at Fox Studios' Cinema Paris. Vickie entered immediately - and was notified in short order that she'd won both! She scored herself four tickets, two to see Real Women Have Curves on Tuesday, April the 8th, and two to see Nowhere in Africa on Monday, April the 14th. She'll be taking me along to see both. ;-D

And on the topic of movies, I had a phone call from Gav last night - he was off to see Daredevil at Hornsby and wanted us to go along with him. Not thirty seconds later, Boots, with whom I was chatting via ICQ when Gav called, told us he and Jacinta were off to see Ned Kelly at Hornsby and that he'd like us along! We had to decline both - Vickie has a middle-ear infection, and was feeling especially wonky last night. Instead, we spent the night in, watching the Stuart Little 2 DVD we'd bought at Kmart that day.

We nipped over to Dan's yesterday; he was out, but his wife Lesley was, thankfully, in. Her job had just moved offices, and she had some furniture that had not been taken with them, including a bookcase. We're in need of a new one (too many books, you know), so she gave us hers. Whilst there, I had a look at Dan's PC case to see whether I could use it in the upgrade I'm planning for him; it's a little small, though, and the way it's laid out, a new motherboard for an Athlon just wouldn't fit. I told Lesley about the problem, and she said she'd get the server case that they have in storage.

As you've probably guessed, the Upgrade Bug has bit, and I've been spending time over the past week looking at parts, options and prices, and have had some fairly far-out ideas on what to do, including a pair of Shuttle SN41G2 cases and a Radeon 9700 video card. However, our current fiscal constraints (after the repairs, rego and CTP for Madam Lash) have brought me back to Earth, and I'm keeping to some fairly modest goals:

  • Give Dan an AMD Athlon XP 1800+.
  • Get Vickie a new PC case that can properly fit an 8mm case fan (her case, which housed a P3-500 until last year's upgrade, doesn't have the proper mounting for one).
  • Assemble a working P3-500 for Vickie's granddaughter Brook in Melbourne.
  • Procure a working 10/100 Ethernet switch.

My current plan may change after I get a good look at Dan's server case, but at the moment, I'm thinking of keeping things simple by putting a 20GB hard drive in my current case (AMD Athlon XP 1800+ with 64MB GeForce3 card), installing a new copy of Windows XP Home Edition (which I should be able to get cheap alongside a PC parts purchase) and giving the whole kit and caboodle straight to Dan.

In the meantime, I'll buy myself a new processor chip (most likely another 1800+, although I occasionally attempt to juggle the budget and incorporate a 2200+), motherboard (ideally with an nForce2 chipset; if not, a decent KT400) and RAM (either a single stick of KingMax 512MB PC2700 RAM or two sticks of KingMax 256MB RAM if I do get an nForce 2 motherboard; I'm going with KingMax, as I want to avoid using generic RAM). A new case will go to Vickie, as well as some new RAM (a single stick of KingMax 512MB PC2700 RAM; her existing stick of 256MB RAM will either be kept spare or go into Dan's machine) and I'll put the P3-500 back in her existing case with a spare hard drive. We have a spare monitor (after my upgrade of Trish's PC), keyboard and mouse, which we'll ship to Melbourne with the P3-500 for Brook. I'll also procure myself a GeForce4 MX400 video card (as my current one will be with Dan) and a 350 Watt power supply. If Dan's server case doesn't look as though it'll fit an ATX motherboard, I'll have to squeeze another PC case into the budget.

I'd still like to pick up the Radeon 9700 and a pair of Shuttle cases sometime (as the latter would solve a lot of space issues, especially on Vickie's desk), but as I'm going to start seriously saving for a month's trip to Britain and the States for the both of us sometime late next year, I think the Shuttles can wait for a couple of years yet. As for the Radeon... well, I'm going to wait until Tron 2.0 hits stores in August/September (when I can probably afford it); god knows, either the PRO model will be much cheaper, or there'll be something else better around the $500 mark by then (probably not the GeForce FX, as nVidia seems to be having problems with it, and the cooling fan is apparently as loud as a hair dryer).

Boots has also mentioned he's planning an upgrade after he flogs his Subaru. (Did we have any takers in the IMAGinewS group for it?) He's confessed to having little PC knowledge though, so perhaps I can give him some mentoring and guidance... (Buy a Shuttle SN41G2, an AMD Athlon XP 2600+, some Corsair TWINX RAM and a Radeon 9700 PRO, Boots! You'll be the envy of all your geek friends! More importantly, you'll run Battlefield 1942 smoothly!)

Of late, I've found my current banking setup to be awkward and inefficient, not to mention expensive. I have an account with HSBC (I actually opened it with NRMA, who sold their building society business to HSBC, which then absorbed it into their banking operations) that I get paid into, and a St. George account that I pay the rent and bills from. It means I have to budget, but I'm not particularly good at it; I've been hit with honouring charges more times than I'd like (when something's come out of my St. George account that has put me into a negative balance, and I don't have any overdraft facilities). So, I'm taking my business elsewhere; I'm going to wrap pay, bills, etc. up in a single Credit Union Australia account (No bank fees!), and add a Christmas Club option in which I'll be depositing Christmas funds and my savings for our trip overseas. It should make things easier and simpler overall.

After having to go into the CUA branch to join up on monday morning and then dropping Madam Lash off at Kmart again on Thursday to get her further leak problems fixed (they did; apparently, a short oil conduit of rigid pipe had been replaced with a non-rigid one; the heat had fused it shut and the oil, under pressure, was leaking out of one end), I wound up missing three-and-two-thirds hours of work; to make up, I'm working from home today. I have some database things I can do without dialling up, thankfully, and at least they'll be fairly interesting. Vickie will be sanding down the bookshelf we got from Dan and Lesley, and applying a coat of varnish; it turns out it fits exactly where we wanted it, with little room to spare.

Vickie also has some stuff from Cairns that will, fingers crossed, be arriving here before we go to Melbourne this week for Katie's school day. We'll go through it and probably have a spring (well, autumn) clean here, then hold a Garage Sale for all the stuff we don't need. You guys will get some advance notice once we know what we want to be rid of, so you can get ahead of the crowd and make us an offer!

March 25, 2003

Do you realise how cool you all are?

I think it was Trent who brought a certain fact to my attention a few months ago: there aren't any flame wars, trolls or generally impolite or unsociable behaviours on the IMAGinewS group. Lately, with an undeclared war commencing, rudeness and ignorance has been pandemic on the Web; some of you have experienced it personally. So far, all I've read in postings to the group have been statements of belief, almost always prefaced by "This isn't intended to start a flame, I just need to speak my piece." It amused me that the posters felt a need to put up such a disclaimer, especially considering the aforementioned lack of flames in the group... but then I realise that the members of the IMAGinewS group are doing so because they care enough about the group - about each other - to actively ensure that it stays that way. I'm also glad that they feel that my little corner of the web is a safe enough place for them to make such statements. To each and every one o' you cats: Thank you for making IMAGinewS what it is.

My own thoughts on the issue will be contained in a new rant (see below). I'd also like to point you toward a conversation Wil Wheaton had with a veteran friend, as reported by Wil on his own web log. In the meantime, I'm going to get back to the everyday, mundane stuff.

I finished the Freelancer single-player campaign on Sunday. It was good fun. The next logical step would be to keep playing (expansive galaxy with endless possibilities and all), but already, some of the impetus to do so has gone out of it - I won't be meeting all the lively characters of the campaign as I trip around the Freelancer galaxy, just the stock bartenders and contacts. Maybe joining a multiplayer server would help keep things lively.

Speaking of servers, I had some practical advice from Cameron K at work yesterday about the hardware and bandwidth requirements for setting up a dedicated game server. Ouch. On consideration, I think I'll stick to hosting the odd game of Neverwinter Nights (which I think Dan is keen on DMing) every now and then.

And speaking of Dan, I'm examining the options of upgrading his PC. I'll be talking with him about what he needs tomorrow night and what he can provide in terms of parts. The plan is to upgrade Dan's PC with something up-to-date, and give the old P3-500 to Brook in Melbourne. (I'm also thinking of an incremental upgrade of Vickie's PC at the very least; if I'm buying parts for Dan, my greedy little geek brain thinks, I might as well buy some parts for us too, right?) I've been doing some online shopping at Eyo, then comparing prices with the computer shop down the road near work.

I noticed fresh oil on the carport concrete this evening after topping Madam Lash up. Looks like the lads at Kmart may yet have missed something. Might drop her in again sometime soon.

March 18, 2003

A Freelancing Neverwinter DM

Evening all! Sorry it's been over a week since my last newspost. Things have been a little busy.

The guys at Kmart discovered that a gromit on top of Madam Lash's engine had broken, thus the continuing leak. They fixed her up free of charge (as well they should). Vickie took her into a place down the road from us to have the Madam's rego check done - and promptly paid the CTP and rego fees afterward! Thank you darling! (And no, I'm not trying to weasel out of paying you the $500 back.)

We've also spent $400 on two return tickets to Melbourne, so I'm juggling the budget right now. Vickie's grand-daughter Katie is having an Invite a Special Person to School Day on Wednesday, the 3rd of April, and Vickie is (quite obviously, if I do say so, which I do) the Special Person. We'll be nipping down on the evening of the second and coming back on the morning of the fourth. Needless to say, I've taken Friday the fourth off work.

As you know, Freelancer didn't come in on the tenth, and it didn't come in on the eleventh, either; it came in on the twelfth. Those bastards at Microsoft kept me on tenter-hooks for two days. Two whole days, damn it! It was worth it, though. It's definitely a fun game, and it quite thoroughly scratches that Privateer itch I've had these past few years. The demo does a pretty good job of letting you, Joe/Jane Prospective Buyer, know what you're in for, so if you're even remotely keen, download it/buy a computing magazine with it on the cover CD and give it a whirl. Oh, yeah; joysticks are NOT, I say again, NOT necessary - they're not even supported. If you have a keyboard and a responsive mouse, you will be right as rain.

Oh, and if any of you cats have splashed out on the full version, I've sneakily set up the server software on Vickie's PC. If you feel like a regular dose of exploring/trading/hunting pirates on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday nights, please let me know; I'll set the server running (it will be password protected). Depending on demand and bandwidth usage, I might let it run at other times when Vickie's not using her PC intensively (i.e. playing Neverwinter Nights with me).

I've been making the odd posting on the Australian NWN Guild, located on BioWare's official Neverwinter Nights page, asking for general beginner-DM's advice. Last week, I got an invitation from a gent called Orca, who was looking for someone to fill the co-DM's spot on a regular Wednesday night bash organised by the NWN Downunder Guild. I accepted, and thanks to Orca's patient tutoring and a cool bunch of players (whom I didn't actually meet, having to log off before midnight), I had a blast. DMing NWN Multiplayer is actually easier than I thought, as long as you're familiar with the basic, yet very versatile tools that the DM Client, and some very nifty little in-game apps written by enterprising NWN players, provide. Orca's wife and fellow DM Katrilla stopped by near the end to make the action even more interesting (things were beginning to bog down, and if there's one thing Katrilla hates, it's boredom). Ever since I mentioned Vickie on the NWN Downunder forums, Katrilla's been trying to get me to convince Vickie to get involved in the Guild and play some online games - with only four women in the Guild, she's feeling a little lonely. Maybe some of the women of the IMAGinewS list ought to get involved - what do you mean, you don't own Neverwinter Nights? You can pick it up at Electronics Boutiques for A$50, and if Orca and Katrilla can co-DM a game across a dial-up connection, not having broadband is no excuse!

The upshot of it all is that I'm now the new co-DM for the Wednesday night Raven campaign, although I'm still waiting to hear if there'll be a session tomorrow.

The weekend was both relaxing and exercising. We had an evening on the town on Saturday; dinner at Asagao, Hornsby's Japanese restaurant, followed by Antwone Fisher at the Greater Union. I'm not a fan of sushi, so I wasn't really expecting to enjoy the Asagao experience; however, they did a lovely teriyaki (I think it was teriayki, wasn't it, Vickie?) chicken which went down wonderfully with a bowl of rice. Vickie enjoyed her seafood tempura, although she reckons she should have asked for some wasabi (considering how hot it was without, I think the woman's a maniac).

Antwone Fisher is good, by the way. It's not exceptional in terms of plot, but it's easily worth seeing for the performances of the leads, especially Derek Luke, who plays the title role. Denzel Washington does a good job as a director; he seems content to let his actors just be people, without trying to make them act; they speak, gesture and move very naturally in front of the camera. In fact, Denzel himself looks in contrast like he's overacting! Go check it out yourself sometime soon. It looks like we may have missed One Hour Photo and 8 Mile at the cinemas, which is a bugger.

Sunday was a big Housecleaning Day; I mowed the lawn and washed the car while Vickie shifted furniture and cleaned the floors. (I think Vickie wound up doing the greater amount of work.) Our big set of display shelves fell on her while she was cleaning it; luckily, she not only caught it before it hit her, but she was also able to single-handedly stop it mashing the bottles she'd taken off the mini-bar for cleaning. We need a new display cabinet, and soon.

IMAGinewS is turning into a regular Trading Post, what with Cameron selling his computer kit and now Boots advertising the sale of his Subaru, and frankly, I think it's great. If any of you guys have any kind of stuff that you'd like to sell, whether it be RPGs, computer stuff, cars, food, furniture or ex-boy/girlfriends, please feel free to send an e-mail to the group.

March 10, 2003

Sim Sickness and Movies

Good evening everyone! We have had a busy past few days around here. Madam Lash got dropped off at Kmart again on Thursday for her new seals, and Vickie picked her up on Friday night on the way to work. Unfortunately, she's back there again right now; on Saturday afternoon, after doing some shopping in Thornleigh, we noticed a puddle of oil on the concrete underneath her. I changed parking spots and watched as more drops fell onto the concrete. One of the guys at Kmart says it might be excess oil from the engine wash they gave her, but the engine temp and that hot metal smell on the way to Kmart imply a different cause. We're hoping that they'll actually get her fixed by tomorrow so we can book her in for a rego check soon.

Whilst browsing Electronics Boutique on my Friday lunch hour with John T (in anticipation of Freelancer's Oz release), I saw a copy of Star Wars: Jedi Knight II - Jedi Outcast sitting on the shelf for $50. Having played the demo, and having a little cash to spare, I decided to give it a shot - but after an hour of trying to get through the first level, I had to shut it down, un-install it and put it back in its box. Once again, my case of First-Person Shooter Motion Sickness had kicked in, and I knew I'd never finish the game. The default mouse sensitivity was far too twitchy, and when I tried to tone it down, I could barely keep up.

On Saturday morning, we went off to the Castle Hill Farmer's Market (Warning: link loads slowly), on at the Castle Hill Showground until 1 PM, every second Saturday of the month. We blew the budget and picked up some great food, including a lovely smoked chicken and some great sauces and dips. Unfortunately, we ran out of readies before we could pick up some delicious sun-dried tomato dip, but we'll be sure to next time, in April.

Mandi called us while we were out - we'd left our mobiles at home - and when we called back after we got in, she told us that Roger, despite us replying to his e-mail asking whether he could still come over after the InSpectres playtest was cancelled due to lack of attendance, had decided to go out and have some drinks instead. Thankfully, Mandi still came over (she was wavering until we mentioned we'd already bought food) and we had a very pleasant evening watching our rented movies; Life As A House and The Cat's Meow. Life As A House was a predictable sentimental movie made great by Kevin Kline and a wonderful cast (if you need proof that Attack of the Clones' Hayden Christensen can actually act, just watch this movie), whilst The Cat's Meow was a great period pic / character drama with an excellent, well rounded cast, including Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard. (There you go, Boots - schedule a game on the same day as my playtest and we'll watch a movie with your favourite actor in them! So there!) Eddie was, surprisingly enough, playing Charlie Chaplin.

After sampling our food, Mandi decided that she wanted to come with us to a market day at Thornleigh, her pay schedule permitting. We leafed through the calendar and determined the next compatible day was Saturday, the fourteenth of June.

We were intending to submit ourselves to the dreaded Housework and go see Chicago yesterday (cheap tickets thanks to the Greater Union Cinebuzz newsletter), but we'd been playing a little Neverwinter Nights before Mandi turned up on Saturday, and Vickie suddenly felt in the mood for some more on Sunday morning. We wound up playing for nearly eleven hours straight, making some good headway through Chapter Two of the Campaign. So much for housework! I think my Evil Plan to Turn Vickie Into a Geek was a little too successful; at the end I was the one who begged off. I was getting eyesore from looking at the screen, and I needed to get some sleep in for work today!

So we saw Chicago tonight instead. Having seen it performed at the Capitol Theatre a few years ago, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the movie adaptation of the musical, but I very much enjoyed it. I was especially keen to see Queen Latifah perform as as Warden "Momma" Morton (I first saw her in The Bone Collector), and she really got to show her chops here (on top of that, you should just see her in her "show" dress). The biggest novelty for me was the all-singin', all-dancin' Richard Gere as the super-smooth lawyer Billy Flynn, and I have no doubt plenty of reviewers have gone ga-ga over Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger. Easily worth seeing.

I'm also glad to report that my friend Cameron was able to sell his computer kit to Jake, thanks to my notice on the IMAGinewS group. Al and Boots had expressed interest in it, but Cameron reckons they hadn't got in touch. See guys, ya gotta move quick 'round here...

Of course, today wouldn't have been complete without a downer of some kind. I'd brought Jedi Knight II back to EB to take advantage of their one-week grace period and use it toward Freelancer. The problem was, Freelancer wasn't in. It was due to be on the shelves today, and the EB staffer I spoke to had no idea why it hadn't arrived. So I added the $50 from Jedi Knight II to my pre-order, and was promised a phone call as soon as it turned up.

March 05, 2003

Testing the Waters

Good evening everyone! It seems like the Dreaded Lurgi is doing the rounds once again - one of our team-members at work was down with it last week, and Boots is recovering from a bout. We were going to have our flu shots tomorrow, but Vickie's had to delay because, ironically, she has the flu. Only I, with my superhuman immune system, remain untouched by the ravages of this disease! Instead, I've had ear problems (ouch). Wax up your boards...

The weekend was good, if not entirely relaxing. We bimbled over to John T's house party on Saturday night, and were treated to some good food and a Balinese dancing show by John's wife, Sani, and a friend. Our respective health issues had us heading for home by about ten, though. (sigh) The next morning, I was up mowing the lawn, doing shopping, and doting on my poorly Vickie. (I secretly think that's why she "gets sick", you know - she loves the pampering.)

Thankfully, things are looking up on the budget front this month, even with Madam Lash's seal replacement coming up. I'm still hesitant to splurge before I get paid this month, especially as I have to fork out for a new three-month rail pass at the end of March, but it looks like Freelancer (which hits Australian shelves this coming Monday) and the order for the Heavy Gear GM's minis are going to be in budget. I promised myself that I'd stay away from any reviews of Freelancer and write an un-coloured review, but I just couldn't resist looking at GameSpot's review. From my experience of the gameplay in the demo, the review looks fair.

Dragging the topic back to the Heavy Gear miniatures, Boots dropped over with files and modelling implements yesterday, and we got stuck into prepping the players' miniatures. Boots has done some nifty things with Gav's Green Stuff, especially with the head for the Dark Warrior (adding in a chin piece that I thought would be impossible).

Boots also brought over his Battlefield 1942 game CDs; he's rather keen on it and is in fact one of the founding members (if not the founding member) of an Australian BF1942 clan. (I'll let him tell you all about it.) Boots did a pretty good job of getting me interested in the game, but again, as BF1942 and the supplement, The Road to Rome, come in at around $130 in total, I won't be joining him in online battle for a while. (Before you say anything, no, I'm not cracking the installation; I don't believe in piracy. If I want to play it that badly, I'll pay for it, thank you very much.)

Boots is also planning a LAN gaming night at some point in the near future. It's tempting, especially if there will be BF1942 played, but I'm not sure whether Vickie would be interested, and I tend to get bored at LAN parties anyway (not that I've been to many).

Still on the computer game front, Funcom has re-opened my inactive Anarchy Online account for a thirty-day trial; they're banking that the new gameplay elements featured in their Notum Wars expansion will bring ex-subscribers back into the (paying) fold. I downloaded the revised client this evening, and had a wander around Newland as my old avatar, Causeway, but although the graphics look a little better than they used to, I don't really feel any compulsion to get back into AO. Still, as it's a free demo, I'll give it a go for a while, especially on the evenings when Vickie's at work.

As it looks like Boots is running Gear Krieg on Saturday evening, and as it looks like Gav will be playing, the playtest of my InSpectres module is off. Mandi and Roger will still be stopping by for some card/board games and general merriment. We'll also be dashing off to the Castle Hill Farmer's Market on Saturday morning to get some good, healthy, fresh food.