« March 2003 | Main | May 2003 »

April 26, 2003

Oh, Woe Is Us...

A very sad event occurred last weekend - Vickie and I finished off the Neverwinter Nights Campaign. Now we have nothing to play together... at least, not until Shadows of Undrentide arrives in July! (Coincidentally, that's around the time of my birthday... so if anyone's thinking of a natty present for moi...)

Well, that's not entirely true; I downloaded Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne's Penultima campaign yesterday, and we managed to complete Episode 3, Hazard Pay, by the time Vickie had to get ready for work. Of course, there are the various NWN communities out there, but Vickie's too shy; she insists she has no idea what she's doing. Looks like I'll have to add a new phase to my Evil Plan to Turn Vickie Into a Gamer (because I don't know what's good for me and can't stop at pencil & paper and co-op computer gaming): NWN Online... (So if Vickie kills me sometime in the next few months, don't be surprised if the judge rules it justifiable homicide, okay?)

It doesn't help, of course, that Katrilla, member of the Neverwinter Nights Downunder guild and wife to one of the main DMs there (she's also a good, if impatient, DM herself, I understand), has been at me to get Vickie into the guild ever since I told her Vickie and I were playing through the Campaign together. Katrilla wants more women in the guild, see. I think probably the best thing to do would be to take Vickie into the Tavern, NWNDU's mostly-persistent meeting area, one night for a social chat - no modules, no adventuring, just chat-rooming with fancy graphics and the odd goblin to slay. Or maybe log her into the NWNDU forums so she can converse with the other gamers in a less intimidating text-based format.

Actually, if any of the femmes on the group fancy wandering in sometime, you can find the link to NWNDU's forums on the Links page (Editor's Note 27 October 03: The Links page was a feature of the old site, which has since been removed.) (hommes are welcome too, of course). The IP addresses and login details for the Tavern are contained therein, as well as info on their ongoing campaigns.

The Easter Long Weekend was nice and quiet, even if things did get awkward at Mum and Dad's. He started on his usual quiz about whether we're looking to buy a house and what I'm doing to improve my work prospects and how I ought to come to him when we're going to buy a new car (thanks Dad, I did hear you the last three times you told me). Anyway, as I'm not good at responding to his face on the spot, I wrote him a long, polite letter after I got home and put it in the mail on Wednesday. If he's got it yet, he's not called me about it.

The upshot was, we have a standing invitation from Aunt Ned and Uncle Joe (whom I hadn't seen since Vickie and I moved in together, for fear of getting from them more of what I'd been getting from Dad) to go up and see them on the Central Coast sometime. I'm hoping to take advantage of it soon.

We did indeed go and see Dreamcatcher on Monday, and I put a review up on the page the next day. Let's just say I'm thankful we had Final Flight of the Osiris before, and Shanghai Knights afterward, to cleanse the palate as it were.

Staying on the general topic of movies, Vickie and I are off to see a charity screening of Whale Rider, a new movie from New Zealand, tomorrow morning at the Greater Union in Hornsby. We're definitely looking forward to it; as Vickie pointed out to me one day, movies from the Land of the Long White Cloud that see international release tend to be very good, both in plot and characterisation. I must confess, I'm yet to see the critically-acclaimed and very intense Once Were Warriors, the movie that was the breakout pic for Temuera "Jango Fett" Morrison (a bloke I hope to see more of on the big screen).

Remember a few months ago, how I commented how there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the media to milk the nostalgia glands of us twentysomething geeks? It's just got worse - or, depending on your viewpoint (especially if yours is anything like mine), better. Warthog is working on a Battlestar Galactica prequel game for Xbox (Woohoo!) and PS2 that puts you at the controls of a Colonial Viper as a young Adama (who grows up to be Lorne Green), and judging from the pre-alpha gameplay videos on GameSpot, it ought to be a fun, Wing Commander-style spaceflight romp.

On top of that, the Sci-Fi Channel is "re-imagining" the Battlestar Galactica universe in a new mini-series scheduled to hit screens in the last quarter of 2003. The Sci-Fi Channel is keeping the details close to its chest, but they've signed Edward James Olmos (yes, that Edward James Olmos) on as the new Commander Adama. Fans of the original show who were hoping for a "continuation" series with the old cast are up in arms, but I have to agree with the approach the studio has taken, much as I'd love to see Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict back as well. To be successful these days, any re-vamping of an old franchise needs to not only keep the fans of the old show interested but also draw a new audience from those who missed or weren't around to see the original (witness the Mission: Impossible movies and the runaway success of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs). I just hope that the new Galactica, as a stand-alone show on its own merits, doesn't suck.

And finally, I am playing a little more Freelancer than I was expecting to be by now; Telstra GameArena hosts a Freelancer server that drops out every so often, but doesn't count toward my monthly download limit when I play. It's quite fun, and the chatting aspect helps jazz things up. There's also an added element of risk in the persistent nature of the server, as I found out when I had a nice, profitable load of cargo in my Rhino on the way back to the New York system from the Texas system. I got jumped by a bunch of Outcasts near the Texas-New York gate and was blown to smithereens before I could use a shield battery; when I was resurrected at the port that I'd left, my cargo hold was empty, but I'd not got the credits I'd spent on the cargo back. (Makes sense; when my ship went blooey, the Outcasts just activated their tractor beams and scooped up the booty. Bastards.)

April 25, 2003

War

I think it's about time I got around to making my own statement on the war in Iraq. Such a thing scares me a little. Most of you folks know that I'm not much for keeping up on current events. I don't buy newspapers. I don't regularly watch the evening news or read news web sites. What I pick up about world, national and local events is usually by osmosis. As the song says, "Don't know much about history..." Therefore, when historical or topical issues come up in conversation, I usually just sit back and listen, half waiting for something that I can understand, analyse, and add a dollar to the value of the conversation, half because I'm afraid of sounding like a twit (or looking like an ignorant twit when asked about something I know nothing about).

But enough dissembling; lets hold this up to scrutiny and intelligent criticism and see how it holds together. I'll get started with a quote from Heinlein's Time Enough for Love: "I have misgivings about the ultimate usefulness of this war. But regardless of any opinion... the time has come to close ranks and move forward together." Like the members of the IMAGinewS group who've spoken their pieces, and, I think it's safe to say, those who haven't, I have misgivings about the usefulness of the war and the validity of the reasons that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard have given for deciding to commit to war without the backing of U.N. resolutions. I do not consider myself knowledgeable of the facts, or else I would expand those misgivings. However, these men are our leaders, and have made that decision. They are our leaders because we have, according to the systems of law and rule of our respective nations, chosen them to be. They have the power to make that decision because the systems of law and rule of our respective nations - that our ancestors established and that we continue to uphold (by choosing to live under them) and shape (through referenda and the professionals of law) - give them that power. Because we choose to give them that power.

I am not making a tacit criticism of those systems of law and rule. Here's another quote, from Spider Robinson's The Free Lunch: "I know our society isn't very smart, or kind... but it's the smartest, kindest one that ever was..." I accept that, when it comes down to it, we're only human; we can make mistakes, and we're afraid enough to convince ourselves that they're not. But I'm also willing to accept that the human condition is, by and large, better than it was (says the guy sitting in a nice house, typing on a keyboard and wondering whether he wants dinner now or in a few hours' time while millions starve or die of AIDS in Africa) - or, at the very least, I'm willing to accept on faith that we will be better than we are now. In the meantime, we can only keep on being who we are. As a society, we're not very smart, we're not very kind, but I'm willing to accept that we're the best we can be at this moment, and that we will get better. It might take ten years, it might take ten thousand (evolution is, after all, a slow process), but it will happen.

Part of that includes keeping and maintaining armed forces. I'm going to keep with pattern here and look at Star Wars for some allegory - and, believe it or not, I'm going to Episode II: Attack of the Clones. If I understand it rightly, Amidala was standing against the creation of an Army of the Republic because she could not believe an army could be put to any other use than to attack, and that attacking is wrong. I halfway agree with her, in that attacking is wrong, and that's probably the root of my misgivings about this current conflict. Never throw the first punch, even when it's guised as a "pre-emptive strike". (The translation of that is, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but do it first". The coalition of forces of which Australia is a member has thrown the first punch, and it's not much consolation that we were right about Saddam and his manufacture of biological weapons after the fact.) But I am of the conviction that, once the other guy has started the fight, you should be able to finish it. Armies are nation-sized fists, so if a nation is to defend itself from other nations, it must have fists of its own - even if it risks using them to throw the first punch itself.

I suppose that's part of the problem - risk. There's no such thing as absence of risk, no such state as "perfectly safe". Living is, in and of itself, a risk. The measure of an entity, be it a nation, a people or a person, is not that entity's attempt to avoid risk; it is that entity's acceptance of both risk and failure. I believe in our society and way of life, at the very least for its potential to become smarter and better, and I'm willing to accept the risk of having an army to protect it (says the guy sitting in a nice house, typing on a keyboard and wondering whether he wants dinner now or in a few hours' time while thousands are actually serving their nations in active conflict).

In my eyes, the current state of Human evolution entails accepting the risk of making flawed decisions. John Howard has decided to join Australia's forces with America's in attacking Iraq before the U.N. passed a resolution. It may be illegal, it may be immoral. Australia's people raised their voices against it beforehand, but our Prime Minister, the man we elected in the only true means our system of law and rule has of making our voices known, made the decision that the person occupying the position of Prime Minister is tasked with making. It's possible that he was privy to information that we were not. Regardless, he made the best possible decision that the human being known as John Howard could have done in that situation, at that time, in that position. Protest before, influence where you can, but accept that the buck has to stop somewhere. Right now, it stops at John Howard. The time has come to close ranks and move forward together, with our leaders (like 'em or not) and with the people who've chosen to accept great risk in order to protect our way of life, the men and women of our armed forces. It won't be easy, and it won't be pleasant, but it's the price we pay for being the kind of human being that human beings are right now.

And to close it off, I'd like to quote, albeit approximately, Christopher Reeve in his last portrayal of Superman: "... there will be peace. There will be peace when the people of the world want it so much that their governments have no choice but to give it to them." Sure, where we are right now sucks. But that doesn't mean we aren't on the way to something better. This is just part of the journey that we have to take in order to get there.

April 21, 2003

Dreamcatcher and Final Flight of the Osiris (Movie)

Four men, all of whom share an unusual psychic power which estranges them somewhat from the rest of the world, unite at their hunting lodge six months after one of them, Jonesy (Damian Lewis) suffers a horrific car accident. Each of them has been thinking of a fifth, absent member of their group, Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), whom they met and befriended as boys twenty years ago. The five of them made a dreamcatcher - a native American item meant to catch bad dreams - that hangs in the lodge.

Whilst out hunting in the snow-bound forest, Jonesy and Beaver (Jason Lee) come across another hunter wandering in the forest, bearing an odd rash on his face. After they take him in, strange things start to happen - a flood of forest animals rush past their lodge, all bearing the same scar as the hunter, and a pair of military helicopters fly overhead, announcing that the area has been quarrantined. In the meantime, Henry (Thomas Jane) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant), who went to the local store to pick up supplies, run their car off the road when they narrowly avoid hitting another half-frozen hunter (with the same rash on her throat) sitting squarely in the middle of it.

The four friends soon find themselves at the forefront of an invasion that the leader of a secret military unit, Colonel Curtis (Morgan Freeman) and his second in command, Owen (Tom Sizemore), will do anything to stop...

Dreamcatcher is based on the recent novel by Stephen King, and in fact has some notoriety for being the novel he wrote when recuperating from being hit by a car in 1999. I've not yet read the novel (and will confess to not being a King fan) but there's certainly some carry-over in Jonesy's car accident; the incident and the minutes afterward are quite vividly portrayed. The movie treats it well, though, referring to it occasionally but not dwelling on it after the first fifteen minutes or so. In fact, the first half-hour is probably the best of the film; we really get to know the four men separately and together, as well as their acceptance of the weird secret that binds them. Unfortunately, the tension has to set in, and it does so in gross-out proportions. There are references to the Alien series of films left, right and centre in Dreamcatcher (in the most obvious reference, Colonel Curtis explains that the rash is code-named "Ripley"). The life cycle of the invaders exhibits a rather unfortunate pre-occupation with bodily functions on the part of the writers, and the screen adaptation was written with a heaping helping of blood and gore. We're treated to long, detailed looks at the infant stage of the beasts and little of the invaders' vicious actions is left to the imagination (people who like dogs are advised not to watch).

The rest of the plot features some neat twists on the "catch up with the villain before he kills everyone" formula, but Captain Owen's change of heart feels rather contrived (especially when both the hero and the invaders demonstrate telepathic powers), and Morgan Freeman's intelligent and somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Colonel Curtis (when faced with how the invaders operate, you can understand his stance of not letting anyone who's been infected live, even if the symptoms remit) is ditched halfway through the movie in favour of a gung-ho lunatic who spouts drivel like "You just crossed the line - the Curtis line!". The ending is anticlimactic; the revelation of Duddits' secret bears few surprises (you'll have probably figured it out halfway through the film), and we're given no idea what the survivors will do next. Still, it does serve as a reminder of how good an actor Donnie Wahlberg is, even though he's not in it much.

Despite its highlights, Dreamcatcher is really a film for those who enjoy guts-and-gore horror (which is odd, as the characterisation of the first half hour would probably bore them). Anyone else, even SF fans who may be attracted by the invasion premise, would be advised to stay away, especially if you have a weak stomach. (Vickie walked out after the first half-hour.)

Stil, you probably won't feel like you wasted your ticket money, thanks to the short animated film, Final Flight of the Osiris, that runs before all screenings of Dreamcatcher.


Final Flight of the Osiris is one of the nine Animatrix short animated films. These films, put together by some of Japan's best anime talent, are all based on 1999's science-fiction hit The Matrix. Final Flight is the last hurrah for Square USA, who decided to exit the feature film business after their first feature, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, drew only mediocre box office. Fortunately for us, they've gone out with a bang.

As the film is very short, I won't go into the plot for fear of spoiling it. The martial art choreography in the beginning minutes is well done and very sensual (those who don't understand why Lara Croft is so appealing will get the point after this). The voice acting is done well; that there aren't any big names involved (Carrie-Anne Moss reprised her role of Trinity for Cowboy Bebop auteur Shinichiro Watanabe's A Detective Story) makes no matter. The Square team treat the Matrix universe faithfully and with care, and the quality of the computer-generated imagery has not fallen below its Final Fantasy standard (Vickie commented that it was even improved). The action is seamless, sleek and speeding; if there's only one thing you'll regret, it's that it's over so soon. It serves as a neat little appetiser for The Matrix Reloaded (due to open next month) and stands alone as a brilliant piece of animation and/or action-SF on its own merits. It's definitely worth the price of admission to Dreamcatcher to see Final Flight on the big screen.

April 18, 2003

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Ahh, nothing like a good four days off work to recharge the batteries, eh? Time to relax, catch up with family and friends, maybe do the odd chore around the place... and consume lots of chocolate, of course. What's your favourite brand of Easter egg? Mine's the Cadbury Creme Egg, which is rather annoying, as it's sold year-round in the U.K., but is only available around Easter in Australia.

So what's been happening in the last week?

Well, work's still been an uphill slog, although I managed to get almost on top of the e-mail and task queues yesterday. The raise finally came through, although I'm not going on a splurge just yet. Well, okay, I bought the Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook on Wednesday night, but that's because I have a Star Wars con module brewing in the back of my mind.

On the topic of roleplaying, Sydcon 2003 is on over the Long Weekend. Boots is running Schloss der Geister, a Weird War II game, and I know that Gav will be attending at least. I believe Mandi will be putting in an appearance, at the very last to promote Con*Descending. Sorry that the notice on Sydcon is a little late, but then again, no-one else has bothered using the Calendar functions of the IMAGinewS group, or asked me to do so on their behalf (hint, hint).

We won't be attending Sydcon this year: our Easter is already full. Tonight, Vickie's working, and today we'll be watching some DVDs (Almost Famous and Sunday Too Far Away) before they have to go back to Video Ezy. Tomorrow night is Dan's Champions - OzWatch session, where we're apparently going to be taking on a mob of fierce mutant kangaroos. There might be a little more action this time around; last session, where the OzWatch team faced off against a stampede of man-eating bovines, went from superhero to Star Trek: The Spandex'd Generation, when rather than wading in with fists and power-bolts, we hung back and experimented, and of all the characters, Turbine was the one who made first contact (the head of the herd was telepathic and intelligent) because he was getting bored with all the sitting around and thinking!

On Sunday afternoon/evening, we're going to be having Easter Sunday dinner at Mum and Dad's. Nan and Trish will be there, with Aunt Ned and Uncle Joe as possibles. Fingers crossed things shouldn't be too awkward (this is the side of the family that doesn't approve of my being with Vickie, but somehow we all manage to stay civil). Mum and Dad do good roasts, though, and things have been improving between the lot of us lately (even though it took Grandma giving me a nudge in a call from the UK to remember to call them for the first time in a couple of months).

We got an e-mail from the Greater Union Cinebuzz club offering Dreamcatcher tickets for $8.00 until Wednesday, so we're going to catch it on Monday. Of course, you lot know that we're also looking forward to seeing The Final Flight of the Osiris that they tack onto the front of Dreamcatcher, but Dreamcatcher should be fun as well.

One of my work colleagues, Tony Mac, has been making polite yet persistent enquiries into buying MechAssault from me. It's been semi-tempting, as I've had my eye on a couple of newer Xbox games lately and I've got stuck on one mission in the single-player campaign, but the reviews I've read say it rocks under Xbox Live - which is due for Australian release in October. So I think I'll hang onto it for the time being.

April 13, 2003

Stress-Testing and Playtesting

Morning all! Nice, slow Sunday today - aside from having to mow the lawn again. And washing the car, too; Madam Lash is looking a bit grungy (sigh). But First: a News Post!

I'd like to kick off by apologising for last week's posting; there were several typos in it. At the time, I couldn't be bothered to fix them up; I've left them in since as a reminder to myself. This one shall be thoroughly spell-checked, I promise.

So what's been happening in the last week?

Well, for starters, it's been a bit stressful at work. After having two days off to got to Melbourne, the queue of tasks had doubled in size, and my e-mail inbox had, I think, tripled. I've been playing catch-up since, all while juggling priority work and a few instances of "drop what you're doing and work on this new and urgent action item". It didn't help that I had a meeting with our client's senior management team to report on how our department was adhering to contractual requirements. I forgot one of the action items on the list, and although I was able to answer it to their satisfaction at the time, it doesn't leave a pleasant taste in the mouth; I'm going to have to prepare something more thorough for next time.

In the meantime, I've also been stressing about Heavy Gear: Black Talon. You see, since Altin decided to leave, I've been trying to figure out how to remove his character from play in a manner that (a) gives the players something to do and (b) doesn't screw with the whole Black Talon operation too much. Last night was meant to be the next session, and I'd been walloping my head against a brick wall for the past week, trying to find a solution to this vexing conundrum. Last night, I hit upon a solution, and decided to do some prep work so I could have something solid for me players (I even e-mailed them to let them know)- but I'd had a hard week of exercising my thinking muscle under stress, and last night, when I sat down with pen and paper, I just thought, "No. Enough of this bullshit. It's Friday night; you're meant to be relaxing after a week of work, not stressing out and straining your thinking muscle for no good reason. This should be fun, not what it is right now."

So, when everyone rocked over last night, I decided we'd playtest my InSpectres module for Con*Descending instead. That was a fun evening, indeed; a bunch of witty, quick-thinking players improvising like crazy and me trying to keep the pace. I think I need to revise the characters' skills somewhat, although I'm worried that'll make them blend into each other (as the game has only four skills, really). I might also drop the franchise dice down a bit, as the players weren't really using them anyway, and work out some more reasons for Stress rolls. Otherwise, though, it was a very promising playtest, and I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of crazy ideas the Sydney gaming community cam come up with at the con. We all agreed on one thing, though: Big Daddy Matt should NOT, under ANY circumstances, play it, especially after what he did in Nick's Achtung! Wo ist Mein Panzerkampfer? game earlier this year (let's just say that, by the end, there was a Panzerkampfer with a very sore exhaust pipe).

Dan also brought over his server case last night, and it's huge. From the existing motherboard, it looks like it'll handle an ATX mainboard with no problem; the only problem I can see is that the front panel connectors (the part I hate most about building a new PC) have no labels on them (of course). Looks like some more trial and error coming up... Until I get the new parts, I'm looking at the case and wondering how I can modify it. I think I have been reading too much Atomic magazine; I'm thinking of cutting my IMAGinES nom de Net into the removable side panel (with some perspex behind it and a couple of funky blue cold cathode lights) and adding a fan or two (probably with blue LEDs) to it. I'm also trying to figure out where to mount a front fan; the case doesn't seem to have a mounting for one, so I might cut a hole into it somewhere. Thankfully, the top rear panel includes mounts for a pair of 8mm case fans, so that'll help air flow. (For those who're wondering what the heck cold cathode lights and LED fans are, check this out.)

Skipping back a few days, we saw Real Women Have Curves at Fox Studios Cinema Paris on Tuesday night. I managed to worsen my stress that evening, but it had nothing to do with the movie. What happened was, we caught a bus to Moore Park, and when we got off at what we thought was the right stop, we couldn't see Fox Studios. We started walking in what we thought was the right direction, and walked for about half an hour. Of course, I marinated myself in guilt soup for not asking the bus driver whether it in fact was the right stop. Eventually, we stopped at a petrol station and asked directions; we were told we'd gone the wrong way, of course. We managed to catch a taxi back. It turns out we had got off at the right stop; however, if we'd looked left instead of off to the right when we got off the bus, we would've seen Fox Studios right there. (sigh) Anyway, we managed to get there five minutes before start.

The movie was very good; a "local-kid-makes-good" movie set in East L.A. in a family of Mexican-Americans. It has a brain, a lot of heart and a whole lotta body. I don't think it's out until later this year, but if you can catch it when it arrives, do so.

Tomorrow night, we're off to see Nowhere in Africa, which looks to be a very intense film set in nineteen-forties Kenya and focusing on a Jewish family who flee Germany. I'll let you know how it goes.

We pootled off to the Castle Hill Farmer's Markets again yesterday. Mandi couldn't make it; we found out later (when she turned up for gaming) that she was feeling a bit crook. The stand who sold that wonderful sun-dried tomato mustard wasn't there (our guess is that he was at the Easter Show), and somehow, the smoked chook we bought for last night's festivities didn't make it into our shopping baskets. Thankfully, Vickie whipped up some great pasta instead, which we enjoyed with the olive bread from the Markets.

Still no feedback from Marcus about LabLAN, slack bastard. Maybe he's POed about that "confusing and conflicting" bit I put in last week's post. Anyway, hoping I'll hear back from him sometime soonish so I can add the details to the IMAGinewS calendar before the event.

April 06, 2003

Elephants and Restaurants

Hi everyone! We've had a fun-packed seven days (well, not all of them, but the majority were fun-packed).

While I was working on the database stuff, Vickie made a trip down to HardWareHouse and picked up an orbital sander, a jig saw, a small hand saw and baldes for the latter. We took to the book case from Dan and Lesley with the sander and varnished it; it's now nicely stained and positioned in our living room. It has no books on it, though; it ponly has three shelf-pegs, and we can't seem to find our supply so we can put a fourth in. I'm thinking of using the jigsaw for hacking my desk to pieces, and the hand-saw for any case mods I cecide to do. We still need a workmate (you know, one of those fold-out work benches), though.

After work on Wednesday, I took the train to Kingsford Smith Airport's domestic terminal, met up with Vickie and hopped on a Virgin Blue 737 to Melbourne. We spent Thursday nmorning being given a tour of Melbourne Zoo by Jacqui, Vickie's eldest; they have a pair of Asian elephants named Mek Kapah and Bong Su, and a wonderful new elephant enclosure with lots of space for them to roam in. Taronga may have a better view, but Melbourne has much more room for its animals, so that they don't get bored. In my opinion, that makes it the better zoo.

In the afternoon, we went to the primary school of Jacquie's daughter, Katie: It was Grandparents and Special Friends Day, and Katie had invited us both. We were treated to a presentation of poetry, singing and dancing, a tour of the school and some kid-made treats (including lots of chocolate, icing and other sweet stuff). Then it was off for dinner at a great Teppanyaki restaurant. If you've never had Teppanyaki before (as I hadn't), you're missing out on a treat - the food is cooked at your table (in fact, the tables are arranged around the teppanyaki hot plate). Our chef, a Japanese gent named Jack, was very witty and made the whole evening even more fun. Near the end of the meal, you get the (dubious) honour of catching an egg and a bowl of fried rice in your bowl; I managed to nab my egg, but got the fried rice down my leg!

The day was wrapped up by watching The Emperor's New Groove, which was, frankly, hilarious. I'm very sorry we missed it at the cinema.

We were up at five thirty on Friday morning to catch a flight home. After resting up for a while, Vickie went to work, and I went over to Nick's place for the evening. He showed me some preliminary notes for a Weird Wars convention module he's working on (set during World War II, of course) and I gave him some general computer advice. He also loaned me his Game Boy Advance and some games for it (which are fun, but nothing that'll make me run out and buy a GBA SP) and The Crimson Rivers, a great French thriller starring Jean Reno. We watched it yesterday afternoon, before heading out to Cazman's birthday party. Vickie had the plot figured out within the first twenty minutes, as usual. The really good part was that the three principals - Jean, Vincent Cassel (whom I'd like to see more of) and Nadia Fares - all re-recorded their parts in English for the international dub. Most enjoyable, if rather gory in several places (Vickie reckons that its MA 15+ rating was too lenient considering the content).

Cazman was gracious enough to give us a lift to his own Birthday Party last night. We dined at the Unkai Japanese Restaurant, on the 36th floor of the ANA Grand Harbour View Hotel. The food was a little ho-hum - I admit, I'm not fond of seafood, let alone uncooked seafood (I had chicken and meat at Teppanyaki) - but the company was good. I got to catch up with the Cazman's old mate Andrew, who I met on a trip to the snow with the Cazman and EvilHayama in 1999, and Vickie wound up chattign with Caz's friends Katie and Melinda. EvilHayama and Pirotess were also there. We learned that Cazman's lady, Linda, is Russian (presumably on her mother's side), and can speak the language, although she can't read or write it. After dinner, we pootled down to the lounge on the ground floor for cocktails. Vickie and I shared a Toblerone, a very nice chocolate-based cocktail. Unfortunately, as the evening wore on, I became more and more exhaused; we departed at 11.30, with EvilHayama and Pirotess not far behind.

Today's going to be a lazy day; once I get this news post up, Vickie and I will be trying to off the Greater White Dragon in the third chapter of the Neverwinter Nights campaign. It's a real bastard to kill, even with an amulte that gives protection from cold.

In general news:

I'm glad to report an as-yet unsubstantiated rumour that Soup Plus, the jazz restaurant that closed its doors a couple of months ago (seemingly for good) is Back Open in its original venue. The rumour comes from a trusted source who has good reason to know - his son is a muse-o and has played a few gigs there - but we've not been into Sydney to verify it yet.

My Anarchy Online membership, reactivated for a month as part of the Notum Wars trial, has expired; it's no great loss, as I didn't play it again after I last mentioned the reactivation in a newspost a month ago.

Marcus has announced a LAN party, which he's dubbed LabLAN; unfortunately, the details are confusing and conflicting. I'm trying to clear the situation up with him, but he's yet to reply to my e-mails or voicemail messages. You'll have more detail when it eventuates. I've also heard nothing further from Boots, who also wants to run a LAN party sometime soon. I will admit to being a little leery of LAN parties in general, but if they're being organised by good friends and are comparatively close (the last one I attended was in Blacktown, which was a bit too far), I'd be tempted to give it a go.

I'm also having a little fun with Credit Union Australia at the moment; Visa rejected my CUA card application, as I hadn't had a CUA account for six months and my full pay wasn't going in (annoying, as I wanted to make sure I had card access before I started putting my full pay in). I'm working on a MasterCard application at the moment.