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May 05, 2003

Like Giving Jack The Ripper a Chainsaw

Morning all. Feeling a little crook today, so I'm staying home. It feels like a dose of the cold; you know, sniffles, sore throat, sore sinuses, etcetera.

Hope you all enjoyed your Mother's Day yesterday, especially you Mothers out there! Vickie and I took Mum and Dad out to lunch at the Blu Water Grill in Hornsby. It was packed with other families celebrating the same occasion, so we didn't get our meals for an hour, but we didn't mind; it was a very pleasant arvo. We're off to the RSL this evening with the family again; it's my Nan's birthday today.

Yesterday also gave me the chance to exercise my new CUA Mastercard, which, despite my request for no credit, has a $2,000 limit on it. As I'm broke at the moment, it covered lunch and a small shopping spree at Electronics Boutique. I bought Vickie a copy of Myst III: Exile, going cheap at $50, and myself a copy of Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance for the Xbox. Vickie and I (well, mainly Vickie) made a little headway into Exile with only some minor checking of the Prima Strategy Guide that came with the game. Substance is good, just bloody tough on Normal difficulty (which, I discovered when I actually read the fucking manual, is meant to be for veterans of the prior game; I've since restarted on Easy difficulty).

On the general computing front, Brook's PC is now complete and ready for transport. I've revised my plans for Dan's upgrade yet again; I've had people offering me parts left, right and centre. Cameron K not only donated a motherboard, he's now selling me his Pentium 4 2.3GHz processor (as well as two sticks of 256MB PC2700 SDRAM) and is also chucking a stick of 256MB PC2100 RAM in as well. So I have enough to give Dan, Vickie and myself 512MB of RAM. As I'd run out of parts to buy from the computer shop so that I could get Windows XP Home at OEM prices for Dan, I'm splashing out on a new Pentium motherboard, a Gigabyte 8SQ800 Ultra, which gives me an 8x AGP slot for when I get the Radeon (yes, I know the difference between 4x and 8x is extremely marginal; allow me to be a geek, okay?) and dual-channel RAM architecture for Cameron's two sticks of PC2700. So Dan will be getting my Athlon in its existing case after all; I'll swipe his server case and use it with the P4.

I've been reading some good comments about the Ragnarok Online beta lately, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I downloaded the client on Friday night from the Telstra servers and had a fiddle. I'm hoping to hook up with EvilHayama on the Loki server and do some critter-mashing; this'll probably be the first time I've ever actually been in a MMORPG with a friend.

For a while, I've been reading how the Lightcycle Grid within Tron 2.0 was to be strictly single-player, as the requisite speeds couldn't be guaranteed over the Internet. It looks like Monolith has compromised, though; the System Requirements details in the Gameplay section of the official website states "Network (1- 8 players) LAN TCP/IP compliant network for Multiplayer Light Cycle gameplay". So all I have to say is, there'd better be some other TRON 2.0 owners at the next LAN party I go to, or I'll be sitting at my own PC playing Lightcycles all night by myself whilst everyone else goes green with envy! Muahahahahahaha! (Considering the network-only restriction, I hope Monolith allow spawn installations for Lightcycle play only...)

Just before we went to see the movie, Vickie bought a copy of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher at a cheap price. It's not a bad read, for fans of King, and it was interesting to see how close it stayed to the movie. The changes that were made did make sense considering the overall plot flow. As with the movie, anyone with a squeamish disposition should probably stay away from it.

Only four more days until The Matrix Reloaded... Apparently, over the weekend, a few cinemas were screening the nine Animatrix short films. EvilHayama and his lady Pirotess were off to see them on Saturday arvo. Hayama invited us along over ICQ at about twelve PM, but we had already delayed yesterday's shopping trip until the arvo, and neither of us was feeling too crash-hot (the aforementioned cold in my case). So we stayed in and watched The Matrix (on DVD, not the Channel 9 TV broadcast) instead. Which reminds me - I have to make sure to take the DVD along to dinner this evening, so Mum and Dad can watch it before going to see Reloaded.

Oh, and speaking of The Matrix: The character that Vickie and I like the most in that movie is Tank, the Operator, played by Marcus Chong (we hope he's in the sequels). Did anyone else stay up last night to watch the Law & Order Triple Play on Channel 10? Marcus was in the episode of Special Victims Unit, playing the weekly psychotic. By God, he was good. I mean, really good. He had no trouble convincing us that his character could've done what he did.

Con*Descending is a little over a month away, now; time I did some compiling of my ideas for That Scottish Play into an organised module. That, and work on the next Black Talon session as well.

Upgrade Fun Reloaded

Evening Folks! It's looking very much like Dan's/Vickie's/My Upgrade will be going ahead this weekend. I'll be buying processor and RAM from Cameron K tomorrow, and I've put some orders in with A&T Computer and Eyo for the additional parts. In doing so, I'm committing my last Act of Evil with my new CUA MasterCard (as they're shipping me a Visa debit-card, I won't be forced to use a credit limit for things like online shopping); after this, it gets safely locked away in case of emergencies or overseas trips and I'll be paying off credit card debt for the next few months.

So, this weekend will probably be dedicated to getting three PCs up and running. My plans have fluctuated a bit lately, due to two factors - the aforementioned credit limit, which I'm now using to get my mitts on a high-end video card now, instead of September, and the on-switch for the server case Dan gave me to possibly use as his new case. See, Brook's PC includes Vickie's old Hyundai PC case, and during re-assembly, I discovered its power switch had stopped working. The switch for the server case turned out to be an exact fit, so I purloined it for Brook. However, I couldn't find another that matched. Several people volunteered helpful info, and EvilHayama even let me browse his collection of old cases on Tueday night, but while he had some switches that were of the correct size and shape to fit the server case, all were connected directly to his cases' power supply units. I needed a switch that connected to the motherboard.

Finally, I decided to see whether Cameron K's suggestion - Jaycar, a large electrical components store out in Silverwater - would pan out. A quick browse of their website yesterday revealed an online catalogue, and surely enough, it contained a compatible switch. I put an order in yesterday, and with any luck, it should be turning up in the post tomorrow!

Vickie's PC will need the least maintenance, although I do intend to use our recently-acquired jigsaw and cut an appropriately-sized mounting for an 8mm case fan into the front of the chassis. Beyond that, the GeForce4 I bought from Boots is already up and running fine in her system, and as previously reported, Cameron K's extra stick of PC2100 RAM will be going into it, bringing her to 512MB.

Dan's PC - my current PC - will remain nearly unchanged from its current configuration, aside from the removal of the sound card (the motherboard has onboard sound) and the current hard drive. I'll be adding a 20 gigabyte hard drive, which I'll install Windows XP Home Edition on.

The PC that will be mine will consist mostly of parts I've bought/acquired:

  • The Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU and two sticks of 256MB PC2700 RAM that I'm buying from Cameron K tomorrow.
  • A Gigabyte 8SQ800 motherboard. It's cheaper by $90 than the 8SQ800 Ultra that I originally planned to buy, because it doesn't have the Ultra's extras (onboard LAN, Serial ATA, RAID) that I don't need. It still gives me 8X AGP and dual-channel DDR400 RAM capability, which ought to keep it future-proof for another couple of years (I can always splash out on a pair of 512MB PC3200 sticks, maybe sometime mid-next year if my overseas trip budget allows).
  • A Leadman 400-watt Power Supply Unit.
  • An ATI Radeon 9700. The PRO version is tempting, but Atomic's benchmarks only give it a measly 7 frames per second (127 total) more than the regular 9700 (120 total) in Unreal Tournament 2003 and only 700 more 3dMark2001SE points (10,760 as opposed to 10,065), both tests running at 1,280 x 1,024 resolution. Not really worth paying $100 more for.
  • The SoundBlaster Live! Digital Entertainment 5.1 card from my current system. It fulfills my 5.1 sound requirements with no problems. I don't have any real need for an Audigy right now, especially as I don't have digital speakers or use the system for DVDs.
  • The Evil Server Case from Dan, plus the new power switch from Jaycar. I'm still nursing the odd modding plan; maybe a case fan mounting parallel to the AGP slot, maybe cutting "IMAGinES" into the side panel, maybe spray painting it in IMAGinES website colours or perhaps blue and red... you can tell I've been reading too much Atomic, can't you?

I'll be spending sometime tomorrow night backing data up and getting Dan's case cleaned up. I'll likely hold off doing anything to Vickie's PC until Saturday; Vickie likes browsing after she gets in from work on a Friday night, which makes backing data up beforehand pointless, and I'd like another pair of hands present if I'm to start cutting into her chassis.

Jacqui & Phil drove up from Melbourne last Saturday as scheduled, and I finally got to show the wonders of the Xbox off to Phil. Although Phil was somewhat impressed with Halo, he's another one of these "driving game" nuts, so he, of course, went ga-ga for Rallisport Challenge. The four of us spent a fairly quiet evening at home (if you can call A Knight's Tale quiet), and Jacqui and Phil got up early on Sunday to take the items that came down from Cairns for them back to Melbourne. They also took Brook's PC with them, and as I've not had any phone calls from Brook or her Mum screaming that it doesn't work, I assume it's running smoothly. Then again, I've had no phone calls from them whatsoever...

Oh yeah; Vickie's son Karl has an Xbox now as well! That actually gives us something in common that we can talk about. Karl's trying to get through Halo on Legendary right now.

On the general topic of Xbox games, I bought Enter the Matrix for Xbox on Sunday. Although I wasn't able to stop myself from playing a little of it before we went to see Reloaded on Monday night, I've been playing it since, and it's pretty good. The controls (especially the sniper rifle) are awkward at times. It also has some bug problems, especially when it comes to the computer controlled opponents (sometimes they get stuck on nothing, the path finding AI occasionally fails). The sound has some of the mixing problems of Halo, and the dynamic soundtrack, which uses Don Davis' orchestral score for The Matrix, isn't quite able to convey an appropriate mood during gameplay. The graphics aren't exactly anything to write home about, especially the character models, which seem like they were built and animated using four-to-five-year-old software (Halo and Freelancer leave them for dead, and even Max Payne, the first game to use the bullet-time effect as a gameplay element, looked better). The novelty of seeing the actors from the movie in the FMV sequences (mainly Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe and Anthony Wong as Ghost, with appearances from Steve Bastoni) wears thin rather quickly; although (or perhaps because) the game FMV was written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers themselves, all the characters seem to be trying too hard to be ice cool, at the expense of the player developing any real empathy with them.

It is a fun action game despite itself, especially when you left-trigger your Focus, and you're suddenly doing all of that fun Matrix stuff like running along walls and firing guns whilst cartwheeling. Whether it's worth the $109.95 pricetag for the console versions is another question (and according to GameSpot, the PC version [$89.95] is the worst of the bunch, though not by a big margin). Your mileage may well vary.

Oh yeah: The Matrix Reloaded itself? Well, I liked it... but not as much as I was hoping. There was an uncomfortable sensation of too much change, sort of like the sensation you get from Star Wars Episodes I and II after growing up on the Original Trilogy. The whole flavour and tone of the sequel feels different from the original, and not necessarily in a good way. There was more sitting around and talking than in The Matrix (and some reckon that the first film had too much sitting around and talking anyway), mostly exposition of high concept (which can't really be explained without wrecking the plot for those who've not seen it) rather than using it as an opportunity for the the characters to expand. And not only was there no Tank (it would seem that the actor who played him, Marcus Chong, is in the midst of a legal battle with the studio over promised pay for the movies), but his absence was barely touched upon (he's referred to once, and in passing). Scott Kurtz, writer/artist of PVP, has a rant up where he explains why he hated Reloaded (Editor's Note 27 October 03: Scott seems to have taken the rant down), and although it has a bit of vitriol in it, it does a good job of summing up the problems one might have with Reloaded. Still, it is worth seeing at the cinema.

EvilHayama and I got together on the Loki server of Ragnarok Online last week. Unfortunately, I had some serious lag problems, evidenced in the sudden, intermittent gluing of my character's feet to the ground for periods of up to three or five minutes. It made my journey to meet up with EvilHayama agonisingly slow, and we didn't get much done. Still, it's not bad, but I'm not sure whether I'd subscribe when it eventually goes live. Maybe I need to play it a little more.

Oh, and speaking of live: I received an e-mail from Microsoft about joining the Australian beta of Xbox Live. I filled out their form and submitted it, so we'll see how I go. If I have any luck, I'll need to sort out some way of connecting my Xbox to my broadband connection (most likely involving buying a 10/100 Ethernet switch and 10+ metres of RJ45 cable and drilling two holes in the floor).

Nearly two weeks until Con*Descending, and I haven't done much work on my InSpectres module since I last mentioned it. Gotta get to work - not that I have much I really need to do, but I just want to make sure it's done, so everything runs smoothly.

May 04, 2003

An IMAGinewS Public Service Announcement

Over the past few weeks, Vickie has been plagued with dialogue boxes that pop up intermittently, advertising ad-banning services, diplomas and (of course) porn. I've been at a loss to figure out what it is; I've tried tightening our firewall, yet the damned things still get through. As the dialogue boxes had "Messenger Service" in the top bar, we at first thought it had something to do with MSN Messenger, but even with Trillian shut down and logged off, the messages kept popping up.

Yesterday, I did a little searching in the web, trying to find whether anyone had identified the cause of the problem and found a fix. It turns out that a few places had; the best explanation of the problem and how to fix it that I've seen so far is at the helpdesk of the University of Birmingham.

I think that if Vickie's having problems (and I think the only reason I wasn't was because I share Vickie's Internet connection, so I'm hidden behind her IP address), some of you folks may also have been having them. The fix above is easy to apply and doesn't harm your system in any way (if you're using a work PC, though, I recommend seeing your tech services department before making any changes).

I managed to get the P3-500 that's going to Brook assembled and built yesterday. In doing so, I managed to puzzle out the problem that's had me vexed for ages - where all the front-panel connectors (all those little cables that link your motherboard to the on-switch and hard drive activity lights on the front of your PC's case) connect to on the motherboard. I had to take the front case cover off to do it, but it was very educational. It also had a broken on-switch, so I salvaged the one from Dan's server case (which I will return to the server as soon as I can get another one) and tested the system. It's now built with Windows 2000 Professional with the latest Service Pack. Dan's seeing if he can rustle up a spare on-switch and a pair of floppy drives so I can get Brook's PC fully assembled before Jacqui and Phil arrive on the 17th.

We've been having difficulties with the line spools of our last two whipper-snippers. One (a cheap Razorback) just jammed, and no one seems to stock replacement spools for the other, a Ryobi RLT508A, which uses disposable ones. So yesterday, at Vickie's request, I nipped down to HardWareHouse and bought a big, grunty Ryobi line trimmer that uses a re-fillable 2mm spool. It goes through the long grass by our walls like a band-saw.

So, if anyone wants a spare Ryobi RLT508A, make us an offer.

May 03, 2003

Where Does All The Time Go?

I turn my back for one second, one miserable second, and suddenly it's May. I mean, May. It was only yesterday that it was February, for crying out loud. What's going on, here? Time seems to have started speeding up somewhere in my early teens, and it hasn't shown any sign of slowing down since. It's not like I've not been spending the same amount of hours and minutes around here, but somehow, it seems they've gotten shorter.

If there's one good thing about this time speeding up thing, it's that the good stuff gets here more quickly. X2 has now hit our screens (two days before it opened in the US), and it's barely two weeks until The Matrix Reloaded, as well as the Enter The Matrix computer/video game. I'm suddenly contemplating getting my hands on the latter; primarily because of the additional one hour of movie-quality footage shot for it by the Wachowski Brothers themselves and starring Jada Pinkett-Smith and Anthony Wong (not to mention the odd cameo from the Main Four from the movies [Reeves, Moss, Fishburne and Weaving]). Not only that, but Larry and Andy have been involved in the game's design from the word go. If there's one problem, it's that the in-game character models do look a little dodgy.

Anyway, I could carp on about it for a while, but I'd start sounding like some shill, and there are other sites that do a much better job of detailing the game's features. The only question that remains is: Xbox or PC? (I'm thinking the former; my Xbox hasn't really seen much action lately. Then again, the hacking minigame seems more suited to a keyboard.)

Dragging the topic back to movies: X2 is good. On a whim, I called Vickie on Thursday arvo and asked her whether she wanted to meet me in Hornsby to see it. We caught a six o'clock session, which only had about thirty other people there, and enjoyed the experience greatly. My thoughts of X-Men were "Good movie, but leaves one's stomach a little empty. Needs more substance." X2 has substance in spades. Sure the FX are better, but so are the characters.

Unfortunately, we missed the charity screening of Whale Rider last week. We arrived about five minutes before the scheduled start time, to discover that the session had sold out a while before.

With the hype engine for Homeworld2 revving up, I've decided to see if I can actually finish Homeworld. I kept getting stuck on one of the final missions, the one with the hyperspace inhibitor and the sphere of Ion Cannon Frigates. I'll have to see if I can get past it this time...

I'm going to be doing some handy-person stuff this weekend (under Vickie's expert tutelage, of course). I'm finally going to get the desk modification that I've been talking about for ages done. For those of you who don't know what I mean, my desk was designed more for writing than for computer use. The current surface is too high for comfortable keyboarding or mousing, so I'm going to cut it into two and lower the front half by a couple of inches. I'm also thinking of taking to Vickie's PC and cutting and drilling a proper mount in the front for an 8mm case fan.

I'm also going to start assembling the PC that we want to give to Vickie's granddaughter Brook today; as Jacqui and Phil are due up in two weeks' time, I want to have the completed package to give to them by then.

I have the horrible feeling that Dan's new PC is going to have to wait another month more. I've taken another look at the cost of parts, and thanks to a drop in general prices and a Socket 478 (P4/Celeron-compatible) motherboard that Cameron K donated to the cause (he threw in a network card as well), I've managed to knock about $300-$400 off the total price. It's still going to wind up costing around $900, and with me owing Vickie about $200 right now (yes, I'm broke again) and potentially more car-related costs on the near horizon (if Madam Lash keeps leaking, we're going to take her to a shop in Bobbin Head Road rather than brave Kmart again) I think I'll leave the upgrade until I know I can afford it, which should be my June payday.

At the moment, the Dan's Evil PC (and minor upgrade of our PCs) Plan looks a like this:

  • Buy the following parts:
    • Pentium Celeron 2.2GHz Processor
    • 3.5" Floppy Disk Drive
    • 1 stick of KingMax 512MB PC3200 DDR SDRAM
    • Leadtek A180 GeForce4 MX440 Video Card
    • OEM Copy of Windows XP Home Edition
    • Leadman LP-6100D 400-Watt Power Supply Unit
    • 2 sticks of KingMax 256MB PC2700 DDR SDRAM (from Cameron K)
  • Dan's PC will consist of the Celeron processor and mainboard, with the PC2100 RAM from Vickie's and my PCs and my GeForce3 video card and power supply. Cameron K's network card will also go in (if/when Dan goes Broadband). I have a 20GB hard drive that can be used in Dan's unit, and (I think) a spare CD-ROM that can go in (if not, I should be able to use the one from Dan's kaput PC). The hardware will be installed into Dan's server case (yes, I'm putting my evil case-modding plans aside). I'll build it with the copy of WinXP Home.
  • Vickie's and My PCs will be upgraded; Vickie will get Cameron K's sticks of PC2700 RAM, while I nab the stick of PC3200 RAM, the 400-watt PSU and the GeForce4. I'll be upping the front-side bus speeds on our motherboards to match the RAM, and possibly installing another case fan or two.
  • Come September, when Tron 2.0 hits shelves, I should have enough stashed away to get a newer video card, something in the realm of an ATI Radeon 9700 (possibly Pro, depending on the price); Vickie will then get the GeForce4.
I intend this round of upgrades to last us both for the next couple of years. My serious saving goal from September onward will be to get us tickets to the UK and the States for late next year, so I doubt I'll be touching our PCs hardware-wise again until sometime in '05 (at which point, I might consider Shuttle XPC kits for us both, or for Vickie at least).