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June 18, 2003

Multiculturalism & Science Fiction

A couple of days ago, I signed onto the forum of the Cylon Alliance, a web-site that gives information on those SF shows that got left by the wayside (including the original Battlestar Galactica). As I've mentioned in recent newsposts, there's been a lot of heated fan debate over the Sci-Fi Channel's "re-imagining" of Battlestar Galactica in mini series form. I've pretty much completed that "rant" I was writing (which, as usual, has turned out more like reasoned argument than a rant), and will probably be posting it within the next few days, but some crazed personal caprice drove me to visit a collective of actual fans of the original.

One of the threads in the forum is discussing the fact that most of the new Galactica cast was white. Posts went back and forth on colour, other TV shows to feature multiracial casts such as Trek, ethnic typing, enlightened idealism and the like, and I noticed the topic dying down with everyone seemingly agreeing to disagree. It absolutely stunned me that all of them were overlooking the most glaring ethnic typing of all: Where were the really foreign characters?

Why does almost everyone on these shows have an American accent, even the bloody aliens? What have we had in Trek? Precisely one Russian, one Scot, one Irishman and three Brits (if you count Julian Bashir as being at least British-educated; he doesn't come across as particularly Indian or Saudi or anything). Six non-American accents across five separate series! That's a pathetic average of barely over one foreign accent in a recurring cast! Even the ruddy aliens have American accents! That's what I want to ask these so-called equal-opportunity casting personages! Where's your Aussies, mate? Where's your annoying French folk? (No, Jean-Luc doesn't count; he's not annoying and, let's face it, he's not really French either.) Your Spanairds? Your Africans (yes, without the -American on the end, you uneducated twerps)? Huh? Huh?

I know what's going on here, I do. I know what this is all about. These Yanks tout their ethnic minorities and multiracial casts, so they can act all nice and politically correct whilst pulling the wool over people's eyes and hiding that they're secretly promoting Das Amerikan Weltkultur! Irishman Colin Farrell? American accent. Englishwoman Rachel Weisz? American accent. Australia's bloody own Nicole Bloody Kidman? You just watch yourself that Stepford Bloody Wives remake when it comes out and tell me what accent she's speaking in, mate. All Races, One Accent! All Nations, One Big Mac! Yeah, I'm onto you, you evil American network casting persons, you. You Have Been Bloody Well Warned.

Oh, and don't give us that tripe about shows made in America for American audiences. That's the flimsiest excuse I've heard since... well... since that guy said the thing about... the thing, but I knew it was all lies! I did!

I think it's time we had some of that Affirmative Action stuff we keep hearing about in universities and the workplace going on in the casting agencies and shows! I represent Australians with a Beer and a Cattle Dog who want to Entertain Film Goers! (Okay, so the acronym's A.B.C.D.E.F.G. Best I could come up with under the circumstances.) We demand cultural and accentural casting that reflects the true global culture demographic: 50% American, 50% Australian!

What do we demand? Well, it's quite simple, really, we're easy to please. No more of Hugo Weaving adopting an accent when he's playing Agent Smith, and no more camouflaging of The City with digital effects - you cant fool us. It's Sydney, and the Agents (who were all played by Australians in The Matrix) ought to be stopping those Americans from Zion from getting everyone to leave the best city in the world! We want proper Australian representation on every starship in a science fiction TV show. None of these namby-pamby shuttlecraft, mate: each and every starship has to have one ute and at least one workin' dog! Who needs those useless bloody red-shirted security guards then, eh? Your battler's prince, the blue heeler, will have those pesky Borg or Klingons rounded up and into the pen - er, brig - before your annoying computer can say "Intruder Alert!" Remember Hugh Jackman's getup at the Mansion in X2? The white singlet, the jeans, the scruffy sideburns? He was almost fully A.B.C.D.E.F.G. compliant there - all they needed to change was to swap those boots for a pair of thongs and that poncy blue Mazda or whatever it was for a Holden Maloo Ute (with a dog in the back)!

We'll show you culturally-blind American peoples what multiculturalism really means - beer and rugby and lots of it!

June 15, 2003

Ideas for Con Games

Good afternoon, everyone! It's a nice, slow Sunday, so I think it's about time for another news post.

I must apologise for one inaccuracy in the previous post: Vickie and I didn't spend Sunday in. We headed into the city to catch some of the Sydney Jazz Festival at Darling Harbour. Admittedly, as the Harbour was already crowded when we got there, we didn't do too much actual viewing of acts (although there was always music almost everywhere), but it was an impulse trip for the both of us. We're thinking of making a long weekend of it next year, even though that may well put us in conflict with the next Con*Descending.

Boots and I are talking about co-writing a Heavy Gear module for MacquarieCon this year. We have a couple of concepts in mind, but I have the feeling we'll go with Boots' one (not because of any perceived superiority; I just suddenly find myself wanting to try something different, and Boots' idea is definitely different). Boots, Gav and I have also discussed doing a con module based on Kevin Rubio's insane short film blend of Star Wars and COPS. Called TROOPS, it focuses on a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers keeping the Empire's peace on Tatooine, right around the time a young farm boy ruins away to join the Rebellion. Gav is the main impetus behind this idea at the moment, and has come up with some interesting ideas. More on these as further developments eventuate.

Well, since I went back to work, I've completed the uphill slog of bringing my e-mail queue up to date: now all I have to do is perform another similar slog in getting my activity management system's task queue up to date. Sigh... Juggling the queues and the phone got so difficult on Wednesday that I left work at four, taking the laptop with me, and did a couple of hours more work from the comfort of our living room. Unfortunately, the stress also caught up with me on Thursday; I came down with a rather nasty cold, and on Friday afternoon I had to leave work early so I could go hame and relax. The worst of it is gone, although I still have a plugged-up nose. Vickie made the very valid comment that neither of us seem to do this "sick" thing particularly well; when we contract something, it usually knocks us around for a few days.

I'm still thinking about the site, and adding some more material to it. I took a look at Honour and the Game yesterday, and am a little intimidated by its sheer size, not just in terms of the thirty-six page (including Contents table) main module document, but also the additional documentation: the blurbs, the character sheets, the summaries, etcetera. I'm not sure whether I'll actually convert the lot into a web format or simply create a page for the blurb and add a link to a downloadable zip file. I think the latter is the best path, as I won't have to do two updates every time I make a revision.

I also want to do some work on Vickie's website. Her current one, hosted by Angelfire, looks generally good but hasn't been updated in ages. My plan is to build a new one from scratch based on the content she wants to put up there - poetry and prose. I'm thinking of hosting it as part of my ten-megabyte Big Pond web-space, which shouldn't be a big problem; I think I have around seven megabytes unused at the moment. We've had the basic content established for a while; now I need to sit down and seriously think about design.

Das Birthday is coming up in July, as are a few other birthdays. I'm prepping the birthday list as we speak, and am also planning the birthday party. This year, rather than going out, we'll have it at home. Due to a mis-calculation, I thought my birthday was on a Sunday this year so I booked a day of annual leave for the Monday after, but it's actually on a Friday, so I'll shift the day of leave to then.

Dan's had a little trouble with the new PC I gave him, and after doing some investigation work last night (aided by a final, desperate plea for assistance to EvilHayama), I determined that the cause of the problems was the old 20 gigabyte hard drive I'd provided as part of the upgrade. I'm shopping around for a new drive, and it looks like I can get a Western Digital 40 GB 7,200 RPM drive from A&T Computer for $100, which should suit Dan's needs well. I'll pop in tomorrow on my lunch break and see whether they have any in stock.

Some of you may know that I've been following the development and production of a new Battlestar Galactica mini series on the Sci Fi Channel (the same cable channel that financed and hosted the Frank Herbert's Dune and the recent Frank Herbert's Children of Dune mini series) with some interest. There has been a lot of Internet furor over it, and I'm thinking of putting a rant together. Besides, it's about time I dragged the Rant space out of the realm of serious political and social debate and back into the realm of important matters such as Battlestar Galactica.

June 10, 2003

What I Did on the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend

Hi all! I've taken today as annual leave so we could stay out late at the Con*Descending Wrap Party last night. This morning, I think it's entirely appropriate that I give my:

What I Did on the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend

To provide background information to those unfamiliar: Con*Descending 2003 is a convention of table-top roleplaying games, free-form roleplaying games and collectible card/miniatures games. There are approximately five or six each year in Sydney alone, usually over public holiday long weekends. It's being run by a few friends of mine, one of whom (Mandi, for those interested) pestered me into writing a "module" - in general RPG-speak, a single adventure sold as a booklet, but in con-speak, a short adventure designed to be completed within roughly three hours - for the con. Rather than writing a module based on an established game line, I decided to do something a little different: make a module based on the InSpectres independent roleplaying game. It was Vickie who came up with the idea behind the module: Set it at the Sydney Opera House, during a production of Macbeth, with the dreaded Curse in full swing.

On to the report: Firstly I discovered that there's actually a games store in Burwood. I have the feeling they've only recently opened (although I could well be wrong) but the Sydney Games Centre is establishing their product lines (mainly CCGs and CMGs right now, but building up their RPG stock, starting with D20) and offering good product at cheap prices. They also promise to order whatever you want in if they don't have it on the shelf. It looks like I might not have to dash into Games Paradise or Tin Soldier for Heavy Gear product any more, as SGC is much closer to where I work...

SGC was where registration for Con*Descending was being held, so I showed up on Friday evening and gave the info packs for my modules out to the teams who had registered for it. I had some trouble with the Sunday afternoon group, as they were a composite of a couple of teams, but I thought I'd catch up with them during Sunday lunch. At the end of the evening, I had three sessions scheduled: Saturday evening, Sunday afternoon and Monday afternoon.

Saturday evening went well, with the team of Brock, Inc. getting into the spirit (as it were) of things quickly. They came out at the end with, after Cleanup and Vacation, three Franchise Points' profit. InSpectres is different from most games in that the players have just as much control over the plot as, if not more than, the GM, so I'd whipped up about three possible endings in case I wound up in more control than the players. The session wound up blending into one of them, but the players still managed to throw me several curves, including making a ghost-trap out of a computer monitor. Still, fun was definitely had all round.

On Saturday, I found out that three of the five participants in the Sunday afternoon session had dropped out, and by Sunday morning, Mandi hadn't had anyone come up to fill them yet. I cancelled the session, with apologies to the two other interested players, and Vickie and I had a pleasant, relaxing day in.

Monday wound up being very eventful. Vickie wisely suggested we check the water level in Madam Lash's radiator before we left at midday - and when I took the radiator cap off, it fell apart. The thing had rusted through in several places. We made a detour to Repco Auto Parts in Waitara (who, thankfully, were open) and bought a new one as appropriate for our model of car. I started her up, and everything seemed to go fine - until I turned the engine off, and heard a loud splashing noise coming from under the car. Radiator fluid (water with an additive) was pouring from the engine compartment. Thinking that the radiator itself had given up the ghost, we called NRMA Road Services. Apparently, although I'd paid the renewal online, the NRMA hadn't received our money, and had cancelled my Road Services membership. So we paid again, and waited a little over an hour for the Road Services rep to arrive (this wasn't unexpected, though; I have no doubt NRMA Road Services was run off its feet with all the Long Weekend drivers out and about). In the meantime, I called Mandi and told her that there was no way we were going to make the final session. If the radiator was really shot, we probably wouldn't even make Prizegiving (and Vickie would be back to taking the train to and from work; not a pleasant prospect when she's coming home so late at night).

The Road Services tech finally pulled up and had a look at our radiator. We told him we'd just recently replaced our radiator cap, and he tested the cap's seal by attaching a hand air pump to the overflow hose. The correct cap for our model car was actually incorrect for Madam Lash; the arm that the seal was mounted on was too short, so a proper seal couldn't be formed. It seems The tech went into Repco and asked them to find a cap with a longer arm, and when we tried that on the Madam, a proper seal was formed and everything worked fine.

As it was half past one by this time, we called Mandi and told her we'd make Prizegiving after all. In the meantime, we did a little shopping in Hornsby and grabbed some lunch.

Prizegiving was fun, although it was just one of those things you really had to be there for. I can't remember half the hilarity, and I'm sure the other half wouldn't translate well to the written word. Brock, Inc. deservedly took the trophies for InSpectres.com.au: That Scottish Play (even though they were the only team that played, in the end) and we all piled over to the Burwood RSL for after-con drinks. Gav, Boots and Penny O'Rance all nabbed a lift, although we were a bit delayed by an elderly Korean woman who was trying to get our help whilst speaking not a word of English. Boots and Vickie eventually, with much pantomime and misunderstanding, got her to a pay-phone booth where she called her family and told them to come and get her. The rest of the evening was much more relaxing, with Big Daddy Matt being surprisingly toned down from his usual, sexually-ebullient self and even more enjoyable company for it, and Rog regaling us with stories from his time as an Army reservist in the UK. Boots and Vickie had a lively discussion on the life of Charlie Chaplin, and when the time came for us to leave, we gave Gav a lift back home.

Boots has suggested that, for next year's Con*Descending, he and I approach North Sydney Boys High School about hiring their facilities (probably some rooms of hone of the main Blocks) at a discounted rate because we're Old Falconians (the high school's official old boys' club, which neither of us have had any use for or contact from since we left). I think it's worth a shot, especially if it helps bring costs down.

It's back to work tomorrow for a short week, and I'm not looking forward to the massive queue of e-mails and tasks that I'll be facing - but that's the price you pay for holidays in this high-powered modern world, where everyone who could possibly shoulder the load while you're off trying to unwind has either been laid off - er, sorry, "downsized" - or transferred to another department.

I'm going to give the car a clean today before Vickie has to pootle off to work, and perahps do some website planning. I've been neglecting the other areas of the site for the past several months; no new Articles, Stories or RPG stuff. I do have a few things I can put up; I've been meaning to add the Heavy Gear module I ran for NecronomiCon a couple of years ago, and I can also add InSpectres.com.au: That Scottish Play. I also want to get to work on Vickie's website; I've been meaning to do so for ages, and she'd like it updated with some of her latest poems and other works.

It's also just over a month until my birthday! Time to start putting the infamous List together...

June 01, 2003

Pinch and a Punch

Morning everyone! Pinches and Punches for the First Day of the Monthses and all of that.

Vickie and I have been naughty little stress-monkeys this week. I've been stressing for a while about giving a PC to Dan, as I wanted to do it both in a timely fashion and within budget. My upgrade didn't go as smoothly as intended; the Radeon 9700 drivers kept arguing with my system and crashing it for some unknown reason (I noticed the latest Catalyst drivers insisted it was a 9700 PRO, giving me the impression that this was a faulty card). After doing a reformat-clean install in the first place, I did another one, and still the bastard kept crashing. I took the card back to where I bought it, and after a little arguing (as the mounting metal on the card had a screw-head mark on it from where I'd fastened it to the machine as one is supposed to; they argued that they couldn't re-sell the card, and I wanted to know why they couldn't simply retun it to their vendor as possibly faulty, whch they insisted they just couldn't do), they agreed to give me a credit toward another video card. I ordered a PRO, forking out an extra $100 to cover the price difference (under the reasonong that if the latest drivers were inisiting the Radeon 9700 was a PRO, then a PRO would work fine), and still it kept crashing.

In the end, I did yet another reformat-clean install, and did not install the AGP drivers that came with the new motherboard. I also made sure to disable a setting under the ATi Control Panel software for something called "fast writes"; several sources in the video card community reckon that fast writes are the source of many similar crashing problems. I still don't know what they are, let alone why they crash PCs, but the PRO has not acted up once since the latest rebuild, and I'm not about to switch fast writes back on or install the AGP drivers to test the theory. Freelancer is running more smoothly than my GeForce3 at higher resolutions, and I'm not about to go monkeying around with that.

On top of all that, I have another one of those senior management meetings with the client next week, and I've been having to re-work some of our data to make it more presentable. This has meant I've had to ignore my e-mail and service request queues alone, all while there are several semi-urgent to urgent issues there that need sorting out. That client meeting is just a few days before Con*Descending, which I've still not done any further work for - well, actually, that's not true; Vickie has a couple of books on Spirits and the Spirit World and Unusual Powers, which, although they've not given me any solid ideas, have been an interesting read and have got my mind working.

Vickie has had a rather painful week at work. The computer systems are in need of maintenance, and the company who supplied and who ought to be servicing them have asked the users to keep paper logs of the problems. On Wednesday night, Vickie came home very stressed out, because the computer was taking two-and-a-half minutes to perform simple database operations while she was trying to deal with clients. She even asked me whether I knew whether my firm was interested in taking it over! (In jest, of course; she knows my firm handles big corporate clients.) She then asked whether I knew anyone else who could do the job, and I suggested a firm that Dad got me doing some work experience with back in '96/7. They're still in business, although they've moved from Chatswood to St Leonards, and Vickie's left a note for the boss about them.

So if Vickie and I aren't our usual cheerful selves for the next little while, please extend your sympathies and/or take it easy on us, okay?