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October 31, 2003

It's Official.

Alien Versus Predator

October 27, 2003

Wonky Monday

Evening everyone. I was feeling a little ill last night and this morning, so I spent the day at home to recuperate. I'm feeling okay at the moment, so back to work tomorrow; there's still some hand-over that needs to be done so that the others in my area aren't left in the lurch when we rack off to the UK.

Boots loaned us his six-DVD collection of Band of Brothers on Saturday night; we watched a fair chunk of it on Sunday and finished it off today. Did we enjoy it? Let me put it this way: We're thinking of picking a copy up for ourselves when we get back from England.

I used my sick-time to finish up transferring the rest of the material from the old site over to MT. The RPG Stuff, Reviews, Short Stories and Editorials sections are as complete as I'd like in terms of old material. There are some old RPG Stuff items I don't want to bring across, and I've also decided to leave the older-than-2003 News where it is; just putting all the News back to the first of January this year has been work enough. I'll probably put a December 31st, 2002 post in with a link back to the old stuff.

Vickie's been to the dentist's today and has a full smile again! She'll be going back in February to get a little more fix-up stuff done.

October 26, 2003

Don't Game And Drive

Morning all - no, hang about, it's afternoon, isn't it? That's right - the clocks went forward an hour this morning. Bloody daylight saving. I'm still feeling exhausted after last night, but it was fun. I forgot throw a planned character interaction into the Black Talon session, but that just gave us more time to fiddle with the combat system. Gav, unfortunately, got killed out a little early (thankfully, it was a training simulator, so his character didn't die), and as Vickie was being a target designator, she really didn't have much to do, and was quite bored as a result.

I'd been a little worried about Vickie not having enough to do in the game. Her Gear is more a reconnaissance unit than a combat vehicle, so much so that I'm thinking of taking Vickie out of her Dark Cheetah Gear and putting her into something heavier - although she's not that much less powerful than half of the opponents the team faced last night.

I'd had the idea of introducing a "surprise" encounter so she could try some one-on-one combat - but I'd completely forgotten about it whe I was drawing up the map of the area, and I have the feeling that if I'd managed to incorporate an opponent for Vickie, the others (especially Boots and Dan) would've been so meticulous in keeping their eyes open that it would've been dead before it had even got near her. Or maybe not - there was enough cover to hide an opponent or two, I just set the opponents up as fish in a bowl, thinking there'd be enough challenge there.

Ah, well. I'm learning for next time.

We also introduced Boots to Chez Geek, but between dinner and people having to leave, we weren't able to squeeze any complete games in. He's keen on it, though; he's looking for a new game for him and his lady. I send him an e-mail this morning with the suggestion that, considering he's something of a military historian, he might prefer Chez Grunt instead.

By the time everyone was ready to leave it was one AM, and Boots was keen to get home as he's working today. As I'd picked him up from his place, I agreed to drive him back, which, in retrospect, was a very silly move. We'd had a pretty busy night - I'd actually had a long drive earlier on, picking up Boots from his place and then diverting on the way back to pick Gav up from Berowra, and although I didn't feel really tired on the way back to Boots', I was really struggling to keep my eyes open on the way home. I strayed halfway into the overtaking lane a couple of times. It's no wonder Vickie was waiting up for me. So, folks, if you're having a late night of gaming, don't drive any long distances.

October 24, 2003

Gear on the Brain

Afternoon everyone! I've not posted anything new for three days (except for some new musings still in draft), which has allowed me to build up some material. I'm still yet to drag some the rest of the material from the old site, unfortunately; I'm not sure whether I'll import all the news posts (which will take ages) or just get all of 2003 (leaving 2002 and 2001 behind). The RPG Stuff is the next biggest deal; there's a lot of table-format info that I'll need to look at the HTML code for, and I'm wondering whether some of it could be left behind anyway.

It looks as though this evening may be rainy, but I'm going to be spending most of the evening working out the details of tomorrow's Heavy Gear: Black Talon session anyway. With any luck, Dan and I should be able to get his blue booking session out of the way this evening as well. Mandi won't be able to make it tomorrow, so it'll just be Boots, Dan, Gav and Vickie playing. I pretty much know how things are going to go down, although I want to try and define some of the NPCs a bit better before then. With a bit of luck, I should be able to referee a session of cracking Geary action (if only in simulators) with a few plot points thrown in for good measure.

As part of my prep, I've been fiddling around with the Heavy Gear Vehicle Construction System in the 2nd. Edition Technical Manual; most of my players have wanted to make changes to their weapon loadouts. I was soert of dreading it, because I thought it meant rebuilding the vehicles from scratch - but even though that is the case, the actual construction system is very quick and easy to use. All you really need is a calculator, a basic understanding of things like squares, powers and roots and a firm idea of what you want your vehicle to do and it usually takes around half an hour and a single sheet of paper, if those, to come up with a working, game-statted design.

I managed to nip over to the Tin Soldier on Wednesday. It looks like they've stopped carrying the Heavy Gear minis, so if I need some more, I'll probably order them through the Sydney Games Centre, up the road from where I work. They're still stocking the latest Dream Pod 9 books, though, and although they didn't have the 3rd Edition Player's Handbook, they did have the 2nd Edition Jovian Chronicles and Gear Krieg Handbooks, plus the CORE Rules and the CORE Command books released to date. In typical gaming geek fashion, I was tempted - I used to own a lot of the 1st Edition Jovian Chronicles product, before I gave it to Mike Z in thanks for his Panther-B, Bubblegum Crisis: Sydney 2033 and Slamdance art, and the 2nd Edition rulebook, with combined material from the original rulebook and the Companion, is something I wouldn't mind picking up sometime. That CORE Command stuff looks funky also - but we have a trip to the UK that cash really ought to be saved for, not to mention that bloody aerial that I've been meaning to buy for us for yonks (I want to get that done after we get back). Oh, and there's that Christmas thing coming up as well - thankfully, I have a good bit of dosh stowed away in a Christmas Club account, and Vickie's been buying pressies well in advance, so we should be covered.

Most of tomorrow is going to be a clean-up day in preparation for the holidays, and on Sunday we're going to be hauling the suitcases down and start making lists of what we want to pack.

The more I see of the Battlestar Galactica Xbox game, the more keen I am on getting it. I checked with EB today, and although it looks due to hit the States in November, it's not going to be released here until February. Bit of a bugger, really. Oh well, at least there'll be Crimson Skies in the meantime. My fingers are crossed that we get the new mini-series sometime soon as well, because I'd really like to see it.

TRON 2.0 looks like it's in the running for an award in the 2003 Machinima Awards, and Red Vs. Blue is up for six! As their nominated categories don't overlap, I say go the both of them!

On a more serious note, it looks like there've been all sorts of parliamentary shenanigans during the visit of George W. Bush. The previously-linked article is an interesting indictment of the freedom of the press when it comes to Australian parliamentary sessions, although it's tempting to consider the source. It's not a comforting thought that our own PM is conducting the sort of censorship you'd expect of the USSR (or even the US, if there weren't that darned constitution getting in the way). It's even less comforting that it was an American news provider that got the news to us.

October 20, 2003

M4d Pr0pz 2 M4 H0m13z

I was watching this article on 60 Minutes last night on final-year exam-related youth suicide last night. Two sisters were talking about their younger brother who took his life on the eve of the HSC a few years ago; they read some poetry that friends wrote to him after his death. While I was listening to that, my first thought was, "How come no-one wrote this obviously heartfelt stuff to him before he died?" More relevant to this posting was also this selfish little subtext that went, "How come no-one writes poetry to me?"

(Well, someone does write poetry to me, and I really ought to be more appreciative of that.)

But on the heels of that came an even more important question: "How come I don't write poetry to my friends?"

The easy, pat answer is that I'm not a poet, I'm really not (you should see some of the inane doggerel I've written in the past; then again, maybe you shouldn't), but I suppose the real answer is that I never really give much thought to how lucky a person can be to have a bunch of good friends. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose; we see some of you regularly, but most of the time we exchange the occasional e-mail.

Blogs tend to be about their authors, and this one's no exception. You have no idea how wonderful it is that a bunch of people are actually so interested enough in what I get up to (and, I assume, the way I write about it) to willingly read my postings and mail-outs for around two years now. I'm occasionally critical of the people I know, simply because it's easier to be critical than to be supportive or praiseful. So, enough about me for the rest of this post and a more about you guys.

Thank you very much, all of you, those who read this blog and those who don't, everyone I met and liked or met and didn't like right off but got to know better despite myself, everyone who's still willing to be friends through my bitching and avoidance of commitment. I don't want to name names, because I'd quite by accident leave someone out and I don't think the list could be long enough, so suffice it to say: to everyone I know, everyone I've forgotten, those of you who read these posts and those who don't even know IMAGinES exists - you're top people, all of you guys and gals, even if I sometimes don't appreciate you as much as you deserve.

Despite the flippancy of this post's title, I mean that.

No Luck With Telstra

I knew there was something else I wanted to post this morning. I finally managed to get onto Telstra yesterday. It turns out they've been aware of the FTP access problem sice the tenth. It's not just hitting me, they're working on it and they didn't provide an ETA (admittedly, I didn't ask for one).

I just tried the URL for the old website; it's down again.

Once again, Marcus, thank you for the webspace, you're a deadset legend.

Band of Brothers

For want of something to read on the train last week, I picked up a book from the boxful Rog gave to us a few months ago, just before work took him to Melbourne: Stephen E. Ambrose's Band Of Brothers. In case you're wondering, it's what the Steven Spielberg TV series is based on. I wasn't sure what the written experience would be like - I usually prefer fiction to historical texts, I have this prejudice that they're boring reads - but it turns out that this book is very interesting. It directly details the experiences of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during World War II, from training to Berlin, and it's the personal details of the soldiers, from interviews with the men themselves, that make it such a good read.

I'm sure Boots will be glad I'm reading this, in part because it's getting me keen on Battlefield 1942, but also because I wouldn't mind reading up on some of the broader history of World War II after I'm done with it. I don't really remember high school history in any great detail, and Dad's always been dismissive of a lot of the recent American fiction based on WWII. He reckons he doesn't need to see the US taking the credit for winning the war, but Band Of Brothers paints a picture of a very active US involvement in the European thatre, even if it took the Japanese hitting Pearl Harbour to get America's attention. I want to get some more historical perspective on the matter, and I get the feeling Boots will be only too willing to help, just so he can have yet another person to discuss the War with.

We'll probably have to borrow his DVD set of Band of Brothers sometime.

October 19, 2003

Weekend Wind-Down

Well, another weekend almost over and done with. Aside from further tweaks to Vickie's web site, I've stayed away from posting here; it's a knock-on from that Quantity over Quality posting I did a couple of days ago.

It has, thankfully, been a restful weekend, which is rather ironic when you consider how busy we've been. For starters, it's been a real garden weekend for us both. In between work and Dan dropping over on Friday, I mowed the grass verge and some of the front lawn. Saturday morning saw me finish most of the lawn; I left the edging until today. Vickie spent a good chunk of today hacking away at our bougainvillea in the back yard, with me helping out now and again. It's but a stump of its former self, and the cuttings have been put into two wheelie-bins for pickup on Wednesday. It's a bastard to manage; Vickie's very scratched up from all the thorns on the rotten thing.

... yeah, Dan. He tried to get some Crimson Skies going on Friday night, but Gav had a prior engagement, Boots had been called into work and I, I must confess, wasn't really feeling in the mood for any clicky action, so instead Dan just hung out here for a while. I played some more Red Vs. Blue for him; he only has four episodes left to see.

I also broke down and picked up Homeworld2 earlier that day, so I got to show some of it off to Dan. I've been able to squeeze it into my budget, especially as over-paying last month's phone bill meant I only had $25 to pay this month. It's pretty good fun; obviously a graphical improvement over the original (boy, do the new ships look cool), but I like the real-time build/research queue management they've incorporated. I also really wanted to find out what happens next to my old friend Fleet Command, and the story so far hasn't disappointed at all.

Saturday, after the mowing was done, we dropped into Chatswood. Vickie had a good browse of the bead store and picked up another supply. She's sold a few more pieces at work and has some commissions; she explains the current state of her hobby/sideline much better on her own site. I dropped into the Phantom Zone, but there was nothing new in my standing order.

We were very naughty this weekend; I drove through McDonalds for both yesterday dinner and today's lunch. We've both been so busy this weekend that Vickie was just too tired to cook - and I wanted to spoil her.

And I did a final sneaky yesterday - I downloaded 130 megabytes of Halo PC demo. Aside from its propensity to generate exception errors and crash 50% of the times I load it up, it's fun, the graphics are cleaner, and it's great playing Capture the Flag on the Blood Gulch arena. See, I can pretend I'm Church or Grif, but in a fit of over-excitement I wound up acting like Caboose - the teamkilling fucktard - when I forgot I was on the Red team and started shooting my own team-mates. Yes, oops. Still, I don't think there's enough there to justify paying $90 for a single-player game I already completed twice. If some other people I know got their mitts on it, I might reconsider, but not in any great hurry - I'd prefer to pick up Battlefield 1942 first (which, as is, may well have to wait until after Christmas).

And I know that there are a lot of FPS maniacs out there who reckon that mouse and keyboard are the way Halo was meant to be played all along - but I really like the Xbox controller better. Half the time, I have to look down at the keyboard to make sure I'm pressing the right buttions, I have to "scuff" the mouse (move the mouse left, lift it off the table, move it right, set it down and move it left again) to turn any great distance, and I've never quite liked how you have to position your left hand to govern movement. With the Xbox controller, all of the necessary controls are positioned ergonomically at my fingertips, so I can pay full attention to what's happening on screen.

So I'll save my Halo biccies for Halo 2 on the Xbox, and get my multiplayer jollies with the demo, thank you very much. There's also the Xbox Live service that I might consider to get some Halo 2 multiplayer action, although there's still the issue of drilling holes in the floor to consider. Wireless has dropped, but paying $300-500 just to hook my Xbox up to the Net seems a little too much. (Have any of the other Xbox owners out there broken down and bought Live yet?)

I got three films out for us to watch on Saturday evening. As a sort of mood lightener for the next one, we watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? Vickie hadn't seen it, and thankfully quite enjoyed it, especially the music. We then watched the very well reviewed The Magdalene Sisters. It's a dark little tale (although not unrelentingly so), and I tell you what, if you don't have a low opinion of the way Irish men treat their women, you will after watching this movie. You really want to beat the living tar out of most of the male characters you meet in this film, them and the head Nun of the Magdalene convent, Sister Bridget, played with such holy malice by Geraldine McEwan.

We finished the night off with this supposed romantic comedy called Life Without Dick. Now, let me be honest here; I got this over Vickie's misgivings (it has Harry Connick, Jr. in it, and he usually does good stuff). Frankly, I should have done the sensible thing and listened to Vickie: this was a turkey. The best acting in the whole thing was by Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, and believe it or not, that is actually saying something; he really got into his self-serving sleazebag role and played it with relish. Unfortunately the same can't be said about Harry and central character/love interest Sarah Jessica Parker. Try as they might, there just wasn't any chemistry there whatsoever. To be fair on them, they got saddled with some pretty awkward dialogue and situations, and the director didn't keep things moving at all. One third of the plot seemed contrived to get Harry to sing, and while that's not a bad thing - he's very musically talented, with a great set of crooner's pipes - it just made the movie that much more contrived. So unless you just can't get enough of the three leads, leave this one on the shelf.

Finally, the purchase of our plane tickets went through, so we're officially off to the UK on the third! We still have to get the Cazman over to talk about the details of him house-sitting for us; he was crook mid-last week and has been ignoring me on ICQ/MSN Messenger today, so with any luck we'll hook up with him this coming week. The next Heavy Gear: Black Talon episode is on Saturday, so I have to get some prep-work done.

October 17, 2003

This was worthy of its own post.

Thanks again be to Wil Wheaton, who linked to this on his website. It's an Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine article where they got pre-teen kids to play some classic video games. It's funny, but tust me; if you're not even out of your twenties, you will feel so very old when you read this.

Whatever Will They Think Of Next?

John T just bought the latest issue of Atomic Magazine, and in the Gearbox section, they had this little gem: a USB cup warmer.

I think this is the gift you ought to get for those people who think that a CD-ROM drive's tray is actually a cup holder.

October 16, 2003

Quantity Over Quality?

Hola muchachos. (That is right, isn't it? I've been watching Episode 19 of Red Vs. Blue again.) I just had a quick look at the website, and noticed that my postings calendar has a bold date for every day since I got this blog running. I think I've put up two rants/editorials this month (the latter of which was going to be a straight news post until it got too long), and on the other days, there have often been two news posts per day. I'm beginning to wonder whether my IMAGinewS members are getting annoyed with the quantity of postings. On the other hand, my news posts back on the old site were often as long as my longer editorials anyway, simply because the annoyance that was updating my site meant I'd only update once per week, and usually less frequently than that, so I had a lot of news saved up between posts. Still, that "quantity over quality" thing is bugging me; I fear that I might start posting for the sake of it (instead of doing things like short stories, etc.) and wind up driving readers off.

Speaking of the old website, it looks like it's back up again. I still can't FTP to it, though. I've been meaning to call Telstra about it, but I've been busy with other things these past couple of nights - Vickie's Guestbook on Tuesday night, and Dan's power supply problem last night.

Dan popped over with his PC, and I extracted Vickie's 350-Watt supply and put it in Dan's to test it. The PC booted up fine. As Dan told me, it's a load off his mind; he was dreading that it may have been a motherboard problem - or, worse, a motherboard and PSU problem. He has some family birthdays coming up, so he thinks he may have to hold off buying a new power supply for a little while. (In the meantime, is there any chance that anyone has a spare 350-Watt [or greater] power supply that they're not using?)

Dan brought his new N-Gage with him. Yes, that's right; Dan's the proud owner of a Nokia N-Gage mobile entertainment unit. It's pretty good, although I wish the screen had more horizontal width, but I found the directional pad a bit awkward to use with the game Dan brought to show off, Tomb Raider. Also, although the picture is clear, I think there are just too few pixels to do a game like Tomb Raider justice; as Dan pointed out to me, Lara Croft's most famous assets look as though they're squeezed into a bra handed down from Madonna. I can safely say I'm in no hurry to get an N-Gage myself, no matter how beaten up my current phone is.

October 15, 2003

Queer Eye for the Secret Life of Alias

Over the past couple of years, it's been hard to avoid the hype surrounding the TV show Alias. Let me be honest here - I've never seen a whole episode. It looked vaguely intriguing when it was being first promoted in Australia, but the reliance on Jennifer Garner's physical attributes were enough to turn me off of tuning in. The proclamations that it was a hit in America only served to cement the notion that the average American was a twerp. (Thank God the U.S. readership of this site aren't average.)

However, I've started asking people who profess to watch and enjoy the show about it, and it's starting to seem that there's more than they readily show off (Jennifer Garner scantily clad and/or looking slutty) in the advertising (to be fair, there are only thirty seconds in an ad). I'm beginning to wonder whether I've actually been missing out on something good.

Then again, I've usually been watching good stuff instead. Monday night is fairly competitive as far as TV goes, and over the past few yars Channel Ten has done a pretty good job of securing our television time. The Secret Life of Us has been mandatory on a Monday night; sure, it's soap opera, but it's well-written and acted, and far from being unrealistic, I can easily imagine having characters like those on the show living in the flats upstairs. Heck, I'm pretty sure I used to hang out with similar types at one point, and I tend to see parallels between Evan and myself (generally on the writer and insensitive prick fronts).

Now that Secret Life is off the air between seasons, we tried its replacement, Crashburn, but it's just not as interesting. Thankfully, it's been shoved out of the way to make room for the latest U.S. reality/lifestyle show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I didn't think I was going to be particularly interested; I find a lot of renovation-based lifestlye shows particularly dull; while the results can be spectacular, the process bores me, despite the enthusiasm of the handypersons involved and their best attempts to jazz painting a wall up a bit. Also, this whole "get a makeover from five gay fashion gurus" struck some politically-correct nerve somewhere; I wasn't sure I was comfortable with supporting the stereotype (I remember reading an article in the SMH editorials by some poor gay bloke worried about stereotyping - and I do mean bloke here; he readily admitted that he was so slovenly and blokey that even his gay friends were questioning his sexuality).

But you know what? It's actually bags of fun. You can throw around the stereotyping label all you want, but the Fab Five, as the quintet of lifestyle makeover artists are known, add some character to lifestyle infotainment. It doesn't half help that almost all of them are characters, especially the token blonde, Carson - he's the sharp-tongued one of the group, but even when he's dissing someone's wardrobe, he's usually not half-right. (Then again, why would they be sent to someone whose wardrobe and house were already good?)

And for some odd reason, where the details of home handypersoning bore the crap out of me, I'm actually interested in what the advice the Five dispense on clothes (Carson's bailiwick) and personal grooming (Kyan, master of the - I don't know how you're meant to write it - "jhuj"). It's a little hard (quit giggling, you lot) to remember any specific advice Thom has given out, usually because he lets his re-decorating jobs do most of the talking for him, but Ted and Jai are good to keep an eye on - Ted especially (from my perspective, as I reckon I'm weaker on food and wine than I am on personal interaction), but don't worry; I do know I could still use some help there, and Jai is a very pleasant, positive young man, so I be sure to pay attention.

I think that's the thing with this show - say what you will about the premise and stereotyping, the Five are lively enough and different enough that while - or more accurately, because you're laughing (and, where Carson's concerned, occasionally being shocked) you're remembering some important stuff.

Needless to say, Vickie and I make sure to tune in for Queer Eye on Monday nights. Rumour has it an Australian network is considering an Oz-based version. I'm a little worried whether it'll be able to match up with its U.S. parent; then again, I was worried whether the parent itself would be entertaining.

Oh, that's right, I was writing about Alias, wasn't I? I think it's about time I made up my mind myself, and I wouldn't mind doing some catching up; maybe them Americans are onto something after all. So does anyone have any of the series on tape or DVD, and if so, could I borrow some, please? No rush; we're off to the U.K. in a couple of weeks, after all.

Grumble Mumble...

You know, after all that hard work I went to last night, not one other person has signed Vickie's guest book. All of her poetry board friends were complaining that her site didn't have a guest book, and they wanted to leave their opinions in one, and in the twenty hours between now and when I set it up not bloody one of 'em has been back to do any posting.

That's gratitude for you.

October 14, 2003

Sixteen Tons...

Well, since I got home this evening, it's been non-stop web development. It seems versions of Internet Explorer earlier than 6.0 aren't laying Vickie's pages out properly, which is a bit of a bugger when you consider the probable volume of non-WinXP users out there. I've been tweaking code and trying different things with the aim of eliminating the problem. The last few tests didn't work, but with any luck, the latest change I made may have fixed things up. My fingers are crossed.

I've also implemented a Guestbook for Vickie. It's up and running right now, so if you've been to Vickie's website, please drop by and leave words of encouragement - and if you've not yet been, what are you waiting for?

So after all that scrabbling around, I think I'll leave off adding any old content to either of the websites this evening. I was also going to harp on about a few other things, but they can wait until tomorrow as well. My back is sore from all the typing and gazing at screens that I've been doing, and I haven't even eaten dinner yet (not that I'm really hungry).

October 13, 2003

Well, I Think I Have It Sorted.

I've just spent most of the evening touching up ye newe site a bit. I've added in monthly archive listings on the major pages and spruced up the Category list (speaking of which, I pared the Descriptions for the Categories and the Site down to a single line, as more than one line always got displayed awfully). The biggest change has been the addition of the revised IMAGinES logo, re-colourised to fit with the Gettysburg scheme. Thanks go out to Peg for coming up with the original!

You know, I had all these grand plans on how the site was going to look and work, but with only a few compromises, I think I have something that looks very snazzy with half the effort.

Telstra still isn't letting me in, unfortunately. I put together a new front page with the URL for the new site, but once again, Telstra are preventing me from FTPing into my own bloody web space. I am very, very glad that Marcus offered us hosting on his system, I really am.

I think I've pretty much finished up the work on both our web sites. All of the remaining design work is on Vickie's site; a contact info section (probably just e-mail) and adding a Guestbook in. That'll take some time. In the meantime, there's still scads of old content to be transferred from my old website and Vickie's poetry folders.


UPDATE: I just tried to browse to users.bigpond.net.au/imagines, and I'm getting "The page cannot be displayed". Very odd - I was able to view it this morning. Telstra's service status page for Broadband Cable has an outage notice for e-mail, but says that "Homepage" has "No known problems."

If I'm having the same problems tomorrow, I think I'll give them a call. I am paying for that 10 megabytes of personal web space after all; I should be able to get to it.

Only recently, I was saying Telstra's performance has firmed up. Well, although their connection has remained up lately, in the past couple of weeks I've had FTP connection issues and now I can't see the site at all.


The Things I Do For Love...

... like spending most of yesterday sitting in front of my PC, hard at work on Vickie's website. I resized pictures, experimented with alignments, split individual posts into multiple ones modified HTML and added over thirty poems. There's still more to be done: the layout of the Category pages needs ot be modified, a Guestbook to be set up (that's going to be interesting work), and fifty-four more poems yet to be posted.

All that, and I was still providing cups of coffee on request. God, I must be a good husband or something...

The upside is, I have been getting some wonderful schmoozing from Vickie. In fact, she just told me this morning that I'm brilliant! How's that, eh? :-D

I've also learned a bundle about Movable Type and its tag structure. I've been able to allpy that to some more tweaking of this site. You'll notice it at the bottom of each post in the main index page, the revised format of the categories page and the new category information included on the indivudual apges (as well as being able to go back and forth to posts within the primary category).

I've added a Creative Commons license to my page, and in the same vein have also given permanent credit where credit's due: the Powered By Movable Type section on the main page also includes "Hosted By Herstik Hosting".

Hey Marcus! "Herstik Hosting", how 'bout that? I like it. Got a ring to it.

Anyway, I want make sure that the CC license, Powered By and Hosted By info winds up on every page. The Category one is easy enough, but I might have to do a bit of fiddling with the Daily and Individual archives.

Keep checking back over the next few days/weeks/however long it takes as this site evolves.

October 12, 2003

Brother, Can You Spare A 350-Watt Power Supply?

Dan's Champions game last night was a good climax to the campaign. Once again, we went up against a giant invisible jellyfish, and once again, Turbine (my character) got put out of the action rather quickly - this time by getting wrapped up in some Spider-Man-Web. This left Magus (Gav's PC) fighting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Croc (as Gav himself said, "Crikey!") and the Huntsman (Rog's character) playing tug-of-war with the invisible jellyfish; the "rope" was the temporarily named non-player character Captain Kangaroo, a Tennage Mutant Gun-Toting Roo whom OzWatch (our superhero team) had recruited after a previous adventure near Uluru (Ayres Rock). Black Hole (John's character) managed to trap two ne'er-do-wells in a Sphere of Darkness, and when Nightshade (Vickie's character) used her powers of illusion to convince the jellyfish that the water around it was boiling (so well, in fact, that the jellyfish was actually hurting) and the Huntsman pinned the Evil Leader to a wall with some spider-web, it was all over bar the arrests and threats of "This isn't over, OzWatch!"

We farewelled Rog a couple of hours ago; he crashed at our place last night after the game. His plane for Melbourne leaves at around one. We hope to see him again before he returns to the UK in early November; with any luck, he may be moving out here to stay some time. Our fingers are crossed; Rog is a quality bloke.

Dan's still planning his next campaign set in the original Bubblegum Crisis universe, but he's hit a snag - the PC I sold him a while back is refusing to work. It seems to be getting power - the screen (which plugs into the power supply) still works, and the RAM indicator light on the motherboard is receiving power, but it simply refuses to switch on.

Dan thinks that either the power supply unit or the motherboard is on the fritz and may need replacing. I mostly concur with his prognosis, but I started wondering this morning whether his 300-Watt PSU is suddenly no longer able to cope with the demands placed on it. The symptoms are similar to a problem I had with Vickie's PC after her last upgrade, where it wouldn't switch on until the sixth or seventh try (and sometimes you had to leave it alone for ten minutes between tries), and that was fixed with a higher-Wattage PSU. The thing is, Vickie's problem was immediate, whereas Dan has had that PC for about six months or so and it's only just happened.

I'd like to test his problem out with a spare PSU, but the only ones I have lying around are 250-Watt jobs, which are surely underpowered for the task of running an AMD Athlon XP 1800+ processor and a GeForce3 video card.

So: Does anyone have a spare 350-Watt PSU that they're not using? How soon could Dan or I get our hands on it? And if it does get Dan's system up and running again, could we buy it from you?

October 11, 2003

Red Vs. Blue

I've been meaning to mention these guys for a while. Red Vs. Blue are this pack of utter loonies in the States who, as they so eloquently describe it in their FAQ, "just write scripts and then use videogames to act them out." Actually, they've been using just one game - Halo.

As far as I can see without venturing into their paid forums, they connected a bunch of Xboxes together, set up a Blood Gulch multiplayer session, then set up one of the Xboxes as a single-screen session and got that player to run around as the "cameraman". The output was captured with a PC video capture card, the results were edited, dialogue was dubbed, and the result is a hilarious little blend of multiplayer deathmatch-style smack talk, South Park-style characterisation and Halo-style high-tech action!

The problem is, there are nineteen episodes, and each one is a QuickTime movie file between 20 and 30 megabytes in size (there are compressed DivX versions, though, which are one half to two thirds the size). I downloaded the lot, and they're side-splitting. Then again, I think you have to be a gamer and/or into that style of crude humour to get it.

Well, enough of this for the moment; Roger is going to be over soon, and not long after, we're all pootling off to Dan's for a bit of Champions.

I'm Such An Attention-Slut...

After getting Movable Type working, I decided to donate some money to the MT designers. It's a great product, and worth every dollar. My motives aren't exactly altruistic, though - if you donate US$20 or more, movabletype.org puts you on their "Recently Updated" list whenever you update your blog. My name in lights, and, with any luck, an increased readership!

Vickie's Up And Running!

Hi everybody! I just thought I'd let you know that Vickie's new website, The Midustouch, is up and running! Vickie's put up her first news post, and has also included some photos of her jewellery. Please nip over and take a look!

I'm still planning the design for both of our sites. Movable Type is versatile, but getting it to do more than the default means learning its marker tags and figuring out how they're used. So, getting a pair of full-featured sites that work the way we want them to is going to take a while. Still, when you go to movabletype.org and take a look at some of their featured sites, you can see how all that work can pay off. A lot of the layouts and functions these people have designed into their sites are just fantastic. One great example is The Girlie Matters. This creative person has not only a fully-featured website, but also a personal blog and a Tips & Tricks blog for Movable Type, SQL, PHP and all the other fun yet complex ingredients of her site.

Oh, and she's a redhead too.

Anyway, as I was saying: I'm trying to figure out a way to get the various archives working as I want them to:

  • I want my News & Musings section to show previous News & Musings by month, with the ability to jump backward and forward between months.
  • I want my Editorials section to show a single, full editorial by page, with a table of contents down the left (or right) side and the ability to move backward and forward between Editorials in date order.
  • I want my RPG Stuff, Reviews and Short Stories sections to list all their respective entries (in date order for Short Stories and alphabetical order for the RPG Stuff and Reviews), with just the Excerpts or Entry Bodies, linking to an individual page with the full entry (again, plus the ability to move backward and forward between and Reviews or Short Stories in date order and RPG items in alpha order).

I have the feeling that I'm going to need to scrutinise the existing Category, Date Based and Individual archive templates very carefully in order to learn what they do and how they do it, then chuck them and use my own ones custom-built to meet the above requirements. Once I have that nailed, though, getting both our sites working the way they want shouldn't be too much of a problem.

And afterwards, I have to get the look of my site the way I want that. Vickie's site pretty much looks the way she wants already; the changes I need to make there are more along the lines of organising the archives (much as I want to do with mine). She also wants a Guestbook set up - that's how I stumbled across Girlie's Tips blog, in fact. Girlie is a regular over on the Movable Type Support Forum, and she's actually explained how she used Movable Type to get a Guestbook up and running. I'll have to look at implementing that soon.

Tactical Dogfighting From the Sidelines

For the past three hours or so, Dan and Gav have been waging tense aerial battle on our dinner table. The score has been one-nil to Gav for a little while, but in the turn just gone, Dan managed o even the score by downing one of Gav's Brigands. In case you've not guessed, Dan and Gav are having a friendly game of Crimson Skies.

It all started earlier this evening, when I got a phone call from Dan, keen for some CS action. It turns otu that he'd been virtually kicked out of home by Leslie, who was keen to have a night to herself in front of the telly. It was Australia's first match-up in the Rugby World Cup, you see, and they were playing Argentina at Telstra Stadium (formerly known as Stadium Australia, the venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies). Australia won 24-8, but apparently their quality of play isn't inspiring any confidence at the moment.

As Gav has two full squadrons' worth of planes, we tried calling him; apparently, he was in a mobile coverage blackspot between seven and eight, as I was only able to reach him after he got home. Dan and I picked him up from Hornsby at around half past nine. I'd already set up the game board and a three-way match was suggested, but I wanted to get back into playing with the new website a bit, so Dan borrowed Gav's Red Skull Legion (complete with Ace pilot Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn) while Gav stuck with the Broadway Bombers (plus Ace pilot Loyle "Show-stopper" Crawford). It's one o'clock, and the game has yet to end conclusively - which is a worry, if Gav wants to avoid sleeping over. (Not that we really mind having guests over; it's just that the spare bed isn't made up right now.)

I've spent most of the game time in the computer room, manually loading old news, rants and a few reviews and RPG articles into Movable Type. I'm trying to figure out how to get archiving to wok how I want it to; I want to have the category archives broken down into periods of time.

I've noticed that Dan is quite a cerebral Crimson Skies player; he likes to take his time and consider his options before committing to a move (in part because he's still learning). It makes for a challenging game, but also a slow one, unfortunately. I just went out to check on them; they're deciding that this turn will be the last, and they're still only one plane down each. Gav's been taking photos with his digital camera throughout, so hopefully we'll have some gameplay pictures to show off soon.

It looks very much like Gav's going to part ways with his Red Skull Legion, if and when Dan raises some readies for them. Gav already has his eyes on an upcoming squadron pack, the Black Swans, and I'm wondering when he'll decide he no longer wants the Broadway Bombers any more. I commented to Gav that he's becoming the crack dealer of our Crimson Skies group; he buys the squadrons and their aces, plays them himself until the novelty runs out, then sells them on to interested players. He's got me and now Dan this way so far (although I did buy the Fortune Hunters' aces myself).

Later today, Vickie and I are going to be off to Dan's for the final session in his Champions game. We'll be catching up with Rog, who's up from Melbourne for the weekend, and hopefully John Osterberg, who'm we've nto seen in a little while. Boots was planning to come, but his union sprung an action meeting on him for tonight, and as a main union rep, he has to attend. We wish him well; it seems like he has a bit of an uphill fight to improve conditions at his place of work (as we understand what Boots has told us, they're pretty shabby.)

It's half past one, and the lads just left. The final score was two planes to one, but I can't remember who had the majority (I think it was Gav).

October 10, 2003

Popular Licenses = New Gamers? Not Any More.

This editorial has been brewing for a few days. It’s the result of a growing dissatisfaction with the RPG industry that was highlighted in a recent e-mail conversation with Gav (whom I hope is still talking with me) and a trip into Games Paradise on Tuesday, October the thirtieth.

Probably the biggest draw card for any roleplaying product is its use of a “license” – the right to create and publish a game based on an existing media franchise – and the best licenses to acquire are those for popular television series and movies. Existing gamers will often leap at the chance to play in an established universe which they, and other players, are going to be familiar with – and more importantly, a roleplaying game based on popular TV show or movie will have a much easier time attracting people who’ve never been into RPGs (and considering what a niche market RPGs are, the untapped potential here is huge).

With the debut of the D20 System – first seen in Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition line and made available to all thanks to the Open Gaming License – companies that have acquired some popular movie and TV licenses have started writing roleplaying games for these franchises using the D20 system.

It’s a sensible business move. Thanks to D&D, the D20 System is popular and ubiquitous. It's likely that if you know roleplaying, you have a D&D core rulebook sitting on your shelf somewhere (I do, although it took nine years after I got into the hobby before I broke down and bought the second printing of the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Player's Handbook). A roleplaying game that uses the D20 System will be familiar to the majority of gamers. It can be easily adapted to existing D20-based campaigns, and any new gamer is more than likely going to be able to find other players who like and are familiar with the rules, reducing the time taken to get a campaign started.

These D20-based roleplaying games, though, are often incomplete. The rules that would be “doubled-up” between the D20-based RPG and the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook (usually character creation, Skills and Feats) are removed from the D20-based RPG and a “This product requires the 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook to use.” sign is placed on the back cover. Again, this makes some business sense – if the existing player base is likely to have a copy of the D&D Player's Handbook already, why waste pages re-printing rules that a player would either already own, or would use once (such as Character Creation)? The saved page-count can either be used for more setting and background material or just excised from the book, cutting down on printing costs.

The problem I have with these strategies is that they are potentially very unfriendly to new gamers. As so much focus is given nowadays to the D20 System, some genres or styles of play are being adapted to D20 when perhaps they shouldn’t be – and the “D20 RPG, requires 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook” trend may drive the cost to purchase a complete, working RPG beyond the budget of potential new gamers.

Probably Wizards of the Coast’s second best-selling RPG line (the first, of course, being D&D) would be Star Wars. After the previous owners of the Star Wars RPG license, West End Games, foundered financially in the late nineties, Wizards of the Coast successfully bid for them at around the time that the first of the Star Wars prequels was in pre-production. The Star Wars Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook was released at around the time The Phantom Menace hit theatres, and a Revised Core Rulebook was released with Attack of the Clones. I bought both books, and although I’ve not actually used them often, I’ve read them several times.

There are two elements of the Star Wars RPG that have always bothered me, even slightly. The D20 System is based on the concept of “levels”; players earn “experience points” as rewards for playing well, and once they have earned enough, they receive a bundle of enhancements that they use to improve the game statistics of their characters. Some of these changes mean that skills that were previously expensive become cheaper, so if you wanted to create a seventh-level Scoundrel (roughly equivalent to Han Solo at the beginning of A New Hope), you would have to create him one level at a time. This process can be extraordinarily tedious, and requires a comprehensive knowledge of the available skills and feats so that you choose the ones that are, if not the best choice, then at least of reasonable use to your character. (The old West End system was even guilty of this a little; the write-ups of the movie characters were veritable shopping lists of skills, and the number of dice that could be rolled would slow down any fast-paced, tense scene by having to add all the dice up.)

Also, the write-ups for some of the movie characters (the Skywalkers, especially) give them bonuses that are simply not available in the character creation and advancement rules; they also break the standard upper limits for player-controlled characters of the same classes and levels.

A common viewpoint taken by the Star Wars fan community is that, to paraphrase a good friend, the “main characters” of the setting aren't always bound by the rules that the “other” exceptional people of the universe – every player character, in essence - have to stick with. I don’t think the blame for this can be laid entirely at the feet of the D20 System. There’s an unspoken assumption within the RPG community that a newly-created player character is a "rookie" and ought to have a rookie status (relative to the power scale of heroes in that universe); the mechanics of play and experience (a.k.a. “levelling up”) in many RPGs are geared around that assumption, and trying to do something different often results in more work.

There’s also the fact that geeks like me, who love to immerse ourselves in the universe, the novels, the supplements, the computer/video games and all of the rest of the product of the Star Wars merchandising engine, can accept there's only one Luke Skywalker, and any characters we create will be mere shadows - we've told ourselves that's how it ought to be.

The root of the problem, from my point of view, is that very adherence to some mythological "continuity" can quite easily get in the way of having Star Wars-style fun. I think the Star Wars RPG should also cater to those who point to the movies and say, "I want to do that. That is Star Wars, and I want to play Star Wars." I feel that it's a shame that those who want to do the sorts of things that the Luke, Han, Leia, Anakin, Obi-Wan, Jango et. al. do (because, ultimately, they're the only examples of player characters that the Star Wars movies have) are forced to slog through the tedious task of improving their characters level-by-level, rather than being able to create an experienced, veteran character one with only a little more effort than a rookie (who, if you take the example of Luke Skywalker, who was an able combat pilot after only having seen a military aircraft an hour or so before, will be about as competent anyway).

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many articles by Steve Darlington of the Places To Go, People To Be webzine, but I think the mood and tone of the movies/TV shows that a licensed game such as Star Wars is trying to emulate should be supported by the system, instead of the mood and tone being altered to fit the system. The complexity of the D20 System is, I think, going to scare away some customers who would otherwise find a Star Wars RPG the perfect introduction to the hobby.

Then there’s the other problem that the D20 Phenomenon has created.

I do most of my RPG browsing in Sydney’s Games Paradise (simply because it has the most stuff), and whilst poring the New Release shelves, I noticed the Stargate SG-1 Roleplaying Game nestled on the top shelf. Now, I think a Stargate SG-1 RPG is a good idea. It’s one of the most popular science fiction shows on TV. (I think it’s in its seventh or eighth season, which is excellent for a modern science fiction show, and in Australia, it’s one of the very few to have never been relegated to a graveyard shift time slot a fate that Babylon 5, Farscape and even US mega-shows such as the Star Trek spin-offs have been doomed to suffer.) It’s got action, intrigue, travel to other planets, funky aliens, crunchy high-tech bits and a player character premise that doesn’t require monkeying with existing continuity; unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where (I think) there can be only one Slayer at a time, it’s quite easy to have the players set up as one of the several other “SG” teams whom we never meet in the show.

There are two problems with this particular Stargate SG-1 RPG, though. One: it’s A$100 (perhaps reasonable for a full-colour, 300-page hardback). Two: It’s "Powered By Spycraft".

Now, you’ll have to forgive some vagueness here; I’ve tried to research this question without going back into GP, but a solid answer to my question is hard to track down on the Web. Spycraft is an OGL line of supplements for D&D/D20 Modern, and although the core Spycraft book is marketed by its publishers as the Spycraft RPG, I believe it’s not a stand-alone product (in other words, it requires the 3rd Edition D&D Player's Handbook). At the very least, in order to be able to use this A$100 book, you need to already own, at the very least, the Spycraft RPG, which retails for around A$80 – and quite possibly also the 3rd Edition (actually, now the 3.5 Edition) D&D Player's Handbook, which retails for around A$50.

This means that a person who liked the series and would otherwise be amenable to getting into roleplaying will have to pay between A$180 and A$240 in order to actually have a complete, workable Stargate SG-1 RPG, and it’s entirely possible that they won’t even be interested in dungeons, dragons or spies; that’s around A$60-120 worth of rules, equipment statistics and source material they may never particularly want to use.

And even existing players aren’t made out of money; there are only so many core books we can afford. $80-100 for an incomplete RPG is definitely pushing things uphill, for me at least.

Other licensed games are guilty of this, although not quite to the same extent. The Farscape RPG is published by Alderac Entertainment Group, the publishers of the Stargate SG-1 and Spycraft RPGs, and Mongoose Publishing have recently released a full-colour Babylon 5 RPG. Both cost around A$80 and require the D&D Player’s Handbook; again, if the potential buyer is an SF fan, the very thought of purchasing a fantasy product in order to play a game based on their favourite SF show may well be enough for them to spend their disposable income elsewhere.

Paying $80 for a core rulebook for a roleplaying game may be a big enough turn-off for anyone, especially a potential new gamer, the perfect audience for a licensed game. Basically, the cheapest way to buy any of these RPGs is if you already have the D&D Player’s Handbook; in other words, if you’re already in the hobby. And I think that’s exactly the approach publishers are taking. Wizards of the Coast’s FAQ for Open Gaming Definitions states: “One way to help publishers make products that will be more interesting to consumers is to allow them to use standardized systems that have large networks of players.” Matthew Sprange of Mongoose Publishing wrote in the designer’s notes of the Babylon 5 RPG: “The d20 System was chosen early on, as we were looking for rules that most roleplayers could pick up and use with the minimum of fuss”. the strong implication in both statements is that the D20 Open gaming effort is aimed at the existing player base; the untapped pool of potential new entrants into the hobby is neglected or ignored.

On one hand, I can understand it. At the risk of sounding elitist, RPGs seem to only attract those who already have active imaginations; much of the regular viewership of the shows and movies that licensed RPGs are based on would never be interested in gathering around a table, rolling dice and pretending to be a fictional character, even if the setting is their favourite show. The RPG industry is more likely to make their money from an existing player base – and those new players who would probably buy Dungeons & Dragons on its own merits anyway.

But on the other hand, it’s a very big shame to read the RPG industry effectively state, “We’re focusing on the existing market and not risking our money in any outreach products, even with popular licenses. Here’s our comfort zone, and we're not budging.”

Echoes of the Blue and Grey

If you've been trying to browse this site over the past ten minutes or so, you've probably been witness to some awkward changes in style and layout. I was making some experimental attempts to get the site looking a little snazzier. They failed. Rather miserably.

So, wanting my site to look snazzier than the defult without having to do too much work this very minute, I went to the Movable Type web site to choose one of their sample styles. As it 's an approximate match the blue/grey colour scheme of the old site, and because we watched the four-plus-hour epic recently, I downloaded the style called "Gettysburg".

I'm still going to tweak the style and page tempaltes of this site in the near future; I have a good idea how I want it to look. The trick is figuring out how to program that look in HTML/CSS.

This Old House...

So, now that imagines.herstik.com is up and running, what happens to the old site on my Telstra personal web space?

For the time being, I'll probably put a single news-post up directing people to the new site, but until I can get all the old material migrated over, the site will stay as-is.

Once the migration is done, though, I'll have ten megabytes of web space sitting idle. That seems a bit of a waste to me.

The old ALIENS Using the Cyberpunk 2020 System site and the Bubblegum Crisis RPG Super Site over on GeoCities have lingered un-updated for a while now. They suffer from broken links and (because putting them up on GeoCities was a bit of a rush job) pages that don't work properly. At some point, I'd like to sand them down and give them a new coat of varnish, and I can't think of a better way to kick that off than to move them onto my own website, where they'll be free of popups and the other advertising GeoCities needs to add in to pay the hosting bills.

Of course, with all the other projects on my plate right now (Vickie's website, the Black Talon campaign, migrating my own website) plus a full-time job and a couple of big trips, I think it's going to be a while before I can get around to it.

In the meantime, new content will be posted here.

October 09, 2003

Testing 1-2-3

After some misadventures, it looks like the new IMAGinES site is finally getting off the ground! Most of the troubleshooting has revolved around the back-end, so I'm still saddled with the default layout for the time being. Still, I'm planning to change that very soon. Anyway, please keep an eye on this site as I slowly get it looking more like how I want it and add in new news, editorials and other writings. I'm also going to get as much content from the old site as I can brought across. A quick shout-out to Marcus, who just spent an hour and a quarter with his phone handset between ear and shoulder, talking with me as he worked dilligently to get the site back up and running! Marcus, U d4 B0mb!

October 05, 2003

Out with the Old...

This news post is simply a bookmark for archival purposes. Every post prior to this one has been taken from the old IMAGinES site. The post titles are all new, and I may add some editorial comments where I feel they're warranted, but I'm leaving the content as it was.

October 04, 2003

Labour Day 2003

Hi everybody! Vickie and I had a nice long lie-in this morning. God, I love Long Weekends... Oh, for those of you out-of-state/country, this weekend is the Labour Day Long Weekend. Of course, in Sydney, this means that Necronomicon is on. Neither Vickie or I will be there, though - see, the first weekend of October is unusually rife with birthdays. My Uncle Joe's is tomorrow, and as Aunt Ned's is Thursday (yes, they're married), the family tend to have the dinner for them on the same day. And, of course, the birthday of my lovely, esteemed Vickie is on Monday. So, I'm very much too busy for con-going. It's nice to have a legitimate excuse...

Best wishes to Gav and Boots, who are entering the Crimson Skies tournament on Sunday, and especially to Boots, who's continuing his trend of public self-flagellation by writing and running yet another freeform. I think if a con occurs in Sydney without Boots running something, the Sydney gaming community will be wondering whether he's had a nervous breakdown.

Vickie has put some of her jewellery work up for sale on eBay. Please have a browse, and if you see anything you like, why not put a bid in? Christmas is coming up soon, so get your prezzies for your family and friends here!

Whilst in the city on Tuesday evening, I decided to do some game-store browsing, and found a copy of Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering for $23. Figuring it might help lift this funk I've been in over Black Talon, I picked it up - and I was right. It's 32 pages of not just helpful hints and good advice, but also, and more importantly, encouragement, something that every other GM's guide or section in the main rulebook I've ever read seems to skimp on. If you're a GM, it's a worthwhile buy. Make sure to get a current printing, though, as the first printing was missing a whole table. Thankfully, as it was first printed in 2001 or so, that shouldn't be too hard.

We're still on track for the UK in november. The Cazman has graciously agreed to house-sit for us while we're overseas, and to him we're very thankful.

Has anyone heard from or spoken to Marcus, lately? I've been waiting for him to get back to me on the permissions problems his server keeps inflicting on me, and the last I read or heard from him was over a week ago. His mobile's never on, of course.