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June 29, 2005

RIP Joyce Maloney

I had a phone call from Dad after I got in from work today. After her condition progressively deteriorated over the past few days, my Nan, my Mum's Mum, Joyce Maloney, finally passed away in her sleep at around midday today. My aunt, Nan's daughter Trish, was with her at the time.

As I think I mentioned a few posts ago, it's been a hard few years for my family. Nan took Mum's death particularly hard, which probably didn't help her condition any. However, I'll always remember her as the quiet, yet bright woman who put Mum, Dad and I up while we looked for a home of our own after we emigrated to Australia. Nan had a strong heart; she loved her family and her home rugby league team, the Balmain Tigers. She taught me that, no matter where you lived in the metropolitan area, Sydney was always "town".

I miss you, Nan. I love you.

June 27, 2005

RIP Richard Whiteley

I was very surprised and saddened to discover that a fixture of British television, a gentleman by the name of Richard Whiteley, passed away in hospital on the evening (UK time) of Sunday, June 26th.

In the UK, Richard was probably best known for hosting a show called Countdown on Channel 4, and before my Australian readers start rolling their eyes, Countdown isn't a pop music show (the UK equivalent is Top of the Pops). It's a puzzle game where contestants are given a random selection of nine letters and challenged to assemble the longest dictionary word out of them in thirty seconds. It sounds dry, and, well, it is, but I found it good fun compared to the bright lights and big noises of the "Price Is Right"s and "Family Fortunes/Feud"s of the time. Countdown was an honest intellectual challenge, with no prize other than returning for the next day's show (and, hopefully, building up a respectable run of shows before being topped by the next challenger). Contestants could be and often were from all walks of British life.

Richard was with Countdown from the beginning and never missed a show. Also with the show from the beginning was co-host and "letters girl" Carol Vorderman, who showed that she was more than a dab hand with math challenges in the two to three "numbers rounds" of each show, where she herself would demonstrate tot he contestants and audience several ways to get a computer-calculated result from a random selection of six numbers (in other words, she was calculating on the fly at the same time as the contestants).

Countdown was one of those things I missed after Mum, Dad and I moved to Australia, and when my aunt Heather started sending us video tapes of UK TV, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that not only was Countdown still going strong, but Richard and Carol were still running the show, still thoroughly enjoying their day jobs. I made sure to sit Vickie down for a couple of shows during our trip to the UK in 2003 (even though she doesn't remember them now).

With Richard gone and Carol quite understandably shaken by the death of her colleague of twenty-three years, the show's future seems uncertain, but if Countdown does continue, the only surety is that it won't ever be quite the same without Richard's presence and often puntastic wit behind the host's desk.

Rest in peace, Richard. Even though I've not seen much of you these past few, I'll miss you.

(Readers can find more information on the show's format and presenters in this Wikipedia entry and this Hitch Hiker's Guide entry.)

June 20, 2005

Extension Granted!

Ladies and Gentlemen, some good news: Centrelink have decided to extend the contracts of all temps until mid-August! Which is bloody marvellous; takes quite a bit of pressure off, thank you!

The good bit is, I'll actually have something new to do. In addition to starting people on claims for looking-for-work payments, we're being trained in advances; i.e. determining whether people on existing payments are entitled to gettign some of their pay advanced to them. It's more like a loan, as they have to pay it back in installments across twelve months (the installments are deducted from their regular pays). Thankfully, the process is largely computerised, but it'll be a break in the sort-of monotony.

June 18, 2005

Skype

Staying on the general topic of PCs, I just have to say that I quite like the Skype voice-over-IP application that Lauren recommended to me. I donít know whether it works alongside an active game Ė Lauren assures me it does Ė but the overall quality for straight peer-to-peer chat is very good, better than a telephone.

Iíve set Skype up on Vickieís PC, but we seem to be having some problems with her sound setup; even on full volume her voice comes out muffled at my end. Iím hoping the issue only occurs because our PCs are in close proximity and that it wonít happen when Vickie tries to chat with Lauren or someone else. Otherwise, it might need some fiddling with Skypeís settings or even (gasp!) buying a new sound card (Vickieís audio is driven by an on-the-motherboard processor).

I must say, though, that if youíve got a broadband connection and would like to talk with us sometime without running up a huge phone bill, install Skype on your PC. It doesnít cost a thing unless you want to get voicemail or the ability to dial actual phones.

[UPDATE 12:41 PM:] Aha! Success, I think! It turns out that you need to adjust the sound settings on Skype so that it's using your actual audio device, not your "Windows default device". I changed Vickie's Skype sound settings to "Realtek AC97 audio", and it sounded much better coming out of my speakers!

Wikis and Folder Permissions

On the general topic of wikis in today's news post, we had some trouble with mine not long after I got the Media Wiki application set up and running. The files and folders from some of the previous attempts were still present, and a lot of the folders were refusing to be deleted. Apparently, this was due to some of the rights Marcus had to give the folders while he was figuring out how to make the various applications I threw at him work, so when I pointed the problem out, he went through and changed the folder permissions so I could scrub them.

The only problem was that access to the public folder that the IMAGinES web log files were stored in had also suddenly become blocked. It took a bit of fiddling with permissions to get access back again, but it looked as though in the meantime the folder that Iíd set the wiki up in had been emptied. I donít remember doing it, and I believe I was careful enough to scrub everything else barring that folder, but I could well have inadvertently deleted the contents.

So, I recreated the /wiki/ subfolder and set everything up in there again. I didnít have a usable backup to work from, but thankfully I was able to recreate the contents (what few there were) quite quickly.

Update: June 18th, 2005

Hello all! Itís been a little while since I did a full news post, so let my try to bring you up to speed on whatís happening up here.

I have a little less than three weeks left in my contract at Centrelink (which has already been extended once), an Iíve been keeping an eye on the papers and the Internet job boards for more jobs. Iím finding more jobs that I reckon Iím capable of on the Queensland Government website (they seem to need a lot of admin folks, and Iím hoping itís not just because some middle-managers need to justify their existence) than anywhere else, but Iím also keeping a weather eye for something a little different. Iím also looking at getting some MYOB experience under my belt, as many office-related jobs in Cairns require experience with the application for book keeping and/or payroll purposes.

The Horizon: Virtual WikiProject that I set up over on RPGnet is gathering a bit of steam. I seem to be making the most contributions to it right now, but a fine gentleman who goes by the handle Lord Igtenio over the Web has done quite a hefty chunk of grunt work in formatting the rewrite lists by class section. Thereíve also been some additions to the waker dictionary which, Iíll admit, I donít think quite work, but weíll see how we go. I still like how itís shaping up overall.

Well, Vickie and I finally did the geek thing a couple of weeks ago and saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. It was very enjoyable, although it did have its down moments. I still think the characterisations were a little weak when compared to the Original Trilogy, but I think this was the movie that Star Wars fans had been hoping the previous Episodes would be.

Also, weíll be off to see Batman Begins tomorrow, and weíre looking forward to War of the Worlds opening on the 29th. (Yes, the US Summer Blockbuster season has started.) I can certainly understand Universal putting Serenity back until the end of September (currently pegged for the 29th in Australia) so that the wake from those three heavy hitters can die down a little! I donít think weíll bother with Fantastic 4 until it hits DVD. Iím tempted by Sin City, but Iím not sure whether itís Vickieís cup of tea, even with so many Big Names in it. The Island looks very interesting, though. The Rockís next flick (and the next big game-to-film effort), Doom, hits in early August, and Jamie Foxxís Top Gun vs. HAL, a.k.a. Stealth, comes along in early September.

Vickie mentioned earlier on that she hopes the experience of War of the Worlds on the big screen wonít wreck the original for her. Personally, I think that both Vickie and I have read the original so many times that nothing could spoil it, and I also think that weíve seen so many book-to-film conversions that weíve become sort of inured to the process (we know what to expect and what not to).

And I hope you donít mind if I end this post on something of a down note. The past few years have been hard on my family, with the death of my Mum and my Dadís parents passing away within a year and a half of each other. Not long before we moved to Cairns, we found out that Nan Ė my Mumís mum Ė has contracted cancer of the liver. My aunt Trish took time off work to care for her full-time, but the condition progressed to the point, a couple of months ago, that Trish just couldnít provide the care Nan needed. Sheís been moved respite care, and two weeks ago Trish was looking for a nursing home. Itís pretty certain that Nan wonít be going back home.

Shades of Boomers

Vickie gets regular updates from National Geographic, and one of the most recent headlines was this article about an ultra-lifelike robot being exhibited at the 2005 World Expo in Japan. Apparently, this device is quite convincing at first glance, right down to tics, shifting in its seat and the simulation of breathing.

Vickie was immediately reminded of the Boomers of the Bubblegum Crisis animated series, and forwarded the link to me.

Whether it can actually communicate on its own instead of giving speeches like the animatronic puppets used in Disneyland and other such places, is another question.

Whenever I see an article like this, I'm reminded of something I read in, of all places, a booklet written as back-story for a 1990 computer game called ROTOX (back in the good old days of development houses such as Ocean and U.S. Gold). It's on the first page, and it goes:

"... as the sophistication of cybernetic systems advanced... researchers were prompted to ask, 'When does a machine become conscious?' Now, too late, we know the simple answer: 'When you can't tell the difference...'"

One wonders, in a kind of Ghost in the Shell fashion, whether a machine would need to look human in order for it to be treated as a human? And might machine consciousness sneak up on us without us even recognising it?

June 12, 2005

I Don't Want Fries With That

You may already be aware of this, but the Austalian branch of McDonald's, who has bought its potatoes entirely from the Simplot company in Tasmania for the past several years, has recently decided to halve the amount of spuds it buys locally for its local branches, instead buying from McCain, who will supply potatoes from overseas. Tasmanian farmers are already protesting.

Vickie and I were thinking of boycotting Macca's; hell, we've not been buying from there in a while anyway (most of our fast food purchases have been from Red Rooster lately), but someone had a better idea: next time you go to Macca's, simply don't order fries! That way, you're keeping the cattle farmers and the young 'uns behind the counter in work while still making your displeasure known the only way that a company can understand!

The Wiki Is Back!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to announce the return of the IMAGinES Wiki! That's right, thanks to the easy-to-set-up MySQL database feature on the marvellous server Marcus set his hosting service up on (goddamn genius, that man) and the incredibly easy-to-install MediaWiki (which the RPGnet folks have been using to power their wiki), I was able to get a working wiki going!

Now, those of you who were a little turned off by having to learn the old wiki's markup will be glad to know that, while the markup itself is largely the same, the page editor has a nice little toolbar across the top that allows you to modify text as though you were using a word processor. It's not WYSIWYG, and things like hyperlinks take a little more time, but all is still good!

So sometime soon, we might have another Lexicon game, and if I have any luck getting a planned Primetime Adentures game going with my Sydney crew across the Web, I plan to use the wiki to store and develop the show bible and episode guide!

June 11, 2005

The End of the World

"See, even if the worst happens, remember there's always mutation."
-- Donald Fagen, KGSR FM radio interview, March 7, 2003.