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May 30, 2007

Gremlins in the Circuitry

Computers are really starting to give me the gyp lately, if you'll pardon the expression. My PC is still giving me the not-enough-power-to-the-graphics-card warning messages. Vickie's keyboard packed it in sometime between last night and this morning, and Brook's semi-flaky junkyard spec PC (often unwilling to start first time) hung in the middle of a game of The Sims this evening.

It's getting very tempting to put a few grand of the loan towards some new hardware. I'm going to put my PC in with a friend from soccer who runs his own PC business, in the hope that, at the very least, he'll be able to identify which of my parts is faulty, power-wise. I have the feeling it's the motherboard, and that episode with the overheated PSU did more damage than it first seemed, but if that's the case, I'll need not just a new mobo, but a new CPU, a new, PCI-Express graphics card and maybe even new RAM.

In that case, it's tempting to go whole hog and replace everything bar the PSU, DVD writer and case; if my last issue of Atomic is any indication I can get myself a decent spec machine (Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 processor, Gigabyte mobo, 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800GTS graphics card, 320GB SATA hard drive) for around $1,400. I'd want to double Vickie's RAM while I was at it, and put my current graphics card in her PC if it's not the malfunctioning part. Our current RAM could go into a new PC for Brook - new mobo and processor maybe $330, up to $400 with a new 160GB hard drive, maybe $500-550 with an all-new case and PSU, then a new graphics card for an extra $250 - I could get away with upgrading all our PCs for under $2,500. Again, depending on which part or parts in my PC were faulty. If my current one were still good, we'd wind up with an excess graphics card from Vickie's PC, which could go to Karl.

Anyway, it's nice to drool over parts, but I've got the car booked in to have this ABS problem fixed, the new fence should be going in on the weekend, and there are still a couple of ways we want to spend our money. So we'll see what my friend's diagnosis is first. It might be the problem is very easily fixable and I won't have to pay a thing (outside of his per-hour charge); after all, I'm doing most of my gaming on the 360 at the moment.

May 29, 2007

Wiki Down; Gaming Down

I popped into my Wiki today, fearing that it had become a haven for Wikispam in my absence, only to discover that it seems to have broken down. Every page is giving me an SQL database error message.

I’m not sure if I’ll ask Marcus whether he can fix it up. I think today was the first time in a good couple of months that I’d gone anywhere near it. Also, it’s not really being used as I hoped it would; the various campaigns mooted in the last six months have all tripped at the gate and I lost interest in the last Lexicon game I tried to organise, many moons ago. In that regard, I think I’ll just take it down to make room for more blog posts. (I still have to do some fix-ups on Vickie’s blog…)

You know, I’d mentioned quitting the hobby a couple of times last year to Vickie. Back then, I was still invested in the hobby and the idea of giving up hope on being part of a working campaign wasn’t a pleasant one.

Now, though, the thought of not participating in an RPG session again just doesn’t bother me much any more. Let’s face it; my RPG career has consisted more of reading books and dreaming about games than actually playing. With a library so close, I can still read books (new books instead of the same old RPG texts over and over) and dream, I just don’t have to torture myself by thinking of all the gaming I’m not doing any more.

May 22, 2007

What Are The Transformers? Who Is Optimus Prime?

UPDATE 24 May 07 8:30AM: If you're on a low-bandwidth connection and / or are sick of Yahoo's craphouse "Standard" version, the Transformers movie website now has a Flash version of the trailer. Revel in it! Revel, I say!

You may have seen Tycho’s recommendation to bask in the wonderment that is the newest trailer for the upcoming Transformers film. Me, I didn’t even need the encouragement; I was already there last week, waiting for twenty minutes for the 720p version to stream down via Quicktime. I wouldn’t have bothered, save that Yahoo’s “Standard Version” is a heap. But I tell you, that hi-def glory at 1280 x 1024 on a 19” screen is worth every second of the wait.

I mind me another trailer that got me going a couple of years ago. I will confess that Transformers inspires a different sort of anticipation than Superman Returns did, though; I know that Transformers is going to be less a character study and more a straight-up SF action film, and I’m happy with that; as I’ve written previously, as long as it gets the action right, I won’t mind if it has about as much plot as Independence Day or The Rock.

Still, it’s not just the promise of jaw-dropping special effects and action that has me keen on this film, it’s the promise of seeing some beloved characters given a thorough big-screen treatment. As a kid of the early eighties, Transformers was love at first sight. It was the Big Thing of my age group, much as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was for those who were still thoroughly enmeshed in primary school in the late eighties.

The Transformers were to me what dragons or dinosaurs might be to other kids: When you’re knee-high to a grasshopper, getting picked on some and are burdened with an overabundance of imagination, the idea of being something Big, and therefore Hard to Mess With, can be very attractive. Then there’s the fact that they were semi-rooted in the modern day; it didn’t take much of a stretch of said over-active imagination to wistfully believe that maybe that car, over there, could really be an Autobot!

Of course, one of the lessons that Transformers can teach (admittedly unintentionally) is that all being Big and Hard to Mess With usually means is that your problems are equally Big and just as Hard to Mess With – and the Autobots, the Big, Hard-to-Mess-With Good Guys of the cartoons, were continually pitted against Big, Hard-to-Mess-With Bad Guys, namely the Decepticons, led by the maniacal Megatron.

The real lesson, therefore, was that your problems won't go away just because you're bigger – they only go away when you standing up to them and endeavour to solve them, giving no less than your all in the process. And in this kids’ cartoon, there was no greater example of that than the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime. He was the archetypal Commander, beloved by his troops; always there in the thick of any battle, never unwilling to put himself in the firing line and never shirking or deferring a hard decision. Although there are around twenty years between now and when I seriously watched the show and I’d find it too corny to watch now, I know the writers of the show made sure he lived his name, always giving his best first. Sometimes, I think the solutions to the obstacles I shied away from in my childhood would have been more obvious had I asked myself, “Okay, what would Optimus Prime do right now? Aside from ordering the Autobots to transform and roll out.”

In 1986, an animated movie hit cinema screens, in which most of the original Autobots and Decepticons were brutally terminated – including Optimus Prime, who received a death scene all of his own. I’m pretty sure I was devastated, and I know I’m not the only one who grew attached to the character. I think Hasbro were deluged by letters from parents whose young children had taken the death of their hero badly, and by the time the movie reached me in the UK, a narration was appended to the film, reassuring the audience that Optimus would somehow return.

So now, we come to 2007. Since the original cartoon ended, the Transformers have been resurrected and reinvented through a succession of franchises - the Beast Wars, Robots In Disguise and the Unicron Trilogy. But in just over a month, the Transformers movie will treat us to an interpretation which goes back to the original cartoon, updating enough such that modern cinemagoers will find it acceptable, but, hopefully, keeping the spirit of the original – and more importantly, the spirit of Prime – intact. And if there’s one good sign of that, it’s that director Michael Bay has cast the voice of the original Optimus Prime, veteran voice actor Peter Cullen, for the role he originated back in the early eighties.

I figure, if the world could use a little more Superman, the Saviour, then it sure as heck can use a little more Optimus Prime, the Warrior.

May 14, 2007

Dangerous Dog

When I called Vickie earlier on, she told me she’d had another visit from a Council inspector. Ziggy has been officially listed as a dangerous dog, and we need to get the fencing situation sorted out as soon as we can. We also need to buy a muzzle, which he’s not allowed off our property without.

Vickie’s called some fencing places, and most reckoned they wouldn’t be able to get out to us for at least another six weeks, and that’s just to provide a quote. Thankfully, one place is sending someone out to take a look on Wednesday, so with any luck we should be able to move quickly. The inspector was happy with Vickie's assurance that, when not inside the house, we can keep Ziggy safely in the side run, so that's bought us some time. Still, we need that fencing done sooner rather than later.

We’re looking at at least twice the fencing we originally thought, though. After Ziggy attacked him, Glenn told Vickie that he was planing to put a fence up along the border of our properties. He didn't want anything for it as he'd got a good rate on the supplies and some volunteer help with the labour. Today, though, the Council inspector told Vickie that Glenn had decided not to go ahead with the fence after all - in other words, as there’s now a legal onus on us to ensure proper fencing for Ziggy, he’s now forcing us to install a fence instead (and pay the whole cost).

It seems unfair, not to mention a little rude. Vickie wants to have a word with Glenn soon, just to make sure we understand his position from him and not just via the Council; then we'll go from there.

May 08, 2007

Nowhere to Hide

As my PC's been a bit flaky lately, what with the power warnings and such, I start fiddling with the Xbox 360 more often. I mean, console hardware, nothing's gonna go wrong there, right?

Fucker freezes on me. Twice in two, maybe three days. Both times playing Burnout: Revenge.

Right at the moment, I have a problem PC, and I'm not sure whether it's the graphics card, power supply or something else (maybe the motherboard or, as a deleted file keeps re-appearing on my desktop after each restart, maybe the freaking hard drive), and also a problem Xbox, and I'm not sure whether it's the console or just the specific game. After having played extended bouts of the equally graphically-intensive Gears of War with nary a twitch, I have to think it might be the latter - but it's the uncertainty that kills you. Especially in PC-ville where identifying the trouble component could well involve a trial-and-error process of replacing old components with new ones. Which, of course, cost money. And considering the age of my mobo (AGP8X graphics, to those familiar with PC terminology), replacement of the graphics card or mobo will mean replacement of both.

On the Xbox front, at least, I can call Microsoft under warranty and see what they reckon. The PC has also quietened down since I decreased my standard resolution. Here's hoping...

May 05, 2007

Still Thinkin' Like A Die-Roller

So as I mentioned in the last post, Karl's over here today finishing up the panelling of the laundry walls. Ten minutes ago, Vickie tells me that Karl's just been showing her this new tool he's got: a knockrometer. "You know what it is?" she asked.

"What, he knocks on the wall or something?" I said.

"No, a hammer," Vickie replied.

I had a chuckle, then went back to getting changed after a hard day in the garden (Vickie had a harder one, but still).

A minute later, I was suddenly seeing an Alpha Complex R&D lab, with a high-end-of-the-spectrum technician handing a knockrometer to some hapless RED-clearance Troubleshooter.

"Wait a second - this is a hammer!" the 'Shooter says.

"No, citizen, it's a knockrometer," the tech replies.

"Now hang on, I wasn't born yesterdaycycle," the 'Shooter insists, "and this is definitely a hammer."

"Oh, really? And what security clearance are you, friend citizen?"

"RED."

"No wonder, when you can't tell the difference between a hammer and a knockrometer."

Ahh, PARANOIA. Someday, I must run thee again...

May 04, 2007

Laundry List

Okay, enough of this Gamerscore-fuelled babble. Time for a change of subject: Renovations!

At the moment, the Big Project is the laundry. For those who’ve not been keeping up, we’ve not technically had a laundry until recently. For years, our laundry has been an annex of the lounge, a space on the southern side of the lounge room that was divided from the main living space only by a chipboard cabinet and later by a pair of pine bookshelves.

When we started the main round of renovations, Karl built a timber skeleton for a wall, to which we attached villa board sheeting and a sliding door. We also bought a replacement for the laundry sink, which was slowly rusting out. We were planning to sheet over the laundry and re-do the plumbing and electrics. However, our priorities at the time were the lounge and the kitchen, and once we were done with those our resources, physical, mental and financial, were exhausted.

Now that we’ve refinanced, we’ve had Karl back over to finish the re-sheeting, which he’s mostly done; all that’s remaining is a panel or two on the back wall. Some of the cinder blocks in the side wall had been laid so that their holes were facing intothe laundry (allowing air in); Karl knocked these out and hand-cut a scrap windowframe he's had lying around for a while to size. We now have direct access from the laundry to the clothesline outside (and light for hanging stuff out at night). Have I mentioned how brilliant that man is?

We’ve had a plumber in to re-run the piping for the sink and washing machine and the existing plug points have been moved and expanded. The main work once that last sheet goes up will be painting, which is what, I think, we’re planning to tackle over this Labour Day long weekend. The panelling, gapping and sealing should be done by tomorrow evening, allowing us to get stuck in with the rollers on Sunday. Ideally, we'll have a fully-functioning laundry by Monday night!

May 02, 2007

In Other News

Evilhayama just cracked 1,000 points on his Gamerscore.

What, me? Oh, you know, just tw hrndrd n frkn ffty.

Curse that man and his lack of anything else to do...

May 01, 2007

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Fence...

I just remembered; a very disturbing incident happened last week. A few weeks ago, a young couple purchased the house whose yard borders on the back of ours (a low fence with a gate separates them). We’ve met them once, after our dogs went spare at them while they were trying to get the place sorted out; they’ve yet to properly move in.

One weekday afternoon (I was, naturally, at work) Vickie chatting with the young bloke, Glenn I think his name is, over the back fence during one of his visits to work on the house. Our dogs were inside, and Brook, who’d just come home after school, opened the back door. Ziggy, our red cattle dog, immediately raced out, charged the back fence, vaulted the gate and lunged at Glenn, biting him on the arm! Vickie had to wrestle Ziggy back through the gate and into the dog-run at the side of our house. From what Vickie told me, Glenn was pretty badly shaken by the attack, and we all – especially Glenn – are very, very lucky that Ziggy only got his arm (instead of, say, his throat or face), and even then not deeply.

Nonetheless, we’ve had a Council inspector come around and serve us a notice that we have insufficient fencing around our yard to properly keep Ziggy within it, as he himself ably demonstrated. We’ve since made some room in our renovations budget for new, tall fencing panels, front and rear, and Vickie’s looking for quotes. We’re also keeping a much more careful eye on Ziggy in the meantime.

Finding Consolation With My Console

It’s been over a week since my last post, and that’s mainly because I’ve been reticent to go near my PC lately. As I mentioned on the MySpace, it’s started to play up again. Nothing absolutely major, but every time I start it up, my NVidia display drivers warn me that my graphics card isn’t getting enough power. Why this is, I don’t know; it was getting enough when I had a 460-Watt PSU installed and the new one’s a 550-Watt model. I plan to open the case, check the connections and give the insides a good de-dusting very soon.

As a result, I’ve been spending a bit more time on the Xbox 360. I think I’m getting addicted to it, especially Burnout: Revenge. I’d be more secretive after my most recent posting, but any of the various sites that break down Xbox Live profiles clearly indicate, that I’m playing it anyway (I donated Burnout 3 to Karl). It’s bags of fun, and I’ve been kicking Vickie and Brook out of the lounge room whenever there’s not much on TV so I can play another event (a single challenge over a particular circuit) or two and maybe knock another achievement over (my current goal is to get Perfect ratings on all the Unsafe events). I even hopped online after walking the dogs this morning for a quick set of races. It’s starting to worry me, not the least because if I keep it up Vickie will undoubtedly feel compelled to apply some violent detox…

Addiction issues aside, the game itself is an interesting experience, as a lot of my Burnout 3 skills no longer apply. The tracks are a shiteload more complex, with jumps and shortcuts; the opposing cars in Road Rages are much more resistant to being run off the road; traffic checking encourages driving in the legal side of the road, introduces a high-speed snooker element to gameplay (compact car in the top right corner pocket) and encourages you to lay off the nitro.

Noteworthy is that I had to do a little network juggling in order to get Xbox live working properly. The key is what's called "port forwarding", essentially instructing our router to forward any traffic addressed to a particular network "port" - sort of a connection within a given network connection - to a particular PC. Whenever we switch our PCs on, our router normally assigns them an IP address out of its pool of free addresses (a "dynamic IP address") so they can talk to it and each other. In order to make port forwarding work, though, I needed to give each of our PCs a specific, unchanging address (a "static IP address"). This hadn't worked too well in the past, and I think that may have been because I was taking addresses in the lower end of the available range; on the advice of a website called portforward.com I set our PCs (and the Xbox 360) up with later addresses. So far, everything's been working fine.

Interestingly, though, my Xbox Live headset doesn’t seem to work with Revenge. I show up on the player list as having voice enabled, but nothing I say gets picked up. Very odd, especially as I’ve had successful voice chats via Live with evilhayama in Sydney whilst playing Gears of War.

Still, now that my PC has a static address I ought to be able to host private games of Dawn of War. Well, as soon as I fix whatever the hell else is wrong with my PC now...