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June 29, 2007

Good Review News and Bad Review News

Well, the good news is that Transformers is getting some positive press. I've not been hunting down reviews, mind you, but I couldn't resist going to the website of At the Movies, a TV show hosted by long-time movie reviewers David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, and they both gave the film a three-and-a-half stars out of five, along with some nice comments in the actual review. Mind that (on their ABC show at least) they've only both ever given five-star ratings to Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, and Good Luck; a joint three-and-a-half puts Transformers in the same league as Before Sunset, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Serenity.

For you American readers, David and Maragert occupy a similar cultural space here to that of Ebert & Roeper; most Australian urbanites know who "David & Margaret" are. Heck, Wikipedia tells me that both duos' shows share the name!

The bad news is that reviews of the Transformers computer/video game havent been anywhere near as kind. The first review I read, GameSpot's, summed the game up as repetitive and mediocre, with several flaws, and gave it a flat six out of ten (GameSpot likes to use the decimal point). The review aggregator site GameStats paints a similar picture, very few reviews give the game better than a six. Frustrating camera, awkward controls, dull combat and near-pointless vehicle modes all come up time and again in the review texts.

I hope you'll pardon my presumption here, but on the off-chance that anyone out there is planning to buy the game as a birthday present for me, (a) you're an utter, loveable loony, each one or several of you and (b) please save your money, or at least spend it on something else.

June 27, 2007

A Deeper Examination of the Prime-al Urge

At the less than one day (bare hours, even) and counting mark, it was probably inevitable that I trip over the Internet Movie Database's main page and fall upon a link to an article on the Wired magazine website. With a title like, "The Rebirth of Optimus Prime: Behind the Scenes with Director Michael Bay" it naturally grabbed my attention. It's a neat little three-page examination of fandom in general (I keep having flashbacks to the forum outrage when Battlestar Galactica was being re-imagined by the SciFi Channel) and the interest in Transformers - well, in one red-and-blue Transformer - in particular. I think it puts across a lot of what I was trying to do in this article, but a lot better.

If you're interested in a more frank look at the history of Transformers, here's another Wired article - a little shorter and perhaps more cynical, but worth reading nonetheless, if only to remind us geeks of what was built on our childhood mania (and what our adult fannishness continues to support). No matter how heated the arguments get over the quality of the stories in those mid-eighties toons, no one can deny that the story was shaped around the toys - that the Transformers were first and foremost a product to be sold.

June 25, 2007

Roll Out Down Under

With less than three days to go until the nationwide premiere (four days ahead of the US! Woo!), a link to the official Australian website of the Transformers movie is long overdue - probably because I only just discovered it. It looks as though I'll see it twice this weekend - first on Saturday, as part of the "Help Rob Frantically Cling To His Youth While It Lasts" pre-birthday party, then again on Sunday with my young mentee.

While I'm on the topic, here's a review of the movie written by the lads at computer magazine Atomic. Now, if this film needed savaging, I was fully expecting that the performance-happy nerds at Atomic would provide. Their review, however, manages to ably critique the film whilst giving very little away, and their verdict is "Michael Bay shows the doubters it was in safe hands all along", giving the film a heartening 8.5 out of 10.

June 17, 2007

Well, Who Could Blame Her?

It's been an anticipatory couple of weeks, I have to say. Not only are we a couple of weeks away from the opening of Transformers, but not long ago, Channel Ten started running ads for the BBC TV series Torchwood, the spin-off series of Doctor Who (something of a surprise, as the source series is screening on the ABC). Brook seemed interested in Torchwood - most likely because of its strapping leading man, Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman - so I decided to bring her up to speed by introducing her to Season 1 of the new Doctor Who. On Friday night, I showed her the first couple of episodes, which she said were "weird", and I'd planned to skip ahead to "Dalek", but we were interrupted by the arrival of some of Brook's friends, and she wandered out with them for the rest of the evening.

I was on my way home from my mentoring session on Saturday afternoon when I figured I'd stop off at the video store and pick up a movie or two (there's usually not much on TV on Saturday nights). I wound up walking out with The World's Fastest Indian and Gridiron Gang. Deena dropped over for dinner and I brough tup watching the movies - and Brook surprised the crap out of me by asking why we weren't watching some more Doctor Who instead. I say surprised, as she'd once commented that Firefly's special effects looked fake, and I reckond the work of the BBC effects department would be even less palatable.

However, Brook had taken a shine to Chris Eccleston's Doctor (well, after all, what sane human being wouldn't?) and wanted to see more. So I whacked the second DVD in the player and queued up "Dalek", then followed on with the first Captain Jack episodes, "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances". Deena left a little later on, but in the end Vickie, Brook and I were up until around half past one this morning, going from "Dances" to "Bad Wolf" and "The Parting of the Ways" (just to make sure Brook's all set for the first Torchwood episode on Monday night), then back to fill in some of the gaps with "The Unquiet Dead", "Aliens of London" and "World War Three". This still leaves "The Long Game", "Father's Day" and "Boom Town" in Season 1 (which, as it's a miserable, soggy day, we can probably knock over today), plus all of Season 2, with David Tennant as the tenth Doctor.

Now, I'd planned on having some time to pick up the Season 2 boxed set - probably with some birthday money - and catch Brook up on that before Season 3 starts. Well, you know what I was saying about it being an anticipatory couple of weeks? Well, the next couple are going to be even more anticipatory - you see, Thursday the 28th of June is not only the opening night of Transformers in Australian theatres, but, according to a quick Google search a few minutes ago, it's also the date when the ABC will screen the first episode of Season 3 of Doctor Who.

The problem is that its prime time slot, 8:30PM, is the same timeslot as Vickie's beloved Law & Order: SVU.

So not only am I going to have to snag the Season 2 boxed set earlier than I'd planned so Brook is fully ready to go by the 28th, but I think Vickie's going to have to make a horrid, horrid choice on Thursday week. At least it's not an ongoing dilemma; subsequent episodes will be run at the usual timeslot, Saturdays at 7:30PM.

[UPDATE 9:00AM:] Actually, I just told a sleepy Vickie about the Season 3 premiere and the SVU conflict. She uttered two words:

"Stuff SVU."

Well, who could blame her?

June 14, 2007

You Only Live Once

Further to my last post: Vickie and I decided, "What the hell?" and splurged on two tickets (silver; the golds had all sold out) to Steely Dan. We're flying down to Brisbane on Sunday, September 16th, seeing the concert, staying overnight in a nearby hotel then flying back again on Monday. Naturally, I'm taking Monday off.

We figure, there's a chance Jeff will bring the tour out here again sometime, whereas Don Fagen and Walt Becker are such a pair of contrary bastards that we have on idea if/when we'll get another Dan album, much less when they'll tour again - if you're a Danfan, you'll know that they quit touring in the middle of their seventies career to concentrate on writing and recording and didn't tour again until the mid-nineties (the next album was still five, six years away). Besides, I've added all of the War of the Worlds tracks we own to my iPod nano's memory.

Plus, there's an upcoming development or two which makes taking more than a day or two off in September impractical. More on that as soon as some paperwork gets reviewed and probably signed.

June 13, 2007

Fuck and Double Fuck

I've been meaning to post this for a few weeks now. It's kinda good news, but it's sort of not, you know?

So one day, I get this e-mail from the Steely Dan mailing list. They've already organised a 2007 tour of some US based venues, but now they've extended it: they're hitting Europe, Japan and - for the first time ever - Australia. They're playing a few venues for one night each, and they hit the closest venue to us, the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, on September 16th.

I'm not going without Vickie, so we'd be looking at two concert tickets (either $99 or $140 each), two return airfares and one hotel room; a pretty pricey endeavour, I'm sure you'll agree. After the recent splurging, I'm not sure we'll be able to cram this in.

But what arrives in my inbox a few days later? An e-mail from the Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds website: Jeff's sellout tour of the UK is ALSO coming to Australia, and it plays the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on September the fucking 13th.

So unless we can somehow swing a four-night holiday in Brisbane (two words: win Lotto ), it's one or the other - and given the choice, I'd be off to the Dan. But why did they have to be so close together? The bastards! The cruel, heartless bastards!

In the meantime, please consider this a heads up to any fans of either or both acts. Go and enjoy!

The Upgrade Square Dance

I will say this: Insomnia is pretty good for blogging. Last night I was thinking of writing a post, but just didn’t feel in the mood. I suddenly woke up an hour ago and my brain refused to switch itself off again. I listened to Paul Tevis’ latest Have Games Will Travel podcast for about an hour, then decided the hell with it; I’ll get that post written.

It’s five past five AM as I start this, by the way.

Okay, then. What’s been going on?

Firstly, and most recently, I went on that big computer stuff splurge that’s been in the offing. I had to get some stuff done on the north side of the city on Saturday morning, and stopped off at the local branch of The Good Guys on the way home. I wound up taking advantage of their June stocktake sale, walking out with a Toshiba Satellite A100, an LG Flatron 20.1” widescreen LCD monitor and a 4GB iPod Nano for Brook, as hers had suddenly packed it in. As Brook hadn’t got a decent eighteenth birthday present from us, I figured I’d get her a new, green one (Brook’s favourite colour) at the sale. It turned out that all her old one needed was an update from Apple – so after we cleared all her music files off of it, I inherited it.

And it is nifty, I will tell you. I ripped my Steely Dan collection from CD to it yesterday and will likely do the same for Def Leppard, but the best thing about it is podcasts. I can now listen to the latest Sons of Kryos, Have Games Will Travel or 2D6 Feet in a Random Direction both at my convenience (lunch breaks, waiting to pick Daryl up in the evening, in bed at 4AM) and without bothering Vickie, who’s always driven up the wall by the accents the hosts (and guests) speak in – no, not the American accent per se, but the very nasal accent a lot of Americans seem to have adopted in the past few years. Come on, guys! You don’t need to be a nation of Kermit The Frogs! Project from the diaphragm!

Ahem. Anyway, Vickie’s still not one hundred percent on the whole laptop idea. The Toshiba comes with Windows Vista pre-installed and with no OS disc; apparently that’s how laptop owners like it these days. The biggest stumbling block is all the save games for Vickie’s various Popcap games. Under XP they’re saved in clearly labelled directories; however, after installing and registering Peggle Deluxe, it appears that under Vista these games manage their saves differently; there’s no gamedata directory under the Peggle folder, and where that info is stored I don’t know, so I can’t copy her saves across – and losing her saves will make Vickie very grouchy (so much so that I‘ve even contemplated taking the laptop back). Querying the Net for help has been useless; apparently any sites for these games are dedicated to selling and/or downloading them, not maintaining them - I guess such issues just aren't a regular concern for the casual audience that buys the games. I’ll have to try searching the hard drive for the file names, see if I can track the saves under Vista down that way. Vickie’s also still making up her mind about the 20.1” wide, as it’s smaller vertically than the BenQ 19” flat panel (which I’ve, er, inherited). It’s not a big deal; if she doesn’t like it I’ll nab it and give her the BenQ back.

I also took the Cazman up on his offer to buy my new PC parts from a distributor in Auburn. I’ve come out of it pretty well, paying around $1,200 for parts that I thought would cost me closer to $1,500. I’m modifying my hand-me-down plans a little; I think I’ll take my existing Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz processor, mobo, RAM and hard drive and put them in Vickie’s case for Brook with Vickie’s hard drive, then take Vickie’s existing AMD 2400+ processor, mobo and RAM and put them in Brook’s case so that Brook’s mum can take a decent PC back to Melbourne with her. Although Brook’s current PC isn’t arguing at startup any more, it still hangs every so often during operations, so I figure we’ll use proven parts in it so Gemma has something stable as well.

June 08, 2007


I dropped the car off at the local authorised Ford service centre yesterday morning – and promptly got a “she’s ready for pickup” call at midday. Turns out the ABS problem was caused by rats chewing through the sensor cable leading to one of the front wheels.

I was disappointed by the bill, though. I'd been dreading the repair work for a good few months because of the hit I was expecting we'd take to the mortgage, but I was really not expecting it to set us back one whole hundred dollars. This is going to change the spec for that upgrade I was planning quite severely. I might even be forced to get a more powerful laptop than I was originally planning now, maybe even a faster CPU for my PC as well. After all the drama I’ve had with our computers lately, it’s almost heartbreaking that, thanks to this bill for the car, I won’t be able to go ahead with my original plan.

Only almost, though.

June 05, 2007

Upgrading and Networking: Help Required

I got my PC back from my IT-business mate today, and he was able to confirm that the problem is graphics-card related. He's tested it in other machines and the same problem happens. I need a replacement and I don't want to lose any grunt. My current graphics card, and the motherboard it goes into, are two or three generations behind, so to maintain performance I don't have much choice but to replace them - which means replacing the CPU also.

I discussed some plans, which also included 2GB RAM and a new hard drive, in my last posting. FamiliaGTX, who weighed in about my horrid luck with PCs, sent me a list of parts for around $250 cheaper than I was originally planning. Vickie also pointed out that I can get a 19" flat screen for around $350 from Big W nowadays, which is also tempting; I'd like to be able to get in closer to my rther cramped desk, and the huge 19" CRT screen I have right now keeps me at an arm-tiring distance.

My plans for Vickie and Brook have changed somewhat, though. As I can no longer hand my graphics card down to Vickie, there's not much point in a straight upgrade of her PC - so I'm thinking of getting her a laptop instead. A friend of ours in the states gave Vickie around $250 toward a laptop a few years ago and we've never had the chance to make up the rest of the cost until recently. From a browse of a few catalogues, decent-spec laptops are now at the $1,200 mark, very affordable.

If we go ahead with that option, Brook will inherit Vickie's PC, lock, stock and barrel. We know it's stable, and once I've transferred my data off my current hard drive I can put it in Vickie's PC for a total of 160GB. Plus, it glows blue. I'm pretty sure Karl's PC will be able to take the two 512MB sticks currently in my PC.

There's also something else that I'd like some advice on from the tech-heads in my reading public. I've already posted this over on the Atomic magazine forums, but the more help the merrier!

Our current networking situation is thus: At the front end of our house, in the computer room, are my wife's and my PCs, a Netgear WGR614 hub (5-port with wireless access point) and an ADSL modem (connected to the hub). At the other end of the house, in the living room, is an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii.

There are three walls between the computer room and living room, plus some floor as the living room floor is lower than the rest of the house; this is enough to prevent the Wii (or a wireless bridge) from connecting to the wireless access point. At the moment, we have a single run of Cat5 cable going from the living room, under the house, to the hub so that the 360 can connect to Xbox Live.

The problems are that:
A) I'd like to get the Wii connected to the Internet.
B) If Vickie gets a laptop, we both would like her to have wireless access in the main room and backyard.

My first thought is to get another network hub, a non-wireless one, to replace the wired/wireless one in the computer room, then take the wireless hub downstairs and attach it to the other end of the CAT5 cable in the living room. I'd attach the Xbox 360 to it via Cat5, then configure it so that the Wii and any future laptop could connect wirelessly.

Then I start worrying about configuring IP addresses and such, not to mention the potential quirks of having two hubs on one network. Can any of you good-hearted, network-savvy folk point out any insurmountable issues and/or alternative solutions?