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July 31, 2007

Generally Good, Computer-Wise

Hi folks! Well, my the PC is working once again. I’m enjoying the smoothness that the GeForce 8800GTS is bringing to some of my classic games – except Republic Commando, which has been struck down by what some forum threads claim is a driver conflict.

Vickie’s the PC – well, the laptop – is also now her official home of computeryness. I will say that she is fighting a battle with Windows Vista at the moment, the prize of which is her sanity. There was a lot of talk about making Vista more secure in the face of modern digital threats, but I didn’t really realise what that meant until I observed it in use for an extended period. That OS is paranoid, folks. It double-checks almost every program that you execute, just to make sure that it is indeed you, Joe or Jane User, what is using the laptop and not L4rr3 t3h H4x0r down the road. It’s also a bit prickly with the running of some apps, too. I’m definitely hoping to see a service pack that irons out some of the kinks released soon.

Brook’s inherited Vickie’s old PC, and I’ve not had any phone calls asking for stuff to be sorted out, so I think I can assume that’s gone well. Gemma’s PC is mostly working; the only problem remaining is sound. The on-motherboard sound chip is buggered, but the will work fine with a sound card. Only problem is, the sound card went into Brook’s PC. We noticed a marked improvement in sound quality after Vickie moved to the laptop, and that coupled with a barely-functional microphone jack has led me to conclude that the sound facility in Vickie’s old PC was semi-stuffed. So, the SoundBlaster Live in Brook’s old PC (now Gemma’s PC) went into her new one, leaving Gemma’s PC soundless.

Still, that should be fixed soon. A friend at work is giving me a surplus Audigy 2, which will go into Brook’s PC, and the SoundBlaster Live will go back into Gemma’s. After that, the only problem is getting the computer down to Melbourne…

I finally called Xbox Technical Support when Need for Speed: Most Wanted (bought with a little birthday money) locked up on me before the first race even began. I have the feeling that this issue and my problems with Burnout Revenge both stem from a problem mentioned on some forums; a quality control problem caused by Microsoft having to source DVD drives for the 360s from three different manufacturers. I’ve been given some diagnostic tasks to try, and will call back once I’ve tried them.

July 20, 2007

A Highly Complex Endeavour

Today is the first day of the Cairns Show Long Weekend. I've been saving a particular venture for this particular block of time off. This venture is the nigh complete overhaul of the computers of myself, Vickie and Brook, as well as creating an additional PC for Brook's mum, Gemma.

This is a four phase operation:

  • Vickie's Laptop. I've already kicked this one off; the Windows Easy Transfer tool is running on her current PC and her laptop as I type this, shifting her documents, maill files and settings from the old computer to the new. Once that's done, I'll run a backup of the data on Vickie's laptop and finally install all her software, then double-check to make sure nothing's been left behind.
  • Brook's PC. This one is going to be slighty more complex. Brook is going to be getting Vickie's old PC, so I'll need to open it up and give the internals a thorough de-gunging before formatting the hard drive and doing a from-scratch reinstall of Windows XP. After that, I'll again use Windows Easy Transfer to migrate Brook's data from her old PC to her new one and reinstall her software, including The Sims 2.
  • Gemma's PC. In some ways this is probably the easiest phase; all I need to do is take Brook's old PC, again reformat and rebuild it in Gemma's name and install some basic software.
  • My PC. This is going to be the interesting part. I'll be stripping the guts out of my PC, cleaning the interior of the case and installing the parts that I bought through the Cazman. Again, there'll be a complete rebuild - mainly as I'll be using a brand-new serial ATA hard drive - and reinstallation of software. With any luck I'll be able install my old hard drive as a secondary until I can get everything off of it; if not, I'll set it up as a secondary on Brook's PC and pull stuff over across the network.

At the moment, I'm working on the checklist of everything I'll need to do; it's around three and a bit pages so far. I've also got my desktop shrine in full effect, with Prime, Prime, Prime, Hicks, Chief and Megatron representin'.

Wish me luck! :-)

Oh, yeah, and I'm washing the dogs at around midday.

July 19, 2007

Flogging Molly

Curse you and your evil birthday presentness, Gavin Lucan.

Curse you to... I dunno. Boils or something.

Everyone else: Irish folk pub rock. It's good.

July 15, 2007

On Trust

A little late night musing for you all, something that's been knocking around in my head for a little while. I find myself in the mood to write it out and see how it reads.

The world is big. It's a fact argued by few, but it took a while for the full implications to really settle for me. See, the world is everything, the weather, the landscape, the trees, the air, the plants, the houses, the traffic lights, the trains, the cars, the planes, the people. Everything. And each individual "thing" in the world (a plane, a tree, a person, a mountain, whatever) can be both subdivided into smaller things and also be seen as part of a larger thing. Basically, everything is part of everything else, even though it mightn't seem that way when you just use your eyes to look at the world and see the empty spaces in between everything.

It also means that there is so much, so incredibly much, going on in the world that you can never, ever experience. Bugger what's going on in Paris or the Sudan or wherever, just think about the person or people who live in the house next door, or the people on the other side of them, or even yur best friend who lives on the other side of town. We - by which I mean, I - tend to think about other people in terms of their interactions with me; it's mind-rooting to walk up Riverstone Road and think about each of the houses I go past and the people in each house, people whom I'll probably barely glimpse and will most likely never know, people whose lives have no impact on mine.

Except they do. Everything is part of everything else, and whether gross or infinitely subtle, the lives of the people in these houses on this road, the people around the world and the lives they lead, the lives of the trees, animals, the existences of those things non-living, will have an effect on me, each other and everything else. People talk about the Butterfly Effect all the time, but they rarely consider the full implications, they just keep thinking about that one buttefly, that one choice, that single event. What about each and every event, from the atomic to the massive, in any given instant of time? How does each of those events effect every other thing and every other event? How the hell can anyone make any sort of meaningful prediction about the future? Even the simplest, most seemingly trivial of tasks can be utterly derailed simply by virtue of exisiting in a world as complex as this, no matter how committed the person you trust is (or how comitted you are) or how hard he or she tries (or you try). All it takes is for someone else's life to intersect with your trustee's in an unforeseeable manner, and that's really not that hard; sometimes it seems amazing that people can actually organise their lives with any degree of success.

So what does that mean for trust? It means, I think, that you cannot really trust someone to do something. However, that doesn't mean that trust cannot or should not exist. In the face of this rampant chaos, you can still put your trust in people. If you ask a trustee to do something on your behalf you can trust that, if the trustee doesn't do that thing, it isn't because the trustee wasn't doing his or her level best to get the thing done.

I think that tends to result in saner interpersonal relationships, it puts the focus more on the person and not the thing you want that person to do. I think there's more to this, but I'm winding down now, so I'll leave it here and maybe pick it up later. In the meantime, comments are welcome.

Navel-Gazing

The holiday is almost over. Seven hours ago, I dropped Jacqui and Kate, Vickie's eldest daughter and her grand-daughter, off at Cairns Airport for their flight back to Melbourne after spending the week here (we just had a phone call; they're home safe). Forty hours ago I went to bed after a party at our place. In a couple of hours I'll be off to bed and getting up at six tomorrow morning to prepare for work.

And I'm thirty. I've officially been on this Earth for thirty years.

It's odd. On one hand, being thirty doesn't mean much - although I'm a second closer to the septannual (is that a valid word?) rotation of the atoms that comprise my body, I'm still pretty much the same person that I was at ten to midnight on July the tenth. The centre of my being hasn't undergone some radical shift. My self identity is still composed of all the usual bits and pieces; I'm still in love with Vickie, I'm still an SF nut, I'm still more nervous than I'd prefer to be, I'd still like to pay in or run a tabletop roleplaying game sometime and I still have a slightly unhealthy fixation on Transformers.

Yet on the other hand, I find myself reaching for cliched terms like milestone. I mean, I'm thirty. Three zero. There's something there, not mid-life-crisis wise (someone shoot me if I ever get that bad), but something that invites a pause for reflection. I've lived through 262,800 hours. The actions I've taken and the things that have happened to me during those hours have made me the person sitting at this computer right now, and all that time needs some sort of, I don't know, processing so that the decisions I'll keep on making will lead to me being more sane, more able to take the world as it is without panic.

I think I've already done some of that. I suddenly find myself a little less guilty about my guilty pleasures now. As of yesterday, I have three Optimus Primes (not to mention a Megatron and a little Autobot named Clocker). I still listen to the RPG-related podcasts I subscribe to, there's a copy of Spirit of the Century on its way from the States, I'm thinking about buying the Star Wars Saga Edition Roleplaying Game, I'm working my way through the Guitar Hero II campiagn and I have pre-orders in for the Halo 3 Limited Edition (the Legendary Edition has already been throughly pre-ordered out) and Mass Effect.

I'm also getting a bit better at recognising what's good in my life. I'm coming up on the thrid anniversary of a wonderful marriage (yes, ladies and gents, I can remember the date without looking it up), I've got a good job with a good group of colleagues (some of whom were able to make it along to my party on Friday night), I'm more confident than I used to be. Our financial situation is a lot better than I worried it was (nonetheless, I must thank, and have thanked, Dad for a little help in the form of a very generous thirtieth birthday present). My mania for tabeltop roleplaying games has settled into the hobby-interest it ought to be; Vickie has commented that I'm no longer "living between games". I'm having a fun friendship with an eleven year old boy whom I hang out with every fortnight; we run around in the forest out the back of Redlynch, shooting M-41As and Moritas.

Can I improve myself? Yes. I'd like to work smarter, manage my time and workload without - or, approaching the concept realistically, with a minimum of - getting grouchy at my fellow co-workers just for giving me more stuff to do. I'd like to be able to tackle the bigger projects within work and in my personal time with more confidence. I'd like to handle my reactions to other people's anger better.

But, and here's the thing I've often had difficulty taking to heart, that doesn't mean that the person I am right now is bad or otherwise desperately in need of radical change. There's a song, "In Repair" on John Mayer's Continuum album, that ends in the refrain, "I'm not together, but I'm getting there." I can certainly sympathise with the spirit of the song, but I think "not together" is too absolute; I'm on my way, and have already successfully covered quiote a bit of ground on the journey. I'm a strong and worthy person.

July 10, 2007

Only An Hour Of Youth Remaining

Today was my second day of leave, and it's been a busy past few days! Jacqui and Kate arrived from Melbourne on Saturday; they're staying at the Colonial Club until tomorrow, so the past few days has been busy with getting the place ready for both their arrival and Friday night's big party. We've got around twenty people coming, and we've struck the idea of having a theme party - it's getting too damned cold up here of an evening for anyone to want to spend any length of time outside. On Thursday, we're taking our visitors on a trip to Port Douglas, followed by an evening screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (for young Kate's sake, you understand; no one else is particularly interested in it, especially not Vickie or myself).

And tomorrow is the big day itself, the day I turn thirty. Jesus, I know I have absolutely nothing to worry about - by any modern measure of age I'm still a good decade away from the halfway mark - but I do wonder where the hell the last twenty-nine years went.

Anyway, there shall be pictures, I'm sure, which I'll organise and put up on the MySpace photo album. Heck, I still owe you all those photos of me at Rhys' 21st, valiantly trying to down a yard-glass of bourbon and Coke.

Please note that I do not have the infromation required in order to give a certain response to the question of whether there will be a yard glass at my party. You'll have to wait and see. Or not. I'll probably be burning the negatives and erasing the memory cards.

July 03, 2007

Transformers

Although they’re half a world apart and have never met, Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sam Witwicky (Shia leBoeuf) both have girl trouble. Lennox and his platoon of infantry are stationed at a US Army forward base in Qatar, thousands of miles from his wife and their infant daughter, the latter of whom he’s yet to meet. Witwicky, a seventeen-year-old high schooler, doesn’t have a girl, and in order to rectify the situation he needs a car.

Sam’s dad (Kevin Dunn) is helping to rectify the problem, though, by pitching in half the money for a used car. No one notices the battered yellow muscle car that cruises onto the sleazy dealer’s lot by itself until Sam picks it out. Luck and some not-so-subtle promptings from his new car’s stereo see Sam driving gorgeous fellow student Mikaela (Megan Fox) home that evening – but later that night, his car takes off on its own. Sam loses the car in a rail yard, but seconds later he sees a giant yellow figure send a signal into the sky.

Lennox is nowhere near as lucky – a video transmission with his wife is interrupted by the arrival of a special ops chopper believed shot down weeks ago. The aircraft disrupts all transmissions and radar, then breaks apart, reassembling itself into a massive robot, and lays waste to the base. The armament of Lennox and his team is useless against the monster, which hacks the base’s central computer, looking for something buried deep within the US military network. The data line is cut before the machine can succeed, but Lennox’s team is forced to flee into the desert, where a sinister pursuer is intent on ensuring no word gets out before the machines find what they’re looking for…

There are several facts about Transformers that are obvious before one even sets foot in the cinema. It’s based on a line of boy-oriented toys that were really big in the mid-eighties and haven’t entirely died off since. It’s executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay. Based on these facts, you can expect certain things from this film: A-grade special effects; top-notch action; broad-strokes characters with a dash of Spielberg optimism; Michael Bay’s trademark cinematography touches; product placement au-go-go. You can also expect that, if nothing else, the movie will be pretty fun.

By and large this film delivers on its promises. The action commences within a few minutes of the short opening credits, and the attack on the army base shows us how powerful and nasty the evil Decepticons are. Once Sam gets in on the action, it stays rapid and unrelenting. Minor characters are as caricatured for comic effect as you’d expect, the special effects – okay, scratch that, you all know what I really mean here, the Transformers look utterly jaw-dropping, stuff goes boom well; swooping cameras, slo-mo glamour shots of characters and vehicles (especially the vehicles), The Big Presidential Speech, it’s all there. Make no mistake, it’s a big, fun action spectacle.

This may seem odd coming from me but I don’t consider myself a fan of the original cartoon upon which the movie is based. I’ve not seen the cartoon in ages, and when a friend loaned me his DVD of the 1985 movie a few years ago I cringed my way through it. But the basic characters and their story do hold a special place in my heart, and I will say that I was grinning like an idiot throughout the five-minute-or-so sequence when Optimus Prime and his Autobots arrived on Earth. The elaborate transformation from helicopter to marauding robot at the beginning of the film is just a taster of what this sequence and future sequences serve up. The presentation of these giant machines is spectacular, and I will fully agree with the statements of producer Don Murphy that even if you’ve seen the pictures of the re-designed Transformers, you still haven’t seen anything until you see them in the movie. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that you must see these machines on the big screen at least once. Did you see Independence Day at the cinema? Remember how that gigantic flying saucer came out of the cloud over Manhattan? Wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring on the small screen, was it? My point exactly.

Thankfully, the movie gives some decent screen time to establishing the Transformers – well, the Autobots at least – as characters, with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee getting the most attention. Anyone who watched the old cartoons will get a thrill of joy when Peter Cullen’s voice comes out of Optimus Prime’s lips, and everyone else will probably be impressed by Cullen's performance. Fans also need not worry about Hugo Weaving, who also does a great job as the voice of Megatron. The core cast of humans aren’t short of character either. Josh Duhamel’s new dad draws the first honest laugh of the film early on and is a capable action hero. Shia leBoeuf’s quick-tongued teen channels a touch of Ferris Bueller magic to get car and girl in one day. Jon Voight puts in a great turn as a dignified and tough Secretary of Defence, and Megan Fox musters some determination of her own to be more than just eye-candy.

Now, while the movie works by and large, it’s definitely not without its faults. For starters, it’s two-and-a-quarter hours long, and although length isn't a fault in and of itself, I came out of the cinema feeling like this particular film could have been half an hour shorter. Its main problem is exposition – the opening monologue tells us what’s going on, Optimus Prime tells Sam what’s going on, the Men-in-Black of Sector Seven tell the Secretary of Defence what’s going on, Sam and Sector Seven clash, everyone eventually gets their respective stories straight - but with all the repetition (and some of the movie's dumber gags) the film’s pace stumbles. I’m no screenwriter, but I get the feeling there could’ve been a better way to manage it. With such a long film, the caricatured minor characters get long in the tooth; if there's a little Bueller in Sam, his parents are the archetypal teen-movie "oldies without a clue”, there to be fast-talked by the lead. Finally, the time dedicated to tertiary human characters means that almost half of the Autobots barely get a word in edgeways.

While we're on the topic of the Transformers: As I wrote, Autobots and Decepticons alike look spectacular; each of them is an intricate combination of parts of their vehicle disguise and alien structural members. The problem is that this very complexity harms the action. Optimus Prime’s first on-camera transformation is glorious but over-long, and it’s sometimes hard to tell what bit came from where. The fight scenes are shot in the shaky-cam, not-quite-perfectly-framed, you're-really-there technique that’s becoming common in action movies nowadays, and with the robots as complex as they are it gets really, really hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Even the first robot brawl, between a single Autobot and a single Decepticon, left me lost.

None of these flaws are enough, however, to sink Transformers as a piece of escapist celluloid entertainment. Make sure you manage your liquid intake before and during (I had to dash out to the loo midway through my first viewing; thankfully I saw it twice this weekend gone), don’t expect Citizen Kane with giant robots and you will have a great time. I strongly discourage anyone who's thinking about seeing this film from waiting for the DVD; the oomph of a spectacle as spectacular as this will only be diluted on the small screen.