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City Lights, Receding.

Be attitude for gains.

Tim "Stormin" Norman




November 7th, 2008

Dear America

Thank you.


The rest of the world.

October 22nd, 2008

Dear Microsoft

Your customer support is shit.

According to the functional retard at the end of the line yesterday, the following is a problem with the video cable:

(Note the convenient lack of a red ring of death.)

Yes. That’s totally a cable problem and not framebuffer corruption because your shitty console is made to such shitty standards that it is now not only the only console I have ever owned that has died on me, but the only console I have ever owned that has died on me twice.


An ex-XBox 360 owner.

PS: If you are going to offer paid repairs via your website, please also offer options for people without access to credit cards.

October 13th, 2008

Apple iPhone 3G

At some point last year, I talked about my then-new Nokia E65. I might have even said that I was happy with the phone.

That was a lie. In fact, after a year of living with that phone, anything good I said about it is clearly a ball-faced lie. The operating system is clunky and poorly designed, the initial problems I had with various bits of functionality never went away thanks to an abject lack of updates/support from Nokia and, to make things worse, the phone developed a rather irritating habit of switching itself off when you slid the keypad out. This made answering calls rather difficult.

I explained all this to the friendly Indian guy at a nearby mobile phone store, and, perhaps seeing a vast commission standing in front of him, he decided to bend over backwards to make sure I walked away with a brand new phone.

(I should point out that my issues with the E65 stem from its design, so getting the phone repaired/replaced is not an option.)

The phone I got was an Apple iPhone 3G. It is, without question, the best mobile phone I have ever used.

First up, the thing looks great. Mine is the 8GB Black model, and the smooth, flush keypad-less front and curved back make for a typically pleasing Jonathan Ive design. Everything about the iPhone’s external appearance is about keeping it simple and clean. It’s a philosophy Apple has applied to all of its products over the past several years (even the MacBook I’m writing this on).

There are just four external buttons on the iPhone. A Power/sleep button on the top, a silent/not silent switch on the side (and seriously, why isn’t such a switch on every phone ever made?), a volume control, and a “Home” button. This last is the only button directly on the front face of the phone.

The only other interactive part of the unit is its touchscreen. And here is where the iPhone really shines. The screen is quite large: 480x320 and about 9cm diagonally across. It’s crisp and readable, and Apple’s experience in UI design really shines through it.

The basic way of using an iPhone is by touching the screen. There’s no need for a stylus or any other input device. Everything is handled via this single screen. Entering phone numbers, contact details, SMS text messages, answering calls, everything is done here. One thing I love about this is that it brings the concept of context to the phone. On most phones, there’s two “context buttons” below the screen. Text on the screen generally explains the current function of those buttons.

This “context button” system is one of the most confusing and unintuitive features of a mobile phone. By using a touchscreen, Apple have bypassed the problem entirely. Everything in the iPhone is contextual. It’s also much, much easier to understand.

Usability comes in elsewhere, too. The best example is the way scrolling functions. To scroll on the iPhone, you simply drag your finger along the screen in the direction you wish to scroll. It sounds simple enough, but Apple have added the concept of inertia to it. Scrolling happens at the speed your finger moves along the screen, which is cool by itself. Move quickly, however, and the window will scroll for a little while after your finger has left the screen, slowing down as though you’ve spun some kind of virtual wheel. Hitting the top or the bottom of a scrolling window causes a bouncing effect to occur. The entire experience, simple and inconsequential as it may be, is incredibly intuitive and even a little fun to see in action.

It’s a great example of Apple’s general approach to UI design. I like to think of it as the “Man, they think of everything” approach. Stupid little things that seem too simple to even notice, but which Apple have coded for anyway. (Mac OS X, by the way, is full of these touches.)

The iPhone comes with all the things a mobile phone needs. Web browser, MP3 player, camera, mapping tool, notepad, weather applet, world clock, calendar and, of course, an online app store right there on the phone.

(What, your phone doesn’t have a dedicated application store where you can buy new apps from it directly from the phone, wherever you are? And which keeps apps up to date directly?)

The App store is really nifty. I’ve spent far too much money and time over the last couple of days downloading things on it. While I certainly won’t be keeping them all (most are, fortunately, free apps) I’ve found some good ones. Beejive is a nifty multiprotocol IM app that replicates most of the functionality of Adium and, unlike most of the other IM apps I came across, didn’t require signing up to a web-based service. I’ve also got a nifty dice-rolling program that rolls when you shake the phone, a facebook app, an SSH app (because, let’s face it, it’s not a real phone unless you can SSH from it) Trism, an app to check the WoW Armory, Mahjong, a Mandelbrot set, a Wikipedia reader and even a lightsaber simulator. I’ve got three screens of apps (Including the initial set of built-in apps) and can get more anytime, anywhere.

Unfortunately for the iPhone development community, Apple have made some otherwise useful parts of the iPhone off-limits to developers. Most frustratingly, the iPod section cannot be used by applications. This eliminates the possibility of the rather excellent iPod game Phase coming to iPhone anytime soon. I believe there’s also limits on what applications can do with address book data among other things. There’s also some interesting choices made by Apple as regard to how things can work. There’s no global clipboard (which is true of many mobile products) and multitasking is extremely limited. Applications must quit when returning to the home screen, and Apple requires that they save their state so that, the next time the user starts them, they will return to exactly where they left off.

It’s a clever idea, and one of the ways Apple squeezes more speed out of the hardware. By phone standards, the iPhone is quite powerful, with a 667Mhz ARM11 CPU and 128MB of RAM. It has a decent 3D processor (not sure of the exact specs here) as well, and is more powerful than several of the computers I’ve got in this household. That said, Apple seem to be forcing developers to write fast, clean code to make the iPhone feel even snappier than it is. This is, in my eyes, a good thing because that’s what devs should be doing anyway.

So, with all the good things mentioned, are there bad points?

Yes. First and foremost, the camera sucks. It’s a 2MP camera with less functionality than I had on my T610. To be honest, it’s not any worse than the one on the E65, but even that was a backward step from the (for its time) excellent camera my K750i had. On the other hand, I have a really nice digital camera now, so this doesn’t bother me.

I’m not bothered by the iPhone’s inability to do MMS. On the other hand, I’m not sure I like the way it deals with SMS messages. Displaying them as IM conversations is... annoying. I wish it were possible to use an email-style interface here. Perhaps this is one of those personal taste things, however. I’m going to blame the fact that the phone is designed in America, and therefore has this quirk due to the particularly backwards nature of the American mobile phone market.

I also miss the “Cell location display” that my previous two phones had. I dunno, but always liked it when my other phones told me the location of the cell they’re currently connected to. I guess it doesn’t matter.

I do like the seamless way the phone can jump from WiFi to mobile network, although I can see how this could be problematic for people unfamiliar with how it works. The heavy reliance on internet access for the iPhone has forced many carriers here to rethink their mobile data plans. While this is a good thing, as mobile data in Australia is stupidly expensive, it also exposes the problems we have with internet access here.

Video calling is a feature I don’t miss at all. It’s not there, but I don’t miss it. The severely limited Bluetooth features, on the other hand, are something I miss. That said, it seems to me that Apple can update the iPhone with additional Bluetooth functionality (Bluetooth modem support would be really awesome here) , so I’m not that concerned about it.

Overall, the good far outweighs the bad. I am in love with my iPhone. The idea of having such a versatile and powerful device on my that isn’t my laptop appeals to me a lot. That the device is so damn nice and easy to use just makes it that much better.

To reiterate: This is the best phone I have ever owned. Hopefully I’ll still be of that opinion in a year.

October 7th, 2008

The First Rule of James May

James May is awesome.

October 6th, 2008

Top Gear Australia

The experiment is a bold one— transplant an extremely popular and entertaining series about cars from its home in Britain to Australia. Succeed, and they might have had a show to rival the series that sets the internet on fire each week after it airs as everyone around the world downloads it. Fail, and they face the ridicule of the entire Top Gear loving world.

Initial impressions were worrying. The first episode showed a lot of potential, but was also deeply flawed. A lack of presenter chemistry, some dud stories (shark cage? WTF?) and somewhat flat overall presentation suggested the series was not going to work out very well.

(Interestingly, there’s another SBS series that had a shaky start: The very, very awesome Rockwiz. Early episodes suggested it would be a dud, but once Julia Zemiro and Brian Nankervis got their chemistry sorted out (and Julia got over the shock of being on TV), the show has grown into something that is now the “other” Australian music quiz program.)

The second episode is a vast improvement. There’s still some problems, but it shows that the presenters are getting it right. They are definitely on the right track. Let’s quickly look at the good and bad things about the program as it stands after two episodes.

The good:
— It’s set in Australia. This is actually a huge asset to the show, as Australia is full of really awesome things to drive in/through/past/around. Compare this to TGUK, which is limited to the fairly boring island of Great Britain (with the odd excursion to Europe and Iceland). There’s a huge amount of scope just in this alone.
— Australia has a really strong car culture. This kind of goes with the first, but, due to the country’s size and low population density, cars are the most vital form of transport in the country. There’s also been a longstanding strong local identity with some brands (Ford and Holden, specifically) which more or less colours the entire culture. Not to mention we’re the last place on Earth where you can get a true V8 musclecar.
— The Top Gear format is really good. It’s set up to be entertaining and interesting to non-car lovers and that’s exactly what TGA has inherited.
— Warren Brown. Brown is a reasonably well-established presenter of various interesting shows (including Peking to Paris), and has a good onscreen personality. His cartoonist background adds a lot of possibilities to the show that aren’t available in the UK version. Unfortunately, his segments have been a bit naff (although the Smart Hearse was a lot better than the shark cage thing.)
— Episodes are uncut as aired. SBS has been running edited versions of TGUK, which is frustrating for local viewers who can’t download the show.

The bad:
— Charlie Cox. He’s the weakest of the presenters. The good news is he will get better. His problem is that he’s playing the Clarkson role a bit too literally. His Murray Walkerisms are perhaps a little grating and, in general, he needs a bit more experience as a presenter.
— Flat jokes. Cox can be blamed for some of this, though it’s happened to all three presenters. There’s a particularly horrifying one from Cox during the second episode news segment.
— What Were They Thinking. This is a cool idea on paper, and a point of difference from TGUK’s Cool Wall. The problem is that it’s a bit too hit-and-miss. I’d expect this to be the first segment to be quietly dropped between seasons.
— Lack of conclusions to review-style stories. This could prove to be something of an elephant in the room for the show. While the challenges/reviews themselves are pretty great, TGA has, so far, offered very little direct opinion of the cars they review. In both the ute comparisons and the Holden Vs. Ford segment, there was no definitive conclusion as to which car was worth choosing, and not a lot of criticism of the cars involved. Either the production team have somewhat missed the point with these segments, or advertising dollars are preventing actual opinions from airing. The latter would be more of a sad indictment of the state of SBS in general rather than the show itself, though.

The good news is that TGA’s good aspects outweigh the bad ones by quite a margin. The show has a lot of potential for awesome, and if the presenters can get their onscreen rapport right, then the series will certainly be able to live up to the rather lofty heights of its British parent.

While the internet raged over the first episode of TGA, the second seems to have somewhat shut them up. I’m actually looking forward to next week, and I really do think that TGA will grow into something awesome.

Remember, TGUK’s first season was a bit naff, too.

September 29th, 2008

Manifest Burning Fest 2008

Before I start, I need to make a disclaimer: I am a Manifest committee member. The views and opinions expressed in the following post do not necessarily reflect the views of other committer members, or the Manifest committee as a whole.

Oh boy, here we go...

Let's get this out of the way first: Manifest 2008 almost didn't happen at all. A small number of committee members spent the better part of this past year actively trying to destroy the organisation, and all that it stood for. Those of us (and it is the vast majority of the committee) that actually wanted the event to run had to fight for every inch, against people who would go out of their way to stop us.

If it sounds like a bad anime series, then believe me, I'm just as incredulous as you.

I cannot, of course, name names. I want to, but it would be... bad for me to do so. Suffice to say that the people involved should know who they are (and if they don't, it is only because they are criminally stupid) and what they need to do about it (quit the committee forever).

In this light, the fact that Manifest 2008 was as much of a farce as it was seems, somehow, reassuring. I personally didn't even get to see much of the event behind my tiny little corner of the Old Arts building, where I spent most of the weekend running an information desk.

From what I can tell, that was the smoothest-running thing Manifest did all weekend. You can thank me in the comments.

I think a lot of the problems really can be blamed on the fact we almost didn't run. I was panels coordinator until sometime in July, when I realised that all the uncertainty over the future of the event led me to not do any work on it for far too long. Meghan Rocke got panels up and running after that, and I am grateful.

I ran three panels myself, including a very well-attended one on retrogaming. I was pleased with the turnout to that, and, had I not had such a broad topic to cover, I would have put on a more interesting panel. From what I hear the other panels went down pretty well.

There was some complaints about the Yaoi panel needing an ID check to get in, but after the trouble we got into last year, I think it was the right choice. My opinions on the panel in general are pretty well-known, so maybe I should leave that at that.

The program book is the elephant in the room. Normally one of the shining beacons of how awesome a Manifest is, this year the guy in charge did practically nothing, and when the rest of the committee found out, it was far, far too late. People will be yelled at. Trust me.

It's because of this that I spent most of my time on the info desk handing out programs to people, and showing them what was on. I'd like to thank all the volunteers that helped me on the desk over both days. My Dad, Adeline and Dave From Minotaur were also really big helps across the weekend at the table. If you see any of them, give them a thanks.

When I think about it, I enjoyed myself. I guess because I was out in the Manifest equivalent of Siberia, manning a remote outpost with what little I had, that I really got into what I was doing. I'm a terrible customer service person most of the time, but I do enjoy running things. I guess that's what made the difference. I had a simple, easy task that I knew how (basically) to do, and I pulled it off with, I hope, aplomb.

*strokes own ego some more*

In what turned out to be a brilliant act of foresight, I managed to snare a little TV and an antenna so I could watch the grand final on Saturday. After the rest of the Grand Final plans fell through, this TV, with its terrible reception, was the only way I could watch my team win their first premiership in seventeen years.

Did I mention I'm a Hawks supporter yet? Did I mention how godsdamn happy I am right now?

(Oh yeah, I'm on Facebook now. Go me.)

I didn't buy anything at the convention this year, unless you count the digital camera I picked up on Thursday specifically so I had a small camera to cart around with me at the con. It worked out well and I took a heap of photos.

I feel as though I want to say more. I can stick the knives in all I want, but I was part of that committee so, I guess, I'm just as responsible as everyone else on it is. We fucked up. Really badly. Sure, we had to fight to put on a convention, and sure, we knew that the con we would put on when we did get it up again was not going to be brilliant. But there were things that went wrong that even the committee did not foresee.

For example, the massive queue was back with a vengeance. You have to understand something here: due to our internal problems, we did very little publicity or promotion this year. No one on the committee expected more people than last year, and, as such, we set up a vastly more efficient rego system to handle the same number of people as we had last year.

We had at least 50% more (I don't have real numbers and am mostly guessing) people than what we expected. I believe it was the most well-attended Manifest ever.

The program book fuckup was something that only really came about late in the game, but it can still be considered unforeseen. I don't think we quite foresaw the backlash against the screenings this year. There's a lot of complicated reasons for the way the screenings came out, owing to some perhaps misaimed paranoia and other things. I doubt that will happen again. (In fact, I intend to make sure it doesn't.)

I'm so godsdamn tired right now, and so worn down from putting up with committee bullshit for the past little while that I really don't have the energy to be vitriolic or biting or funny or whatever. I'm going to save that for the next committee meeting, I think.

I can't make any promises, but I think Manifest 2009 is going to be better by a wide margin than the past two years. It's more important than ever because next year is our 10th birthday.

I'll do everything I can to make it special. I've already got some cool ideas.

July 25th, 2008

Dear Windows Vista

Die in a godsdamned fire.


Anyone who uses a real OS.

UPDATE: 2 Hours later: The specific problem in this case turned out to be a problematic ethernet hub.

July 21st, 2008


Is it still worth fighting for it?

Despite the fact that everything seems to be conspiring against us, is it still worth trying to get it running? Or is it better to just concede defeat at this point?

Why can’t people see that this can be done in the time we have left? Why do they not have the belief? Did they set out to deliberately sabotage us from the beginning?

Did they ever even want to do this? What is their purpose, then? Why would they sabotage something that everyone else wants?

Why am I still here, fighting for this? What is it that makes it so important?

When everything seems against us, what is it that drives us to keep fighting for it? To try to win, even though the odds of doing so now are astronomical?

I still believe in it, but I want to know one thing:


July 8th, 2008

Fuck You Kojima

Hideo Kojima hates you. He hates you and he hates the video games you play.

If you want proof of this, then look no further than Metal Gear Solid 4, a game that so actively despises those who play it that it is almost unplayable.

Let’s start with the opening. In the middle of a beautifully rendered cutscene, the game suddenly gives you control. Your task is to walk two steps and crawl under a truck. Then you get another cutscene, before, again, you’re required to walk two steps between cutscenes.

This, in a game that doesn’t hesitate to throw hour-long cutscenes at you later on.

Fuck you, Kojima.

When you are actually allowed to control your character— the phallically-named Solid Snake— the game is, for brief moments, fun and exciting. The reason for the Metal Gear series’ popularity has always been its so-called stealth-based approach to gameplay. Being sneaky and stealthy is definitely what MGS4 is about, just as it was with its predecessors. And that’s fine. The game plays pretty well in these relatively brief moments between cutscenes where you’re actually allowed to play the game.

But then the game asks you to shoot something and it all goes to shit.

Fuck you, Kojima.

Here’s the problem: the game is set up around sneaking around and perhaps knocking a guard or two out with your handy tranquiliser. In all honestly, that’s the only weapon you should need for the entire game. The problem, however, is that there are sequences that require you to shoot at things. This is something that the game handles poorly. MGS4 is not an FPS, nor is it even Gears of War (a game that’s essentially an FPS with an over-the-shoulder camera anyway). Shooting things is clunky and unintuitive. Dying happens a lot when you’re required to shoot at things. The aiming is mostly terrible.

It’s understandable that the game discourages shooting, given it wants you to sneak around, but throwing in situations where you have to shoot things is then quite stupid.

Fuck you, Kojima.

Then there’s the Solid Eye item. The Solid Eye is an item you get early on that provides almost all of the HUD functionality. It’s really awesome and really useful. So useful, in fact, that it has a battery life that slowly drains as you use it.

Yes. The device that provides you with functions that should be intrinsic to the game requires you to occasionally unequip it just so you can recharge its batteries. This is particularly frustrating if you have to use the night-vision mode, which causes it to drain even faster.

Fuck you, Kojima.

But truly, the worst aspect of the game, and the one that proves that Kojima hates you and is laughing at you as you play MGS4 are the boss battles. They are, without question, the most ridiculous battles in a game ever.

And no, these aren’t the “required to shoot” segments I mentioned before. Would that they were!

No, the boss battles are a way of separating masochists out from real people.

The first boss is a girl who can fly, vanish and reappear at will. She isn’t exactly difficult to beat, but she has so much health and disappears and flits around the building you fight her in so much that the fight becomes an exercise in tedium.

The next boss is fought atop a cathedral and is, yet again, entirely stupid. Again, the concept isn’t especially difficult to figure out, but the whole thing takes longer than the average Nefarian fight.

Then there’s the sniper chick. Turns out that it’s easier to just rocket her arse, too. It’ll still take an hour to beat, but there you go.

I’d talk more about other bosses, but, honestly, there’s only one other I’ve actually fought. This one’s a dude, though.

A dude that cannot be killed.

No really. Well, he can, but... he just comes back to life again.


Unless you figure out that the use for that syringe that you picked up more than half a game earlier, and thought nothing of, is to beat this guy. There’s no hint, of course, that this is the case. But then you have to figure out how to use that syringe on the boss.

Good luck with that. Did I mention that the only aspect of the game that’s worse than shooting at things is the melee combat?

(By the way, the above isn’t a spoiler, it’s a favour).

Fuck you Kojima.

So I realised, after fighting the most ridiculous boss fight of all time, that the noise I could hear in the background of every fight, every cutscene and every overlong story that Drebin told me was actually Hideo Kojima laughing at me. He was laughing at me for having the sheer gall to play his game. His game with its stupid boss fights and its ridiculous combat and its ninety-minute cutscenes. Seriously, Hideo, why didn’t you just make a fucking movie?

That’s really what this game is, anyway. And because it’s a movie, I can’t score it like a game. So...

0/10. Fuck you Kojima.

May 16th, 2008

The Future of WoW?

(Originally posted here.)

Stormyau: Proof, and find me that plan! :D

It was that pre-alpha plan that found its way onto the internet last year. I think we discussed it in the old WoW thread.

The document laid out the course of the expansion sets, and, so far, it has been 100% accurate. From there, it's fairly simple to extrapolate the future course of WoW. Observe:

- World of Warcraft: Base game that takes players through some "loose ends" of the previous games. the final boss is Kel'Thuzad. Level cap: 60

(Keep in mind that Naxx was planned as a dungeon before WoW ever came out. The original instance portal for it has been in Stratholme since release.)

- The Burning Crusade: First expansion. Ties out one major plot strand. Final boss: Kil'Jaeden. Level cap: 70

(Again, SWP was planned to be in the TBC set before release, but was added in a content drop. It's worth pointing out that TBC also experimented with the idea of a complete raiding end-game at release, something Blizzard has now decided didn't work so well.)

- Wrath of the Lich King: Second expansion. Essentially finishes the other major plotline from WC3. Final boss will probably be Arthas, though it's unlikely that he'll be in the game as a boss until a content drop sometime after release. Level cap: 80.

- "Emerald Dream set": Third* expansion. Adds in the Emerald Dream area, which, despite claims by CMs to the contrary, is not currently in game in anything like a completed state. The final boss won't be Ysera, but rather the force that is corrupting her dream. Malfurion will show up. Level cap: 90.

- "Maelstrom set": Fourth* expansion. Adds the Maelstrom, Undermine, Kul'Tiras and probably Gilneas to the game. Final boss will probably be Queen Azshara, though it may be something else. Level cap: 100.

(At this point, I'd suggest that it would become possible to roll a new character (non-hero class) at a level higher than one (50?). It would be a horrendous grind to go from 1-100 if the current levelling rate is maintained.)

- "Elements set": Fifth expansion. Adds the elemental plains. This one is tricky because it will be the first set that doesn't draw upon WC2/3 events directly for its storyline. Final boss will likely be an Old God, perhaps C'Thun 2.0. level cap: 110.

- "Argus set": Sixth and final expansion. Adds in Argus, the world from which the Draenei came and which (in the pre-retcon lore) caused the Burning Legion to exist. Essentially a sequel to TBC, and will most probably feature Sargeras as a final boss. It's possible that we'll see the Pantheon here, too. Level cap: 120.

A couple of things to keep in mind: This is mostly guesswork on my part, based on information that does exist. Plans can obviously change, but this seems like the most likely path the game will take.

The possibility exists that Blizzard won't fill out all these expansions in WoW, but instead release a WoW II that covers everything from, say Maelstrom onwards. That said, Blizzard stated early on in WoW's development that it was intended to be an ongoing, constantly changing game. According to some sources, this is the intent behind the "World of" part of the title: That WoW is a world that will persist and does not need a sequel to itself so much. They probably also want to avoid the kind of playerbase split that occurred with Everquest and Everquest 2.

Given that Blizzard have hinted at a "next generation MMO" that clearly isn't WoW (apparently it's not based on an existing franchise, so it's probably not Diablo 3, either), it seems unlikely that they'd put too many resources into an actual WoW sequel either.

Perhaps the most interesting question is: what happens when we've hit Level 120 and beaten Sargeras? That is, from an absolute lore perspective, the "end of WoW". Perhaps a WoW II is justifiable at that point.

Again, this is all just speculation and extrapolation from existing documents, but I like to think it makes some kind of sense. Obviously there's little things (like, say Xoroth) that can be worked into it here and there, and the details will be cool to see. In the end, no matter where Blizzard goes with WoW, it will be quite a ride.

*: To be honest, the ordering of these sets is interchangeable.
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