Friday, 29 May 2009

Books: David Gemmell's Troy

Last month I was experiencing a bit of a book drought, having received no recommendations I had to find something myself, and that something turned out to be the Troy trilogy by David Gemmell.
I've never read any Gemmell prior to this but was aware of him as a science fiction/fantasy writer, Troy however is something different. The trilogy is loosely based on the Trojan war from bronze age ancient Greece as described in the epic poem The Iliad attributed to legendary poet Homer. Gemmells version adheres very loosely to the source and is much akin to a reboot - the characters and places are there but their roles and events are altered to a degree that the story is Gemell's own. The story follows a number of central characters, but the true lead character is Prince Aeneas/Helikaon aka The Golden One. Helikaon is Prince of Dardanos, famed for his successes both as a trader, netting him great wealth (and the moniker Golden One) and as a warrior. Helikaon makes an enemy of the Mykene prior to the events of the story after killing one of their heroes in a sea battle which the Mykene instigated in a pirate raid. Having this feud with the Mykene and being an ally of Troy and close friend to several members of the Trojan royal family (including Hektor, Troy's greatesr hero, crown Prince and premier General) places Helikaon in a good position to maintain central focus throughout the story. The sheer number of characters followed gives the narrative multiple interrelated threads, there are friendships, rivalries, romances, victories, tragedies and blood feuds portrayed in such a manner that several characters share in each one. This sort of narrative gives a great sense of character development and each shared event has perceivable effect on the personalities, attitudes and behaviours of those concerned. The result is a compelling enjoyable story which is hard to put down.
A major part of the allure of this story for me is the presentation - it has a gritty realistic flavour often absent from novels dealing with mythology or any sort of war in general. Here killing is not taken lightly or glorified, characters recognise that the death they inflict has repercussions and often display remorse after the battle rage has dissipated. Many writers have a habit of writing off death, detaching it from the main narrative - battles are fought and people on both sides die, but this is often glossed over unless a main character snuffs it - in Gemmell's narrative you get a real feel for what's going on and characters don't exhibit the blasé attitude to war many heroes from other novels demonstrate.
I've always loved Greek mythology so that perhaps has a lot to do with why I find this story so endearing. It should be noted though that much of the supernatural element from the mythology has been removed, altered or left with a question mark over it. For example the character of Odysseus - who in the mythology had many fantastical voyages featuring monsters and Gods and all sorts of magical shenanigans is portrayed as a legendary story teller who weaves himself and his crew into his tales - his audience may believe his stories, but Gemmell's Odysseus is well aware his adventures are (almost) pure fantasy. Similarly Prince Aeneas mother was said to be Aphrodite in the mythology, however here she dies in madness prior to the events of the first novel believing herself to be Aphrodite and throwing herself to her death from a cliff. There are still some supernatural elements here that suggest that perhaps the Gods of ancient Greece aren't as absent as they first appear - there are several instances of seers and prophets accurately predicting future events which raises some questions about supernatural interference. So far I've read Lord Of The Silver Bow and I'm early into Shield Of Thunder, the former was enormously enjoyable and the latter has already made several riveting revelations that promise what's to come will be equally so. If you're looking for something good to read, look no further. I was rather dismayed to discover that David Gemmell actually died during the writing of the final book in mid-2006, however his wife Stella undertook the completion of the book and it has been published - I hope she has done the series - and her husband - justice. freedoms_stain, out.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

They've Seen The Light...

I have noted in the past that the greed of certain license have been having a decidedly negative impact on the cost of digital music and the availability of internet based music services such as Pandora. It would seem that PRS, the group responsible for collecting and distributing royalties from online services have seen a bit of light on the subject. They have veritably slashed the cost per stream to service providers from 0.22p to 0.085p.
After their recent dispute with YouTube over royalty payments for music streams and YouTubes subsequent decision to pull all music videos from the site rather than continue to run at a loss, PRS have evidently decided a smaller slice of the pie is better than no pie at all. And honestly, their demands on YouTube were ludicrously farcical - demanding enormous royalties of a site which effectively offers them free video hosting and the exposure such a high profile site can potentially generate effectively forcing the site to run at a loss is beyond idiocy on the part of PRS - how they thought they could maintain the old rate is beyond me.
My hope is that this development will allow Pandora to reopen its site to the UK market, and that they haven't deleted my account, which they probably have :(. This move could also result in cheaper premium services from providers like Spotify and or mean that the free versions of these services require less advertising to support their provision. It may also make more funding available for the likes of Spotify to expand their libraries of available tracks.
All in all only good can come of this - Greed, it's a bad thing kids, don't for get that.

freedoms_stain, out.

Monday, 25 May 2009

"Murray plays down Paris prospects"

The title of this post refers to this BBC report on Andy Murray Re: the French Open. The line that caught my attention was this: "The 22-year-old eased to a three-set win over Juan Ignacio Chela" because I watched that match and I don't think eased is a word I'd use. Truly 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 sounds like it was an easy match, but lets not forget that of the 5 games Murray lost 2 were service games - in fact almost every game in the first set and a decent number in the second were quite closely contested. Despite the fact that Murray ended up taking almost every game it doesn't mean they were easy - he definitely fought to win. I think this was largely down to low success rate for Murrays 1st serve - this is going to be a problem as he faces more challenging opponents as the contest progresses. Hopefully Murray has spent his time off today working on getting that 1st serve in more often or he might not make it past his 3rd round record.
This type of story is fairly typical of British media up-playing British interests in the sporting arena. Murray is a damn good Tennis player and he did have some extremely impressive moments yesterday on the way to his win - but it wasn't all great and I think British media has to accept that and reflect it in their reporting. All they're doing is increasing the heavy burden of expectation Murray has been facing since he replaced Tim Henman as British No.1. So far Murray has been doing a great job of meeting that expectation - maybe even exceeding it this season - but as he improves so does the expectation grow. Can't we just quietly trust in his skills? Good Luck man, freedoms_stain, out.

Political Musings, Expenses and Election Outlooks

I'd like to start out by expressing my extreme displeasure towards Blogger who managed to wipe out around half of the original content of this particular entry sometime between its original publication (on Saturday) and my subsequent verification all was as it should be 5 seconds later. What follows is a re-write of the lost material - hopefully I've managed to replicate most of the points I was attempting to make...
This blog is more or less born from the MP expenses scandal that's been hitting the headlines over the last month or so. And honestly I'm surprised the shit hasn't hit the fan on this score much sooner than now especially since "The John Lewis List" was published well over a year ago. This list details the cost that is considered reasonable for goods and items MPs can claim on their second home allowance. The list generated controversy and anger at the time as the prices quoted in the list can hardly be considered representative of best value. Now lets be clear here, MPs conduct most of their business Monday to Friday at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, most of them live primarily in their constituencies, most of which are outside reasonable daily commuter distance. As such many of them require a residence in London so they can attend Parliament. Maintaining two homes is a rather costly endeavour, particularly if one of those is in London, therefore the second home allowance is there to help with the cost. So I'm not saying there should be no second home allowance. The grievance is with what expenses are allowed and how they are used. A quick glance at The John Lewis List reveals some of the "reasonable costs" are a far cry from reasonable. MPs are, for example, entitled to up to £1000 towards the cost of a bed, how reasonable is that? Well, at Ikea bed frames can be obtained for less than £200 and even allowing £200-300 for a high quality mattress the total cost is still far shy of £1000. Another figure that caught my eye as suspiciously high was the £750 allowed for a TV - that'll buy you a stupendously large Full HD TV today, and it leaves me wondering why any MP would need a TV of such size or quality - surely a smaller 20-26 Inch LCD HD ready for £150-300 would be adequate? Investigations into most of the goods MPs are allowed to claim for yield similar results - the quoted reasonable cost is far in excess of what is actually reasonable - allowances are permitted to a level most people would consider luxurious. To further underline this second home allowances can be worth £23,000 a year - a full years wages for the average UK citizen, but to MPs the cost of running a second home alone - tell me that's not excessive or luxurious. Furthermore MPs are allowed to claim up to £400 on food per month without receipts and any goods up to £250 without receipts - it practically begs abuse really. £400 on food per month for a one person? No wonder Prescott is a fucking whale. Some MPs aren't taking criticisms of their expense claims lying down, Lothian MP Michael Connarty reportedly commented "Some people think MPs shouldn't have anything, but where does that end? Are we only allowed to buy things from the 99p store?" when asked about his own expenses which included a clock radio at £249.99, one might suggest that if Mr Connarty had shopped around a bit he may have stumbled across this sexy little number, a steal at <£60, and would also have saved the tax payer the £211 Mr Connarty claimed for his Bose iPod speaker dock. No one is asking you to shop at a 99p store Mr Connarty, you'll find there's actually quite a few intermediares between John Lewis and The 99p Store, we want you to bear in mind you're spending tax payers money and that it's your duty to use that money responsibly. If that means shopping on Amazon for your electrical goods rather than at John Lewis then suck it up or fuck off and get another job. Wank. Another MP who had a bit of bother accepting criticism over the £87,000 over four years he claimed in expenses for his home including a forestry inspection for his trees and guarding his shrubs from rabbits was Tory Anthony Steen who branded such criticisms as "jealousy" - No Mr Steen it's not jealousy, it's incredulity that you seem to think it's OK to spend the national average wage on your gardening every year out of public funds, that you deem this "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred when staying overnight away from your main UK residence". The good news is that Mr Steen will be standing down at the next general election - good riddance - Parliament will be better without individuals as lacking in judgement as he. As frivolous as Connarty and Steens claims may have been they do appear to have been within the rules - largely down to the overly lax shitty nature of said rules - there have been other MPs who have downright abused the system including several who claimed on mortgages they had already paid off or for properties they no longer resided in or owned, others, most famously Hazel Blears have abused the system by claiming second home allowance on properties then avoiding capital gains tax upon the sale of the property by declaring it a primary residence to the Inland Revenue - Ms Blears did pay the capital gains tax back eventually, but only after she was caught out. Other MPs are claiming second home allowance on properties <15 miles away from their primary residence. But as I've said, the rules are shitty and lax, so should MPs be held responsible for any claims they make within the rules even if they seem morally ambiguous? Some MPs have been throwing up their hands and complaining that it's not their fault that the rules are shitty and lax, including my good friend that Wank Michael Connarty who said "We didn't set up this system." - as well that may be Mr Connarty, but if you thought something was wrong with the fact that you were able to claim for a clock radio costing almost £250 without a receipt why didn't you or anyone else raise the issue? You may not have set up the system, but you were damn well in a position to change it and you did fuck all, so suck it up or fuck off and find another job. Wank2. We're probably not going to see the full outcome of this shit stain on British politics until the next general election - at that point we'll see whether the people are actually bothered about this or if it's just the media making a lot of noise to sell newspapers. It's fairly obvious Labour seats are going to take a hit in the next election - they're going to lose a lot of floating voters who typically vote with public opinion and first time voters who'll have largely forgotten the successes Labour had during their first two terms. Lack of confidence in Gordon Brown may even push many longtime Labour supporters away.
The question is who these voters will turn to. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are the next two largest parties, and given the landscape of British politics many voters won't even consider any party outside the big three, so these parties can expect to pick up quite a few voters this election. David Cameron (Cons) and Nick Clegg (Lib Dem) have both been making obvious attempts at attracting attention to themselves - Cameron has been particularly strict with his MPs over the expenses debacle and making noises about reform - something that'll look good to Joe Voter, and Clegg was an instrumental voice in the lead up that resulted in the disposition of Michael Martin from the role of House Speaker citing Martins hesitation to reform the ugly expenses situation - again making himself appear to be pro reform and forward facing. Less importance nationally - but loss of confidence in Labour and "British" parties in general could push more Scottish voters towards SNP in the national elections - Scotland has been traditionally very much a Labour safe haven and loss of any Scottish seats would be a considerable blow to Labours safe-seat base.
Labour may still come out of then next election with the most seats - but I don't think they will have a majority - in fact I don't think any party who wins the highest number of seats will gain a majority - this is likely to mean coalition. Any coalition is likely to be formed between the Lib Dems and either Labour or the Conservatives, just which depends on who best match the Lib Dem ideology at the time - they may also be tempted to go with the party with the lower number of seats to give themselves a larger voice in the coalition and effectively, Government.
Coalition is often viewed as a weak form of government - one that leads to compromise - however it is my belief that a government who is willing to compromise for the greater good of the nation as a whole rather than acting on behalf of their supporters alone (Under the first past-the-post electoral system of the UK it is possible to obtain a majority of seats with a minority of votes, therefore any government elected in such a manner who acts only in the interest of their own supporters is ignoring the majority of the population) may actually produce better results on the whole.
Interestingly I read this today on the BBC, Health Secretary Alan Johnson suggests the UK undergoes a fundamental reform of its political system including electoral reform - including introducing an element of Proportional Representation. This, to me, is a massive step forward for representation in the UK - introducing PR, even just in part would ensure the the number of seats parties hold is more closely tied to the number of votes they receive - this would go a considerable way to making the situation I outlined above a reality.
Parliament better get its shit together, because our fate is very much in their hands for 4-5 years before we get to judge their performance again and give them the boot if need be. Closing note: this re-written version has ended up being quite different to the original, I don't feel as good about it as I did the last one, but it'll have to do.
I've been freedoms_stain, one very concerned British citizen, and I'm out.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Probably Not Moving Any Time Soon.

I speculated about moving to Wordpress last week, after a bit of research however I've decided against it. The issues I was having with Blogger seem to have been largely down to the narrow column width of my previous template and my own inexperience with HTML editing. After a bit of investigation I discovered widening the old template would require the use of custom images so as not to break everything, having no real idea how to go about that and not being all that fond of the template anyway I sought another template instead. So this is what I found- it's called Paperview, it's wider and looks better to these eyes. I do kinda lament the loss of the standard blogger bar at the top, I might see about editing that into this template, although I do like having the RSS links up there - which reminds me, you can subscribe to this blog, either posts or comments (or both) by clicking one of the RSS links at the top of the page. Perhaps I can regain the blogger bar and integrate the new links - showing my HTML n00bery again :s Aside from all that Wordpress just doesn't offer me the features I want. I like that I can embed anything on my blogspot blog and edit the HTML for the layout and use whatever visitor counter I want (there's a visitor counter powered by statcounter on my page) - Wordpress doesn't offer these features, and none of the widgets they do offer appeal very much. So here I will stay, and here I will learn. freedoms_stain, out. P.S. I have an interesting blog on social responsibility in the works - I think it's going to be a 2-parter, I have one part more or less completed, but I don't know if I should make it part 1 or 2, and the remaining part is rather heavy on the science and is gonna take me a while to write. We shall see.

I Got A Sansa Fuze 8GB!

This is my fourth media player, smallest in size, 2nd smallest by capacity and first non-Creative Labs player after a line including the 4GB MuVo2, Zen Touch 20GB and Zen Vision:m 60GB, all decent players although none perfect and all superseded by the relentless march of technology.
The latest player - the Zen Vision:m is a bit of a brick, the battery life isn't great, the battery indicator is worthless and to be perfectly honest the sound quality isn't great. It also has pretty limited audio codec support and came with a proprietary connection slot that required a special adaptor block in order to connect anything to it - including power and computers. I lived with it for over 3 years, time for a change. What I wanted this time round was better battery life, smaller size, better audio codec support and better audio quality. I also wanted a reasonably high capacity storage, however as most manufacturers have transitioned to flash memory based units very high capacity >16-32GB are becoming rarer and more expensive. The Fuze meets most of these requirements, it has a better battery (rated around 25 hours playing mp3 @ 128kbs) far smaller, probably somewhere between a third and a quarter the volume of the zen vision:m, supports loads of audio codecs (including Ogg Vorbis: the one I want to use), and is rated favourably among critics and users in terms of sound quality. The issue with the Fuze is capacity, it comes in internal capacities of 2, 4 and 8GB, that's pretty small and a big step down from the Zen, which (just) fit my entire mp3 collection. The Fuze saving grace in this respect is its micro SDHC expansion slot allowing you to increase the capacity of your unit by up to 32GB (theoretically as 32GB micro SDHC cards aren't readily available yet) - this gives a max theoretical capacity of 40GB, and a practical max capacity of 24GB given currently available cards. Additionally, unlike most other players with expansion slots the Fuze combines its internal and external memories into a single library thereby allowing easier navigation of songs and removing the necessity to remember where songs are before you can find them. After a couple of days use I do have my pros and cons for the player pros: Sounds great Menu navigation is smooth Solid construction Rubberised back - less prone to scratches Replay gain support Ogg Vorbis support Good battery life cons: Volume is a little lower than I'd like Issues with playlist syncing in MSC mode Power/hold slider is difficult to slide Internal battery Attracts dust like a mother fucker The playlist thing was a right pain in the arse, I used MediaMonkey to sync a bunch of playlists to the device - the files copied over and the playlists appeared in the playlists folder - but the playlists were empty. It turned out to be something to do with the way the Fuze interprets the file paths it requires they be relative, MM was sending them absolute. The fix for this was simple - move the playlists into the root folder, add an M3U header and delete the first / from each file path - simple, but ridiculously fucking time consuming. Turns out that using MTP mode gives you no such guff so fuck MSC I'm using MTP until Sansa sort out MSC mode. I'm in the process of adding replay gain tags to all my media to iron out the relative differences in volumes between tracks, which I found much more noticeable on the Fuze than I did with previous players. One of the other cool features of the Fuze is that Sansa are pretty active on improving the firmware periodically adding new features, improvements and bug fixes: for example support for Ogg and flac formats were the result of firmware updates as was the players support for replay gain tagging. Incidentally I got this from Currys via their online Reserve & Collect system, they had the 8GB Fuze + included 4GB micro SDHC card for £64.99 on their website (the 8GB Fuze alone was £69.99!) and my local Currys had it in stock, so I went for it. Using Reserve & Collect Currys are obliged to sell you goods at the online price too - which is nice given the over-inflated pricing of their retail stores. So yeah, the Sansa Fuze, nice little media player for those looking for something small that sounds great and has great codec support. Video playback is shit by the way. freedoms_stain, out.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Movies: Stephen Kings The Dark Tower

Given Stephen Kings history of screen adaptations of his work it should really come as no surprise that The Dark Tower is up for a screen adaptation - but somehow it does. Before I even heard that this was in the works (which was actually some time last year) I had considered the practicalities of bringing this work to screen. First off there's scale - Seven books of varying length. The Gunslinger, the first novel is rather short but even it could easily make a 90-120 minute film, although I think it could - with harsh edits - be brought down to a 30-45 minute section of a longer film. If they decided to go with a faithful adaptation of the books they'd probably need a bare minimum of seven films, however if they decided to cut out certain parts of the story or even alter the core story significantly then they could conceivably bring it down to as few as a single film. I think this is pretty unlikely for the simple reason that King would never agree to let Rolands story be butchered in such a fashion - not after he spent 30 years of his life on it. So I'm thinking this is going to have to be a fairly faithful rendition - which means long. That to me almost excludes film as a medium. The Dark Tower was successful, but less so at its conclusion than it's height around The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands, which I think would make any prospective film studio wary of committing the massive budget an ambitious project such as a full Dark Tower film adaptation would require. So if not Film what about TV? A TV adaptation with the quality of the modern Battlestar Galactica re-imagining would probably be a good fit for The Dark Tower. Now we hit upon the issue of time scale. There's a 12 year old character who appears in the story from start to finish. If you're going to make a reasonably long running TV series then your kid is going to grow up and that can be kind of an issue. Perhaps less so for The Dark Tower whose 12 year old - Jake- is portrayed as maturing before his time, so they might be able to get away with having a 15 year old kid playing a 12 year old by the end of the story. I thought realistically if they wanted to bring The Dark Tower to the screen it'd have to be a high quality animated piece - I thought something along the stylistic and quality levels of Afro Samurai:
Well, that's what made sense to me. But it looks like that isn't what's going to happen. It turns out that J.J. Abrams, director of TV series Lost is attached to direct The Dark Tower in whatever form it eventually turns up in. Given Abrams extensive filmography in both film and TV it could swing either way. I think I'd prefer a TV series - I think that would work best for this particular series of books. It carries less risk of hacking the story to pieces to maintain some sort of misguided attempt at turning this into a pure action movie, stringing along the various action sequences from the books while cutting out all the character and story development in between. Given Abrams work on Lost we know he's not afraid to temper the pace for the good of the story so in that respect I see him as a good choice for director. Finally, there is one more question that burns in my mind: Who will play Roland Deschain, The Last Gunslinger of Gilead? From the books it's clear that Roland was heavily based on the character "The Man With No Name" as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the "Dollars" Western movies and Eastwood would probably have made a perfect Roland 30 or 40 years ago, however as he stands today at 78 years old he's unfortunately not suitable to play the part of the slim-hipped middle-aged Gunslinger portrayed in the novels. While watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine last weekend there was one particular moment where Hugh Jackman sort of looks up and left over his shoulder with his face creased in a sort of half-frown which bore startling similarity (in my mind) to the expression Eastwood often bore in the Dollars films and I thought "Holy shit! Hugh Jackman could play Roland!". The more I thought about it the more I thought it made sense, he's the right age - in his 40's, he has the right build - muscular but not monstrously built, still quite slim in the hips - a feature highlighted in Roland physique and he can produce that sort of quietly confident gravelly voice. The only physical feature Jackman lacks is those Blue Bombardier Eyes of Roland, this can be pretty easily overcome via contacts though. The Dark Tower wikipedia entry currently lists Christian Bale as the "top contender" for the role - something I'm not opposed to given Bale's dedication to his work. Considering Bale is a major movie actor throwing his name into the mix veers the slider further over to the "film" slot than TV, although I doubt Bale would object to filming for TV if the pay was right. Everything about this is speculation right now, the wikipedia entry suggests work won't even start until Abrams finishes with lost next year in 2010, but speculating is fun. Maybe one day the studio behind Afro Samurai will make my deepest Dark Tower wishes come true and maybe not. Only time will tell. freedoms_stain, out.

Gaming: Plants Vs Zombies

This is another massively entertaining game by PopCap, the developers that brought you Peggle. Plants Vs Zombies is in essence a twist on the classic Tower Defence genre, a free demo is available from Steam that allows you to play 60 minutes of the full game (requires Steam install). The PopCap strategy here is faultless, thet give you 60 minutes of the full game confident that you'll be reeled in by the addictive gameplay (any half decent tower defence game gets insanely addictive), after your 60 minutes are up they give you the option to unlock and continue from where you left off by purchasing the game for a mere £6.99 - so when I was given that option I took it - and you will too :D The basis of the game is simple, Zombies are out for your brains, they will assault your house in an effort to get their teeth sunk into them. Your only defence against the zombie horde is your vast array of garden plants, each of which has a different function in the fight against the Zoms. If you've played a tower defence game before you'll be able to draw parallels between many of the plants available and the types of defence tower typically available in tower defence games - basic attack units and upgrades, units that slow down the invaders, barriers the invaders need to destroy or have special properties to get past, aerial specific units, trap units and mass damage units. But PvZ is no ordinary tower defence game, because it's all about the plants and the zombies! The game switches the basic gameplay around by throwing new classes of zombies, new classes of plant, changing the battlefield and modifying it. Ok, so the battlefield is a house, so far I have fought the zombies on the front garden, the back garden (with pool!) and the roof in both day and night. The significance of the time of day reflects on what plants are available to you - you need "sun power" to grow new plants, however with no sun at night you're reliant on special plants that can create sun, as such you have less sun power available for growing your defences, but that's ok as the mushroom classes of plant are optimised for night scenarios, the really low powered ones can even be grown for free. Which part of the house also plays a part, the front garden is just a flat grassy plane, although in later attacks it'll develop grave stones toward the zombie end that take up planting room (though these can be destroyed with a special plant) the back garden is the same but with a pool taking up the middle 2 lanes (of 6), you need to plant a lily pad in the pool before you can plant any land plants and there are some water-specific plants available. additionally the back garden can become misty and the mist grows deeper as the rounds wear on obscuring your view of the oncoming zombies and limiting your effectiveness against them although again there is a special plant that can temporarily blow back the mist. The roof is vastly different, 1st off there's no grass so you need plant pots to grow anything - and the zombies can eat your plant pots as well as they can eat your plants so that adds another dimension to your defence. The roof is also sloped so you need special arc-shooters to actually hit the zombies as they come across the flat top of the roof - you can buy more plant pots to put on the flat of the roof and built straight shooters though. There may be other scenarios, I've yet to come across any though. The regular attack stages are punctuated by special rounds consisting of stages like "walnut bowling" which requires you to defeat waves of zombies by the sole use of bowling walnuts and exploding walnuts at them, there's another round where the field consists a multitude of breakable urns, some urns contain plants to use in defence, others contain zombies that attack your house. Another sends hoards of zombies at you while presenting you with a limited choice of plants which roll along a conveyor belt at the top of the screen, it's then up to you to choose the best way to use them. There are various other puzzles and challenges available out-with the main game, some of them are versions of the in-game special rounds, others are completely new, such as one that puts you in the roll of the zombies where eating sunflowers gives you the sun power to create more zombies. All in all Plants Vs Zombies is enormous fun for all - particularly tower defence fans, there's literally days of entertainment here - check it out, remember - the first hour is free . freedoms_stain, out.

Re: The VenomFangX "thing"

About a week or so ago I speculated (rather long-windedly)on the reasons VFX may have quit YouTube suggesting he was getting out of there before the water got to hot around his "donations" dealings. Had I investigated a bit more thoroughly at the time I may have come across this series of videos by a YouTuber previously unknown to me by the name of lordhathor. This guy took a more active role in investigating the nature of the VFX donation scam, he even went as far as reporting VFX to the charity he claimed he was donating to. The charity seemed to have no knowledge of VFX and pledged to take legal action against him as he was essentially using their charity to trick people into giving him money and attaching stipulations that would enable him to keep the vast majority if not the entirety of the money donated. lordhathor even discovered that VFX had been distributing standard letters to many donators to be returned to him with their own information substituted in various key fields that would waive VFX of any obligation to donate any portion of their donation to him to the actual charity - very underhanded one might agree. So it looks like I was close - i.e. it was scam related - but missed how serious the matter had gotten. This really rather suggests to me that the internet has seen the last of VenomFangX, and honestly I think the www is better off without the kind of ignorance he spreads and the lies he tells. Every turd has to be flushed eventually. freedoms_stain, out.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Space - The Final Frontier...

Yup, it's a Star Trek blog!
Since1 1966 Star Trek has been through 5 iterations to varying success, and after the mediocre ratings of most of those made post-TNG and the cancellation of the latest iteration - Enterprise starring Scott Bakula - someone at Paramount decided a reboot was necessary and thus Star Trek 2009 was born
***WARNING: Spoilers Ahead*** So, a reeboot eh? How did they go about that? Did they do it Battlestar Galactica 2003-esque and simply "re-imagine" the whole thing or did they take a more Star Trekky approach and use time travel to create an alternate time-line which would fundamentally alter the Star Trek universe as we know it - hmmmmmmmm I wonder. Yeah, they went with the time travel. The back (or forward) story is that some 200-ish years in the future (from the *present* of the film - i.e. James T, Kirks formative years) a super nova is about to kick off that will destroy Romulus (maybe the galaxy too, I forget). Spock of the future promises the Romulans he can save their planet with his bad ass black-hole forming red matter device, however he arrives too late and Romulus is destroyed. When Spock turns up he encounters a Romulan mining ship commanded by a now disgruntled fellow named Nero who is rather pissed with Spock and The Federation at large for (what he perceives as) fucking over his planet (which had his family on it). Spock still has a super nova to stop though and he fires his bad ass black-hole thingy which causes some mad shit to happen that sucks Neros ship and his own into the past. Nero's ship goes through first and proceeds to attack the shit out of a Federation ship - a Federation ship whose First Officer just happens to be one George Kirk, a George Kirk whose pregnant wife also happens to be on board. Events unfold and Kirk ends up commanding the ship, the plan is to have the ship engage their attackers on auto-pilot while the shuttle craft escape with the crew and passengers - unfortunately the auto-pilot dies on its arse and Kirk is forced to pilot the ship manually to his valiant end to allow the crew - including his wife and unborn child to escape. The child is born in the shuttle and before his ship is destroyed George Kirk gets to name his son - Jim. So that sets up the basic difference between new James T. Kirk and original James T. Kirk - noob Kirk grows up without a father, and is portrayed as a rebellious, cocky and brash young man as a result, but retains the strong intelligence of and wilful streak of his original. When we first come across Kirk as a young man he's a loser going nowhere, hitting on girls in a bar and picking fights with Starfleet cadets. Said fight is broken up by Captain Christopher Pike (with Kirk on the wrong end of an arse kicking by this point). Pike upon discovering who Kirk is (or rather who his father was) and the impressiveness of Kirks aptitude tests (off the charts dontcha know) urges him to join up with Starfleet - which of course he does. Re-enter Nero, it's like 20 years since he shot up Kirks dad and now he's back, he has Spocks bad ass black-hole-a-ma-jig and he plans to use it on Vulcan (revenge for Romulus, see?) - and shock-shock-horror-horror he succeeds! Although not before a heroic (though failed) attempt by a cadet crewed Enterprise captained by Christopher Pike. So yet more difference - Vulcan gets destroyed! Nero sets his sights on Earth (having taken Pike prisoner), Spock and Kirk have a disagreement that leads to Kirk being ejected from the ship onto a nearby snow planet. Kirk meets up with future Spock who dishes him the gravy on Nero and the time travel shit and they meet up with Montgomery Scott at a remote Federation outpost on this planet. They then use some magic transporter trix (that Scotty hasn't even invented yet - courtesy of future-Spock) to get back on the Enterprise, Kirk forces Spock out of the captaincy via emotional blackmail (and getting punched in the face a lot) assumes the captaincy and launches a crazy counter-attack on Nero - to ultimate success (obviously) Hey-presto Kirk is given full captaincy of the Enterprise and the credits roll. All in all it was a fairly average flick - I think it'd have been waaaaaaay better if they'd done a proper reboot rather than incorporating a crazy time travel aspect that ultimately achieved the same freakin result - but that wouldn't be the Star Trek way. Really they could have had everything that happened in the film happen without time travel. They could have made the focus conflict with the Romulans - The Romulans could have been responsible for George Kirks death and they could have destroyed Vulcan. It'd probably have made for a better storyline, and it'd set the scene for future conflicts with the Romulans - who, lets face it, are pretty much always complete wanks anyway. I don't know where they plan t go from here, and really they could go anywhere, which is I suppose what they wanted. I just hope they leave time travel alone for a bit - I'll be fucking pissed if the next film features a time travelling Jean-Luc Picard trying to save the future by changing the past or stupid shit like that. freedoms_stain, out.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Considering moving to Wordpress

Blogger is kinda doing my nut in, formatting goes wonky all over the place, text sizes fuck up and when I post from GoogleDocs line breaks are inserted all over the place. Thinking of trying put WordPress, we'll see how it goes.

Ginger Live

Ivory Blacks, Glasgow, 12th of May 2009, 9.15pm, singer, song writer, guitar player and frontman of The Wildhearts Ginger hits the stage with his solo band for an evening of music, fun, banter, and drunken Glaswegians. Ivory Blacks is a tiny place, the band has to travel directly through the crowd to reach the stage, they're hailed with riotous applause and when it dies down Ginger tells the crowd "Just pretend we haven't come on yet" and proceeds to tune his guitar, which earns a laugh from the crowd and more or less sets the tone for the evening - it's a small gig, relaxed atmosphere, the crowd is here to enjoy themselves and so is he. The band fire up their instruments and the gig begins... I've been a fan of Gingers main musical endeavour - The Wildhearts - for a scant few years, first hearing them through Pandora internet radio some time in 2006 before Pandora were forced to close
their doors to the UK market due to excessive royalty demands by the music industry (surprise surprise). I ended up buying everything HMV on Oxford Street in London had by The Wildhearts on a shopping trip, those plus a CD called "Valor Del Corazon" by Ginger himself that happened to have been filed along with The Wildhearts material. There are differences and similarities between the solo stuff and the band stuff, the main similarity is the harmonised vocals - a staple of The Wildhearts and a tool Ginger continues to use on his solo material. The main difference is the overall style and influences. The Wildhearts are a rock band, often bordering on hard rock, Ginger solo still has a rock vibe, but with strong influences from American folk and country music among other genres including "American big band". Ginger himself commenting on the difference between The Wildhearts and his solo endeavours was that The Wildhearts was where he went when he wrote a strong riff driven song - sort of indicative of the different approaches taken.

Despite the differences I think Gingers solo music really kicks arse, it's got an energy and exhibits a very strong sing-a-long compulsion. Getting a hold of Gingers stuff online ain't easy, so check out his myspace player and at the bottom of the blog there's a youtube playlist of some cool Ginger related vids I found, check em out.

I think the only thing left to mention was how banteriffic the show was – the small size of the venue allowed easy communication between the band and the audience, and from the Wildhearts shows I've been to in the past I know Ginger is quite a chatty guy on stage. Banter highlights included a newly engaged couple requesting Ginger dedicate a new song he was about to play to them, Ginger agrees saying: "OK, this one is called 'Turn around and walk away now while there's still time' - nah it's not" Which earned a laugh. At another point Ginger thanked us for coming and told us he thought he'd never had a bad gig in Glasgow to which he received the reply "Aye ye huv!" much to his shock, although when reminded of the gig in question he agreed "What, the hotel? And the crowd were like here *motions to head* Aye that was fuckin awful like".

Ginger informed us with some reservation that there would be no Wildhearts songs performed that evening - which received a mixture off Woos and Boos - later when the crowd started calling out requests for solo material Ginger proclaimed us coolest crowd of the tour as no other crowd had requested any solo stuff, which was cool :)At another bizarre moment a rather drunken guy behind us tried to tell Ginger he was playing a gig in his hometown (of Newcastle) and if he knew the place, however Ginger couldn't understand the drunken ramblings other than it was about Newcastle, although from his musings on the place it's pretty clear his opinion of the place isn't particularly high and his frequency of visits is low. The poor guy probably felt a bit embarrassed, but hey, that's what you get for trying to ask overly complicated questions while pished.
In a first for me at a gig Ginger was actually forced to break up a fight in the front row - no idea what the beef was about but it seemed one guy was pushing another, Ginger made them shake hands and said "See how you feel after this one" proceeding to play one of my favourite songs he's ever written - "Mother City" a song about New York - his adopted home.
The band left stage before an encore - as is customary, however this particular stage doesn't really have a back stage for them to retreat to, just a bit to the side that is largely obscured (but far from completely) by a speaker stack. Realising this Ginger comes back on stage immediately and muses on the matter "This is ridiculous, we're just sitting over there *points* and you can see us" at which point we look over to where the rest of the band are sitting grinning at us and waving, so Ginger asks us to turn around and pretend the back of the place is the front for a minute and asks us to turn around, then when we turn back the band are on and he's all "We're back! Hey!" They played another two songs and that was it - thoroughly enjoyable show - can't wait til later in the year when they release some new shit. Bring it on Mr Ginger!
In-gig picture credits go to my wonderful girlfriend Helen.

Monday, 11 May 2009

X-Men Origins - Wolverine

I saw this film last night, and although I've heard a great number of largely bad things about it I thought it wasn't enormously bad. ***WARNING: Spoilers ahead*** The only real beef I have with it is that it's pretty radically different to the original Marvel story. This is pretty much the same beef I have with most of the modern Marvel movie adaptations - and the X-men franchise has proven to be a prime offender. First off, Victor Creed and Logan are portrayed as brothers - that's a new one, it has its basis in the Wolverine Origins book but in that book the character "Dog Logan" who the movie has turned into Victor Creed was not related to Logan and they never had any sort of brotherly bond, rather they were enemies from a young age as Dog Logan attempted to molest the young Logans minder. Next I think they thoroughly botched Wolverines life in the early-mid 20th century as a "super soldier" for various government agencies and everything to do with Silver Fox and the Weapon X program. Wolverine is portrayed as willingly accepting the adamantium graft while all other Wolverine depictions indicate he was captured by Weapon X and forcibly grafted with adamantium. Furthermore Wolverines lost memories are attributed to adamantium bullets destroying part of his brain post-adimantium graft while other versions of the story indicate that the Weapon X program tampered with his memory before this. The Wolverine of the movie is never grafted with the Weapon X control system (which we see Deadpool being controlled by during the final action sequences) while the comic book versions do depict Wolverine being "tested" with an electronic control system. The relationship with Silver Fox was pretty fucked up - it has its similarities and its differences, yes the whole thing was a set up, but in the movie Silver Fox was motivated to lie to Logan because Weapon X held her sister captive - in the comic story she was just another part of Weapon X the same as Logan. Furthermore the movie Silver Fox doesn't appear to be Native American as the original was depicted. I suppose you've got to bear in mind that "this" version of Wolverine is supposed to click with the version portrayed in the modern X-Men movies, and therefore they can take whatever liberties they like with Wolverines back story (since they've already taken substantial liberties with plenty of other characters bios (including Rogue, The Phoenix, Iceman and pretty much evey other character thus far). But one can't help but feel disappointed that the story has altered to such a degree that it's rather inferior to what was already written. Not the way to win over fans, but that's the way it is. freedoms_stain, out.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

"You can be too Liberal"... O rly?

In a discussion I had recently about Australia I made a comment along the lines of "I don't think I could live in Australia because of their strict censorship" to which I received the reply "Oh I don't know, you can be too Liberal". And this made me really think about censorship and how people perceive it.
I am of the opinion that government censorship of certain forms of media is flat out bullshit. I cannot fathom why anyone other than myself - a full grown adult may I add - should be allowed to decide what I can and can't watch, read or play.
Really there should be no need for it,if something contains extremes of violence, gore or sexuality there should be labels or ratings that warn what levels of what are present and people can decide for themselves if they want to view/read/play that sort of thing.
The common complaint against this kind of view is "Where do we draw the line?", conservatives become worried that Liberal outlooks will result in some sort of amoral society where violence, theft, sexual assault and child abuse become accepted, "legal" and common place. These fears are, I believe, unfounded as the "Liberal outlook" has another central tenet: "Your rights end where mine begin". The idea is that you can do anything you like as long as you aren't infringing anothers right to do what they like, therefore any form of abuse on an individual of any age or gender remains unacceptable and criminal, as does theft of property.
It's not a hard concept and it is indeed a fair concept. The government aren't there to police our thoughts, so why are we letting them?
freedoms_stain, out.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The VenomFangX "thing"

If you don't know who venomfangx is - lucky you. VFX is, or rather was a YouTube user, Christian and Young Earth Creationist. A YEC in an individual who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible including the 7 day creation story in Genesis and that the Earth is not more than 10,000 years old (and typically somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 years at that). VFX was a particularly militant breed of YEC and his entire YouTube channel was dedicated to the rejection of any ideologies and scientific concepts that YEC's typically view as a threat or contradiction to their own views. His channel became insanely popular on YouTube attracting flocks of Christians desperate to affirm their views and multitudes of chagrined atheists pissed at his unethical misrepresentation of facts and the censored way he conducted his channel. That VFX ever amassed any popularity at all is on first inspection mind boggling, his entire output consisted of copying - often verbatim - long debunked YEC pseudo scientific propaganda from sources like Kent Hovind. What's important to note here is that the material presented by Kent Hovind has been looooooooong debunked. Hovind claims to have a phd and have taught highschool science for years, thus placing himself in a position of authority to attack scientific principals, however he bought his phd from a diploma mill and his blatant poor understanding of any scientific principals calls his claims of teaching science into some doubt - surely a science teacher would know what the letters A,T, G and C signify in relation to DNA? Kent Hovind does not. Much of Hovinds evidence and examples that contradict concepts like Evolution are extremely obscure and taken at face value might make one have second thoughts about the status of Evolution as the primary explanation for the diversity of life, however a group of dedicated individuals at have amassed a database of common Creationist claims and thoroughly run them through, complete with full referencing. Hovind brandishes the weapon of ignorance and preys on the faith of his victims. VFX picked up the weapon where Hovind dropped it and continued the onslaught. One may wonder how VFX amassed any followers at all if his arguments were known to carry no weight before he even made them, and the answer to that question is the afore mentioned censorship of his YouTube channel. VFX personally approves or denies every single comment made on every single one of his videos allowing only those comments which agree with him or praise him to be displayed - he also disables ratings on his videos (after he has given himself a couple of 5 star ratings of course) and refuses any video responses to his videos that contradict his stance. The cumulative effect of all this censorship is that all VFX videos appear highly rated and apparently no one disagrees with him or criticises his output. VFX more or less ignores all videos made in response to his own, but has on occasion dabbled in the odd video war with another user or two. These are usually tiresome affairs where VFX attempts to deflect the discussion from science (an arena he has no genuine knowledge or understanding in) in favour of ideology and philosophy where he engages in endless circular and faulty lines of reasoning often taking parts of his opponents videos in isolation and out of context and thereby losing the meaning. And now he's gone. Apparently the parents of Mr X received some sort of threatening letter (which VFX claims is of Muslim origin) and he has been forced to delete his channel to protect his dear family. Not sure if I believe this, in fact I flat out don't believe this because he pulled the exact same shitty ass tactic last year and returned something like 3 days later having deleted most of his Hovind rip-offs and embarking on a line of reasoning based on the faulty assertions of the "Intelligent Design" movement. This time I'm not doubting if he'll be back - I don't think he will be, but I am doubting the reason. The real reason for his departure I suspect has to do with his recent donation scandal. VFX asked his subscribers if they could donate $500 per month to support his proposed "street ministry" (an endeavour which seemed to basically consist of VFX engaging in bouts of circular logic with hapless students). VFX asked for $500 dollars (this on the back of asking his subscribers to provide him with a new video camera some months before) - but requested each donation be $1 each which he deemed to be an appropriate amount - Therefore VFX would track how many donations he received each week and all the money he received over 500 donations would go to charity. However this system left somewhat of a loophole in the "rules" - people weren't limited to $1 donations and the comments of his videos indicated he was receiving donations far in excess of the $1, so VFX could conceivably obtain far in excess of $500 of donations while remaining well short of 500 actual donations and according to his "rules" be allowed to keep all the money whether it be $10 or $10,000. There was a lot of noise on YouTube from VFX critics criticising the donation scheme and VFX made some very weak videos defending his position claiming that $500 wasn't enough to "support his ministry" after all and that the intervention of atheists would prevent him from reporting how much money he was donating to charity, which smelled a bit shitty in my humble opinion. So I'm thinking that this has more to do with bugging out with the money before his supporters start to get overly suspicious about where their money is going and start sending some genuine letters to his parents rather than anything to do with Muslim threats. Still, part of me wouldn't be surprised if he came back tomorrow with a brand new line of faulty logic to dribble into the brains of those not willing to think or research for themselves. freedoms_stain, out.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

L4D Noob

Months after actually purchasing Left4Dead waaaaay back when Steam had it on sale the first time I decided to actually play the game last night.
1st noob mistake - not checking the controls before entering an online game. I actually thought "better check the controls before I start", then I didn't. Fortunately my super 1337 FPS skills prevented insta-pwnage - and the basic zombies drop like flies so that was cool. Unfortunately I hadn't a clue how to use med packs or anything else that required anything more complicated than shooting. Some furtive glances through the control menus and I figured out some shit like picking stuff up (and there were some handy on-screen tips), other stuff like med packs and pills I pretty much had to stumble upon myself. 2nd noob mistake - letting the game choose a match "at my level". Yeah, although I'm a L4D noob I'm certainly no FPS noob - I'm not "1337" (ok I lied before :() but I can hold my own. So I let the game match me up a suitable game, and since I'd never played before it stuck me in a noob game with a bunch of noobs at low difficulty. It's rare I come top in the end of level stats for online games - that's how I know things were a bit too easy and my fellow players not too great. Actually there was one dude who seemed to know what he was doing, he usually came 2nd in the stats :p, so, lesson learned, plump for a minimum of medium difficulty. 3rd noob mistake - Agitating "The Witch". There's a special class of enemy called The Witch, near as I can tell there's one per stage of each scenario - The Witch cries and moans like a little girl and huddles up in corners, she'll leave you alone as long as you don't attack her or agitate her with your flashlight. I agitated her more than once I must confess. To be fair though I also contributed the most damage to taking her down each time too. L4D is actually a pretty decent co-op zombie survival sim, there's lots of little nuances that make you think "nice!". Using med kits for example requires you to stop for several seconds while it's applied, a bit more realistic than the insta-heal most games utilise for their med kits, and it adds to the game dynamic as you need to wait for a lull in the action or find a safe spot to apply the kit. The game is co-op, so it's in your own interest to keep your team alive as they might be the difference between your own survival or becoming zombie food - as such you can choose to use your med kit on team mates rather than yourself - another nifty mechanic is that injured players move slower which is added incentive to use your kit on them as slower players are less useful in most situations. Aside from the co-op related innovations the game is otherwise a fairly standard FPS, but the co-op is what makes it fun. It's much better if you've got a mic or headset, the team can communicate better and you get a better sense that you're playing with real people rather than bots. If I had to criticise the game I'd probably ask for some more interesting weapons, the choice is meagre; pistol, dual pistol, shotgun, machine gun, assault rifle, sniper rifle. And besides the meagre choice you're only allowed to carry the pistol/dual pistol plus a single one of the others. I suppose they sort of went for realism on that scale - the weapons are all real and they're fairly likely to be found in the settings the game puts you in, but me, I like unrealistic fantasy weapons. Interestingly my headset worked perfectly with L4D over Steam after my GoW issues with the same device over GFWL. Makes the fact that it works so poorly with GFWL all that more strange and annoying. Anyone fancies a game I'm freedoms_stain on Steam, and I'm out.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

DRM Grabbing My Goat

Piracy is a big problem in the PC gaming world, I think a visit to any torrent site would highlight this, in order to tackle the problem many publishers are turning to DRM (Digital Rights Management, or Digital Restrictions Management to its critics). The idea of DRM is simple - restrict the use of the end product in some way that will prevent piracy. Simple, right? Admirable, right? Wrong. Some forms of DRM are ok-ish, Steam for example requires that you register the game with them and it is then bound to your account. From this point you could throw away the disc if you want as you are now entitled to download the full game from the Steam servers at any time and install or uninstall it to as many computers you want so long as Steam is installed too. Steam will even let you make a hard copy of the game should you ever lose or break the original. Some people are still upset that they have to register the product online at all, but when you consider the alternatives Steam looks like a freakin amazing DRM deal. Other forms of DRM are horribly restrictive. SecuROM for example is classed as a rootkit by security experts and has been known to interfere with disc drives, preventing not only burning, but even reading normal discs, which is pretty unacceptable in my humble opinion. SecuROM is coupled with an online registration system like Steam, but unlike Steam carries an install limit - typically 5. Some Publishers offer this in a "simultaneous installs" manner, i.e. you can have the game installed on 5 machines simultaneously and uninstalling it gives you an install back - annoying but at least you can in effect install the game as many times as you like - albeit on a limited number of machines at any one time - for most people 1 simultaneous install is enough. However, other Publishers have made it so you can have 5 installs of the game maximum. The restrictiveness of this policy should be instantly clear. You might wonder if you'd ever use 5 installs in a lifetime, maybe you won't, but some people might and others definitely will. One may need to free disc space, get a new computer or format an existing computer thereby losing an install every time one of these actions is performed. Some PC users format their computer several times in a single year, therefore this sort of DRM means they are throwing their money away, or being forced to beg the publisher for another install - both completely unacceptable outcomes. The hardcore elite of PC gamers also like to keep their gaming rig internet free to protect it from various forms of online nasties - forcing them to connect to the internet to validate a game they've already paid for is again unacceptable The real kicker about DRM is that it isn't effective - it doesn't halt piracy in the slightest. Check your favourite torrent engine for some games bearing DRM, they can all be found on there with their DRM cracked and bypassed. This essentially means that DRM is having no effect on pirates but IS affecting the honest gamers who paid hard cash for their games. Note that I said DRM can be cracked and bypassed. If you own a DRM'd game and are concerned about running out of installs I would suggest you seek out the DRM bypasses for that game and free your software. And any games publishers or developers who might stumble across this blog - DRM is fine if you find a way to do it right, but at the moment you're failing hard, and you must know it. freedoms_stain, out.

Monday, 4 May 2009

30p to Pee, Andy Murray at No. 3! (amongst other things)

I haven't had time to make any entries this weekend so I'm just going to splurge right here, right now... If you've visited any major Network rail station in the last decade or so you're well aware of the fact that there's a toll for using the toilet facilities, presumably because unlike local station toilets the major station toilets are permanently manned. I wouldn't mind the fee if this ensured the manned toilets were kept in decent order, toilet paper and soap dispensers never empty, pee cleaned off the floor and toilet seats, blocked and unflushed toilets unblocked and flushed and broken locks and hand dryers quickly repaired. But that doesn't seem to happen in most of them. The staff manning the toilets appear to be there to make sure people don't jump the turnstile and actual maintenance of the bathrooms appears secondary. Glasgow Central and Queen Street rank among the worst in my experience, particularly Queen Street which has a permanent unwavering stench of pee and frequent pools of fuck-knows-what at random intervals on the floor. So, Network Rail, earn our 30p's or make it free to pee! Turns out that Novak Djokovic's loss to Nadal at the Rome Masters this past weekend will see him swap places with Andy Murray this week despite Murrays inferior results in the last 2 tournaments (I declined to comment on Murrays exit from Rome at the time as it was just too painful :(). Anyhoo, Djokovics loss will put Murray at No.3 and make him the first British man in the history of the rankings to reach the No.3 spot. Murray was the tour leader until very recently and is obviously having a great season thus far. Fingers crossed for the upcoming Grand Slams of the year. My girlfriends flat was burgled a few weeks ago and the insurance company coughed up a replacement laptop last week. It actually exceeds the specs on her stolen one (which was only a few months old) in many respects, which is pretty cool. One of the things that interested me about it was that it came pre-installed with Google Desktop. I like the idea of Google Desktop, which is essentially a search engine for your computer files coupled with a desktop widget engine. I already have Windows Search on my computer which is decent, however its recognition of file types is limited. For example Ogg Vorbis and flac files aren't recognised as music and open document format files aren't recognised as documents without installation of additional Ifilters, I've been looking but thus far I can't find an Ifilter that'll pick up ogg or flac as music files or read the vorbis comments. Looking for Windows Search Ifilters I found an interesting Windows addition in the form of Audioshell which adds additional tabs in the properties of several types of media file to allow the reading and editing of metadata for file types not natively supported by Windows. Useful for Vorbis and flac users like myself. Back to Google Desktop, although it has plugins that would allow me to correctly index all my files and the widget engine I feel slightly wary of letting Google directly into my computer. They claim they'll never access anything I don't allow them to in their privacy policy, but Google also mandate that the privacy policy is subject to change without notification - which is a little worrying. It's less of an issue with the other services of theirs I use because I choose not to allow anything too sensitive to get around on those, however my personal computer does contain private information I don't want to share with unknowns. I might try it out anyway and keep my nose to the ground for privacy issues. Also I managed to pick up an In Flames CD I didn't have for £3 in Fopp today - nice :D Incidentally I've been watching the Max Payne film while I type this and it's painfully shite.