Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Fuck Motion Control, It's The Falcon!

Last week I noticed a bunch of my Steam games got updates - all Orange Box titles and thus quite old and beyond what one would have thought was "update age", thus my curiosity was piqued and I had to investigate what this update brought. "Support for the Novint Falcon" - what, new gun? thinks I, but a quick google search revealed that it was in fact the contraption you see at the head of the blog.

And I think it's freakin awesome.

It looks somewhat like a robot fighting off a gun, which actually turns out to be not too far from the fact of the matter. It's actually a mouse replacement game controller currently for PC, the pistol grip is an optional extra for use in shooters. The Falcon is in essence a robot, the arms detect position much like a mouse but on a curved vertical plane rather than the flat horizontal plane of a mouse, where the Falcon betters the mouse (and where the robotics come in) is in force feedback. For console and gamepad gamers force feedback is old hat, but for the more conservative mouse + keyboard PC gamers its a feature that has been pretty much lacking without investing in some sort of gaming chair. Of course gamepads supporting force feedback are available on the PC platform, but they sacrifice a lot in speed and accuracy that most PC gamers find unacceptable, particularly for online gaming where such a sacrifice is likely to result in a lot of pwnage - Novint claim an experienced Falcon user could match performance of a mouse user.

The method feedback is enormously superior to that of the traditional gamepad (which more or less purrs with varying force and duration), the arms of the Falcon actually push, pull and jerk against the grip of the user to produce weapon recoil and, more impressively, directional damage feedback. The weapon recoil is a cool feature, but the directional damage feature is revolutionary. The traditional methods of damage feedback usually involve on-screen indicators coupled with (on a gamepad) a burst of purr. The Falcon gives the player a more immersive experience by indicating via feedback where the fuck some bastard is killing them from.

The Falcon for me adds that sense of involvement the current crop of consoles are looking to provide via motion control, but in a more practical way for "real" gamers who want to feel that involvement, but not give up the level of control and feedback they're used to experiencing that waggling a wiimote simply can't provide.

The biggest problem I see with the Falcon is that it's currently only available in the USA, which sucks, but I read somewhere they're looking into expanding across the globe in the near future - which is good news. The next biggest problem I see is the price - it currently sits at $149 US for the Falcon/Pistol grip package, a straight currency conversion results in a UK price tag of £90, which is actually not bad, ballpark for a premium pro-gamer mouse, however when we add the cost inflation the UK usually sees for pretty much anything and everything we're probably talking more like £120-150, which is pretty steep for a controller. Next is space and comfort, I can see the Falcon might fatigue your arm faster than other control methods are likely to - not a problem if like me you rarely play for periods longer than an hour or two, but maybe a problem for marathon session gamers. The Falcon looks like it'd take up roughly the same amount of space as a typical mouse mat, but this could be a pain in the arse if your desk is small.

I'll close up here with a video from Novints CEO showcasing the falcon

freedoms_stain, out.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Transformers: Rise Of The Fallen

What is it?
This is the second entry in what appears to be a continuing series of Transformers live action/CGI movies. This one is set two years down the line from the original and sees the surviving Autobots from that film (plus some n00bs) working with a special unit of the US Armed Forces to track down and eradicate a growing Deceptacon presence on Earth.
What I liked
Optimus is BADASS - One of the things that I thought really sucked about the first film was how easily Megatron seemed to dominate Optimus Prime in battle In the cartoon Megatron and Optimus Prime were always almost perfectly evenly matched with most of their encounters resulting in a Deceptacon retreat more often than not, therefore to see the Autobot hero having seven shades of shit beat out of his chassis without much reply is quite disheartening. Happily they've redressed the balance in this one. One of the coolest action scenes in the film sees Optimus take on Megatron, Starscream and one other (unknown/unnamed) Deceptacon in a 3 on 1 bot match in which Optimus puts on a stunning display of battle prowess holding off all three Deceptacons while Sam escapes. I'll say no more on that lest it spoil the film. There's also a badass opening sequence in Shanghai which the Autobots take on several Deceptacons culminating in Optimus Prime taking out a Deceptacon about 10x his size - very cool.
More Bots - The original film featured quite a few familiar bots, this one brings more to the table including Arcee, Ravage, Soundwave and the Constructacons amongst others. Some of the new introductions match their predecessors well - the Constructacons (who actually go unnamed as far as I remember) are construction vehicles as before and Ravage is a big cat, although he doesn't transform into a cassette tape, while others have been 'tweaked' to match the rebooted series - Soundwave is a Satellite rather than a cassette player, and Devastator, the combined form of the constructacons resembles some sort of arachnid cement mixer rather than simply a large robot.

The Matrix is BACK - I didn't get this AllSpark thingy from the first film - I thought they'd simply fucked up on what The Matrtix was supposed to be, they didn't fuck up what The Matrix was supposed to be, they fucked up what Energon Cubes are supposed to be. Energon is the stuff Transformers power themselves with, it's stored in cubes, the movie version is a single cube that dispenses Energon and has the ability to bring machines "to life". The Matrix in the original was an energy source comparable to the films Allspark, able to grant life to machines, it was also the symbol of leadership for the Autobots and contained the wisdom of all its previous bearers, it did a lot of different shit depending on the version of Transformers. The film retains the Matrix as a badge of leadership, it also seems to have some sort of rejuvenation powers AND is used to power a machine that destroys suns and charges the AllSpark. Complicated, but it's cool to have it in there and fairly close to its original purpose.
What I didn't like
Infidelity - Yeah, I know this is a rebooted series and therefore unique and all previous Transformers cannon can be soundly ignored, but I don't get why. The existing Transformers cannon is old enough and niche enough that most people are probably completely ignorant of it - so why bother coming up with new shit that is, well, mostly shit. The general cannon is that the Transformers are millions of years old as a race and that the Earth-bound Autobots and Deceptacons are as individuals ancient - Optimus Prime and Megatron are both for, example of the order of millions of years old, Megatron being the first ever Deceptacon who instigated the war with everyone he deemed weak while Optimus Prime was originally a bot called Orion Pax who was destroyed by Megatron and rebuilt into the battle powerhouse that is Optimus Prime. Furthermore the Autobots and Deceptacons were originally supposed to have arrived on earth before humans even evolved, their ship getting stuck in a volcano and eventually being reawakened millennia later. Perfectly good story, instead we've got crap about "The Seven Primes" and "The Fallen" - this pretty much dumps on the original version of how the Deceptacon/Autobot war began. Another unwelcome alteration is the addition of "The Fallen" as Megatrons superior - Megatron has never had a true superior except for Unicron who transformed him into Galvatron and attempted to make him his slave - something Galvatron resisted almost to his demise, so the introduction of "The Fallen" character is a bit of a whatthefuck for me.

Unidentified Bots - As I pointed out there are a lot more bots this time around on both sides, but who many of these new bots are is a bit of a mystery, particularly on the Deceptacon end where very few of the new bots were introduced by name at all. The worst part was the end where 13 mostly random Deceptacons turn up and it's hard to tell what the fuck is going on. The confusion is partly the responsibility of how the new Transformers look - they're just all too similar looking in robot mode to tell apart - particularly the Deceptacons who all have a monotonous insectoid look in bot mode.

Too Much Human Stuff - This is no doubt down to time and budget given the expense and time consuming nature of creating good CGI on this scale, but the story is far too human-centric. >75% of the film is spent on madcap chase sequences or getaway sequences featuring Sam (Shia LeBouff) and Michaela (Megan Fox), and a lot of the end climax scenes is more US Army than Transformer. I paid to watch the Transformers battle it out, not to watch humans shoot at dust clouds in a desert. Ideally the next film would be set on Cybertron or feature Unicron, but I won't hold my breath.

Seymour Simmons - The special agent guy from the first film who insisted on calling Megatron NBE-1. He irritated the fuck out of me the first time and nothing changed on that score.


For all my bitching it is a reasonably decent film, certainly better than the first in my opinion, particularly the battle scenes with Optimus Prime, he pwns. I just wish major movie studios would just follow the story laid down for them already rather than reboot the fuck out of cool shit I like and turn it into lame shit I'm not as keen on, but we live in a time where everything has to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and if that means dressing Megan Fox up in the tightest or most revealing clothes they can find and make her run around a lot in the hot sweaty desert and focus the camera on her instead of doing something with the Transformers (the actual subject of the film) then that's what will be produced.

And they wonder why people pirate instead of buy.


freedoms_stain, TRANSFORM AND ROLL OUT!

P.S the pic is my G1 Starscream reissue and an Optimus Prime movie keyring, the only Transformers stuff I have left :p

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Firefox Part 2 - Add-ons For All

If you're looking at the above image and scrunching your face in confusion then read this to put your mind at ease. For the rest of you: read on McDuff.

If you are a Firefox user and that image isn't familiar then you haven't been to the FF add-on page in a while - its all changed over there, presumably in honour of the coming full release of FF 3.5, and that image is nicked from there. I can't be arsed hunting down the url for every single add-on I'm about to list, so rest assured if you visit the add-on page and search for the title you should find it fairly easily.

Before we get down to business I just want to mention version compatibility: some older add-ons, or less frequently updated ones will be listed as incompatible with the very latest FF 3.5 betas and RC's. Most of these will function perfectly well with whatever version you have (as long as it's http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=2571091926104243079&postID=1486559429759745597#later than the listed compatible versions and not earlier) and you can use them through the simple procedure of turning off add-on compatibility checking as follows:
  1. Open a new tab in FF and enter the address about:config
  2. Proceed through the warning screen
  3. Right click anywhere on the resultant page, select New then Boolean from the right-click menu
  4. Enter extensions.checkCompatibility as your new value and set it to false
  5. Restart FF

You'll get a yellow warning bar in your add-on list telling you compatibility checking is disabled, you can safely ignore this, or, if it bothers you that much follow the procedure again substituting extensions.checkUpdateSecurity in number 4. If FF doesn't want to let you install "incompatible" add-ons from the main add-on entry scroll down and find the link "See All Versions" - you'll be allowed to install the newest version from there.

Now, on to the good stuff: my add-ons, in alphabetical order, cus it's easier.
  1. Adblock Plus - this is one of the best known FF extensions, blocks pretty much all ads from appearing on your screen - remember you have to subscribe to a filter list or the add-on doesn't actually do anything unless you block every ad manually.

  1. All-in-One Sidebar - I used Opera as my primary browser for quite a long time and one of its best features in my opinion was its amazing side bar, from this thin bar that runs along the left side of the browser window I could access my bookmarks, history, email, page info, dowloads and loads more besides. This is the FF version, it's not quite as good in my opinion, but it gets the job done. in addition to accessing standard things like bookmarks, history, downloads and add-ons the side bar will also accept buttons for many other add-ons which helps free up space on your top tool bars.

  1. BetterPrivacy - protects you from the new breed of so-called "super-cookie" the Local Shared Object (LSO) cookie. These are tracking devices not normally cleared when you clear your cookies, BetterPrivacy will track them down and gut them out for you.

  1. Cooliris - this was one of the add-ons that contributed towards my migration to FF. It's a whole new way to view images on the web. Cooliris is almost a separate program with browser integration rather than an add-on, what it basically does is take images - say from a google image search or a social networking photo album and turn them into a "wall" you can then move that wall along to view all the pictures in a continuous stream. Ordinarily when you do a Google image search you get a page of results then you click over to the next page etc etc - Cooliris automatically fetches the following pages so you can view them in an uninterrupted stream. The effects of the wall moving are pretty cool too - you really have to see it to know what it's about.

  1. CS Lite - this adds cookie control features to the front UI of the browser which really should have been there by default. My personal preference is to deny cookies globally and only permit them on sites I intend to use regularly.

  1. DownloadHelper - tool fordownloading streaming media from websites - works on loads of flash video sites including YouTube, also works on the MySpace audio player.

  1. FasterFox Lite - auto-tweaks FF network settings to optimise the browser for broadband connections, i.e. should give you a slight performance boost.

  1. FireGestures - another feature nicked from the Opera team - control many functions of the browser by performing mouse movements while holding the right mouse button, much faster than clicking on-screen buttons or even keyboard shortcuts, easy and intuitive to learn.

  1. Fission - turns your address bar into a progress bar while pages load - basically a space saving device, and gives you a good visual representation of how fast pages are loading.

  1. FoxTab - this is pure eye candy, it basically gives you a pretty page to look at when you use ctrl+tab to switch between tabs - it kinda makes it easier too, it has a number of fancy 3D views for flicking through your tabs. Useful if your the sort who typically has more tabs open than will physically fit on the tab bar.

  1. Ghostery - doesn't do particularly much, just tells you how many trackers the site your viewing has and who they are.

  1. Google Gears - at present this one is truly incompatible with FF 3.5 of any sort, but for those using supported versions of FF Gears allows better desktop integration with Googles web apps like Gmail and Google Docs (which I use to draft and publish all my blogs), it also makes these apps available to you offline by making local copies of the data you have stored on their servers. This essentially makes the Google family of apps a more viable alternative to traditional offline desktop apps like MS Office, OpenOffice, Outlook Express and Thunderbird, albeit less functional at present in most cases.

  1. Google Reader Watcher - use Google Reader for your RSS feeds? this add-on tells you how many unread feeds you have (189 for me, ain't been checkin em today :p)

  1. IE Tab - switches the rendering engine to that of IE, this allows you to view pages that have poor FF compatibility without having to open a full IE window - you can just have a single tab within FF that runs as if it was IE.

  1. NoScript - blocks unwanted scripts from running, NoScript is "white list" based so it'll block scripts globally and only permit the specific scripts you choose to run. So for example I want videos to run on YouTube so I allow the scripts that run the flash video player, but I don't really want google-analytics tracking me, so I clock that script. It can be a bit of a pain in the arse when you visit a new site that's heavily script-based and everything appears broken because NoScript is blocking everything, but it does make the Internet more secure and enhances your web privacy.

  1. PermaTabs Mod - got tabs you keep open all the time? PermaTabs essentially removes the close button from Tabs you want to keep open all the time thereby making them...open...all...the...time...

  1. RDown - Rapidshare Downloader - a godsend for the regular rapidshare user - particularly if you're a free user. Just add all the rapidshare links you want to RDown and it'll download each one sequentially without any input from you. No need to manually check when the previous file has downloaded, wait the 15 minute waiting period then begin the next file downloading, RDown does all that guff on its own.

  1. Read It Later - adds a wee tick to your address bar beside the bookmark star, if you want to read some page or article but not immediately and want to save it for later click on the wee tick and Read It Later makes a temporary bookmark of the page and adds it to your read it later reading list, once the article has been read its removed. Basically it saves you gumming up your regular bookmarks with things you'll only read once

  1. Secure Login - gives you a button to press that acts as an auto-login button for pages that FF has stored login information for. Another Opera feature rip-off, but again a welcome one.

  1. SkipScreen - skips past unnecessary pages and wait times on file hosting websites like Megaupload and its ilk, will save a regular user of such websites hours of waiting.

  1. Speed Dial - another Opera rip-off, turns your blank new tabs into a showcase of your favourite sites for quick selection - sort of like a bookmark tool bar but better.

  1. Tiny Menu - I love this one, it turns all the Menu buttons on the menu toolbar into a single button labelled "Menu" the regular menu buttons drop down when its clicked - it's a great space saver and makes the prospect of using the menu bar as a joint menu/address bar more feasible.

  1. Toggle Private Browsing - private browsing is a new feature to FF, it stops the browser recording history and deletes all cookies accepted during the private session, this add-on merely makes the feature easier to access by placing a button on the status bar at the bottom of the screen

  1. Ubiquity - Possibly the most revolutionary feature in modern Internet browsing. Ubiquity changes the way you use the Internet, it works by accepting typed commands (in shorthand, naturally) which make simple tasks like searching and e-mailing so much simpler than they traditionally are. Old method of e-mail: open tab, go to email account, login, compose message, find contact, type, send. Ubiquity method: ctrl+space to invoke Ubiquity, type "email *message body* to *contacts name* press enter button, done. You can even select images and bits of web pages to send. When I got Ubiquity it was still listed as experimental on the Mozilla add-on page, so you might want to check out the Ubiquity home page if you want to avoid signing up for a Mozilla account to download it from them, there's also a sexy little demo on there that'll probably do a better job of explaining the wonders this baby is capable of than I did.

  1. Undo Closed Tabs Button - the "traditional" method of undoing a closed tab is to head on up to the history menu button and see if it's in there, this add-on gives you a button that undoes the last closed tab (then every other tab before that sequentially) as well as offering you the same drop down list the history button will give you, but in the place of your choosing.

  1. Webmail Notifier - checks how many unread emails you have in a variety of webmail accounts, also capable of launching your inbox and logging in to your account for you.

  1. Youtube Tooltip - hovering over a YouTube link will tell you exactly what the video is before you click it - useful for avoiding "Rick Rolls".

Fucking hell, 27, and that's excluding some of the pishy ones I didn't even know I had but are probably important like "Java Quick Starter" and "Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant". If you're not a FF user at present and you're having a look at this list ask yourself how much of this stuff your current browser can do. If the answer is not a lot, which it probably is, then maybe it's time to consider a change?

I should probably mention that FF is skin-able (or theme-able to use their terminology), I use the default Vista skin even though I'm running XP - I prefer the electric blue button colour to the XP green and red. With my uxlltheme.dll hacked I have a custom Windows theme and the Vista FF skin goes better with it.

freedoms_stain, even foxier, out.

Firefox Part 1 - For Noobs

Firefox 3.5 RC1 came out today - well a few hours ago so technically yesterday - therefore in its honour I thought I'd write a little bit about it. If you weren't aware already FF is an Internet browser, the chances are if you didn't know that already then you're currently browsing this page using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, in which case you should immediately click the link above and start downloading FF, and here's why...

First thing's first, a browser is a browser is a browser right? Same shit different packaging - Wrong. There's an incredible amount of variety between different browsers across a number of different fields including security, speed, customisation and features. The problem with Microsoft's IE is that it's lacking, deficient or poor in every one of these fields. Of primary concern to most of you should be the issue security and it may shock many IE users to know that IE is notorious for its many security holes and that using IE can be one very real threat to the integrity of your computer and the security of your private data. Aside from that very important issue IE is simply not as fast or as customisable as other browsers and lacks many features other browsers have, or executes them poorly.

So we've ascertained that IE isn't the best Internet browser to use, but why should anyone choose FF? FF used to make the claim "Faster and more secure" on its homepage - a claim that is no longer present as they have probably realised that it's no longer strictly true. Faster and more secure than IE certainly, but there are now other browsers which have been shown to be faster or more secure than FF - last time I checked Google's own browser Chrome still laid claim to the crown of "Fastest" and Opera tends to be more secure over all. Although FF may not be the very fastest or the most secure it is still very fast and very secure, and FF has an Ace up its sleeve that no other browser currently available can touch it on - enormous customisation and range of features via add-ons.

In truth vanilla FF is pretty boring, their feature page is of course enormously long detailing the fairly unexciting basic features the program has "out of the box",  and of course these are all good features that make a good functional base, but where FF shines is when its dolled up to the eyeballs in add-ons. FF is very much a browser built with add-ons in mind, it has all the basic shit a browser should have, but you can add an enormous amount of stuff on top of that that make it your browser.

I'm going to write a second entry detailing all my favourite add-ons, the reason being that this entry was written with a view to describing FF for non-FF users, obviously not much interest for existing FF users, but if one thing interests FF users it's discovering new add-ons, so the second entry will allow them to skip this shit and get to the nitty-gritty.

freedoms_stain, foxy, out-ish

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

L4D2 Debacle

Left4Dead 2 was announced a few weeks ago, probably at E3 or at the Microsoft pre-E3 thingy-ma-bob, not sure, doesn't really matter. The game is slated for a release in Q4 this year, which is slightly queer as the original was only released in Q4 last year. For Valve, the games developer, this is a bit of an anomaly - they traditionally like to place half a decade between sequels. Existing Left4Deaders are a wee bit upset by the news - you may thing bizarrely, me I think understandably.

You see when the original L4D came out it was what one may describe as "light" and others might describe as "barren". It shipped with only four scenarios, each of which can be completed in less than an hour. Valve insisted that the game had an enormous amount of replay value  due to its online co-op play and randomly generated enemy encounters and that more content was en route so the scant number of scenarios available at launch wasn't really an issue as far as they were concerned.

So here we sit a good 8 or 9 months down the line and what have we had so far in terms of new content? Survival mode. Survival mode consists of 16 maps (All bar one adapted versions of certain areas from within the regular scenarios - i.e. not exactly "new") where the aim of the game is to survive a constant onslaught from the hoards of Infected for as long as you can, earning shiny medals at the 4, 7 and 10 minute marks (yay!). Survival mode is incredibly fun (or incredibly frustrating depending on who you end up playing with) but I personally still feel that the game struggles to merit its full price status.

So Valves effort towards new content for L4D seems to be rather lacking, yet they've managed to produce almost an entire second new game... Fishy, particularly as the game is looking quite finished (and if I was playing with the dude in this video, I'd totally vote-kick his ass). What grabs my goat about this is that it doesn't appear to be enough to be a whole new game. What's new? Well, there's new Survivor characters, new scenarios (set in the daylight no less) the addition of melee weapons and some new special infected - some sort of thalidomide affected Tank, probably others yet to be announced or to cross my path. Looks like it's still using the Source engine and the graphics don't look significantly better if at all better (hard to judge when it's cam footage), so why does this need to be a new game at all? Really the addition of everything we're seeing new for L4D2 would make more sense as either the free additional content promised for L4D released periodically, or a bumper expansion costing £10-15.

Valve maintain that L4D will be supported even after L4D2 is released, but given the lack of dedication they've shown the title thus far, can we really rely on such promises?

Also I'd like some new guns please. Like Desert Eagles, or Magnums, or a rocket launcher. Also I'd like to be able to throw explosives without specifically equipping them - it's a slow and clunky game mechanic that's painfully outdated.

freedoms_stain, concerned zombie hunter, out.


I'm afraid I have cruelly neglected the fair sport of Tennis in the last few weeks - and so much has happened! The French Open took place a few weeks ago, with some fairly shocking moments and upsets. Defending Champ and World No.1 Rafael Nadal was knocked out in the early stages by Swede Robin Soderling - ranked somewhere in the mid-20's at the time. Shame for Nadal, but amazing for Soderling who made it all the way to the final where he was defeated by Roger Federer (more on that in a tick). Our man Murray also put on his best performance ever at the French managing to hang on to the Quarter Finals - that might not sound like a particularly great place for the World No.3 and 3rd seed to finish up, but due to the way the ATP ranking system works Murray will in fact gain over 200 ranking points from the performance over last years result (3rd round).

Roger Federer came out Champ this year making him only the sixth ever man to pick up the "Career Slam" - winning all four grand slams at least once in his career. This win also puts Federer on equal footing with Pete Sampras for most grand slam championship wins at 14. Federer is only 27 though and still has several years ahead of him in which to beat that record. Federers current record already places him as the best player of all time for many people (and it'd be pretty hard for anyone to argue against it), so it'll be interesting to see how much more success he can heap on top of what he already has and to see if anyone will ever be able to beat it.

In other news Andy Murray one the Aegon Championship at Queens Club on Sunday for the first time. It isn't a particularly big tournament - in the grand scheme of things it's on the 5th from top tier of tournaments - worth 250 ranking points to the winner. If Murray manages five Finals or better from the 500 series tournaments then the victory at Queens Club won't even contribute to his ranking, but it is none-the-less a significant title for Murray for a couple of reasons. 1) it's his first title on grass - stands him in good stead for Wimbledon when it kicks off on Monday, 2) it's his first title on home soil - ok that isn't that significant but it's pretty cool, 3) it was his 1st No.1 seeding and he won it and 4) he's the first British man to take the title since the 1930's.

Wimbledon is the next big thing on the Tennis calendar, the only grass court slam on the tour. This could be an interesting year, the top seeds Nadal and Federer have both been fairly inactive since the French, Nadal is working in rehabilitating his knees which are a bit fucked while Federer pulled out of a grass court tournament he was due to play in Halle citing exhaustion post-French as the reason. There's still a question mark over whether Nadal will be fit to play at all, so it's fairly evident he won't have had much grass court practice. As for Federer he may not have been competing, but I'm sure he's been practising. Grass is notorious for the settling in period players usually require to get re-accustomed to the nuances of grass court play - Federer and Nadal having not competed in their respective pre-Wimbledon grass court tournaments may find themselves at a disadvantage, despite both their statuses as former and defending champions. This may place Murray and Djokovic who have played (and won) their pre-Wimbledon tournaments at a disadvantage. The BBC reports Murray is seeded 3rd after Nadal and Federer, no mention of Djokovic but I imagine he'll have taken 4th seed.

Wimbledon starts Monday, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that Murray will at least equal his QF result from last year. It'd be awesome if he could go all the way, and he's totally capable, but the competition is stiff. We'll have to wait and see...

I myself have taken up the sport recently. My girlfriend Helen has been playing for years and now she's teaching me to play. I'm getting there, and I'm committed to getting better. I've spent a significant amount of cash on appropriate gear so I'm pretty keen to make sure that cash hasn't been wasted. It's quite a complex game, more complex than I thought, there are all sorts of ways to hold and angle the racket for different shots, and ways to stand and move. It's quite hard to coordinate it all in my head - strike the ball at arms length, swing through the ball, stand side on, angle the head downwards, hold the grip with the flat against your palm - so much stuff. I suppose the trick is to get it all so it's more or less automatic. Sometimes it does feel quite automatic, other times not. My biggest problem appears to be my feet, I've a bad habit of trying to hit the ball too close to my body, which gives you no power or accuracy and Helen yells "Move your feet!" at me from across the court :p. My serve is pretty abysmal, but we only really worked on it on Sunday there. I'm starting to get them in, but they lack power. I'm not too worried abut serving right now anyway, it'll come with practice.

Oh yeah, and I've yet to win a game against her :s

freedoms_stain, losing Love-40 against a girl a foot shorter than him, out.


Big Brother Is Shit - End It

Big Brother is now in its tenth year here in the UK. Ten years and only the first couple of series - which at least made pretences at scientific relevance - were actually any good. Back at the beginning Big Brother tended to feature pretty normal/average people who were interested in the concept and came along to see what would happen. The show has since descended to the status of Pig Circus and your typical BB contestant is more interested in stirring the shit so they have something to sell a story about when they're inevitably booted out for being shallow brain-dead morons.

And there lies another feature of your modern BB contestant - they're all thick as shit - pig shit. It's pretty evident that most of them are only there in the vain hope that their appearance on the show will kick start some sort of media career they lack the talent to begin in any other way - such hopes and intentions further reveal their ardent stupidity since the number of BB contestants who have managed to maintain any sort of lasting media career can be counted on one hand - and that hand might not necessarily require all 5 digits to count them.

This years BB, according to the news has attracted rather dismal ratings - it really says something when you're getting your ass handed to you by repeats, particularly ITV repeats since everything on ITV is, by definition, pure shite in this mans subjective opinion. I would almost bet that the reason for the shitty ratings is the shitty contestants. I might watch it tonight to see what they're like. I'm guessing flock of clappy screaming and possibly drooling under-achievers, the females of whom will wear as little as possible as often as possible and the males of whom will either be muscle-bound dimwits or effeminate dimwits. They may even throw in a more mature person - someone who probably took the place in a plea bargain to avoid over-crowded prisons, it's about the only reason any sane intelligent person would enter BB.

Surely ten years down the line and dwindling ratings will make Channel4 see sense - cancel this shit. I wonder actually if it's headed that way anyway, in the early years BB was everywhere, the mornings, the evenings, dinner time, all sorts of extra shows and shit - hours upon hours of "live" (with no sound 90% of the time) footage on E4 - basically the "4" schedule was totally awash with BB related bollocks - but these days not so much. Perhaps 4 have found their marbles and they're winding the franchise down to where it belongs - the gutter, and good riddance.

freedoms_stain, hoping for better summer telly, out.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Wasters To The Left, Wasters To The Right

I've come across a couple of news stories of late that pretty much confirm what I had suspected for quite some time: the UK is a wasteful shit hole.
Story number one comes from The Telegraph and I read it yesterday, it regards recycling in the UK. Compulsory recycling is now almost ubiquitous in the UK - although this development took a damned long time in coming and many councils are still not recycling all materials that are recyclable. The issue this story raises regards landfills - the UK makes too much use of them and as a result faces fines from the EU.
The answer? More recycling of course! The onus here is on food waste - apparently we're producing 100 million tonnes of the stuff yearly - that is literally TONNES of waste. The idea is to have what the article charmingly refers to as a "slop bucket" in every home - in reality this would just be an additional bin for putting food and organic waste in. That would march us up to 4 bins where I live - recyclables, glass, domestic and finally food/organic wastes. That's a lot of bins, and no doubt increasingly complex collection schedules. There is all ready a bit of a furor over current collection schedules which is basically alternating weeks between the recycling and domestic collections - some people are concerned about the smell of 2 week old rotting matter attracting pests and vermin, these self same people are undoubtedly going to be concerned about the new proposals, particularly with news outlets using the unsavory term "slop bucket" in relation to the notion.
Four bins, stinking rubbish in your back garden, confusing uplift schedule - fuck that shit. I think the notion of personal bins has to die at this point. This stuff is getting way too confusing, take ALL the bins away and replace them with communal refuse areas. This isn't a new idea, it's used in loads of areas already - particularly those areas with a high  concentration of flats where each property having its own bin is vastly impractical. The idea is simple, have smaller bins in your house for your crap, and then when they're full go empty them at the communal refuse point - ta-da, no stinking rubbish in or (relatively) near your house, and you don't have to worry about the schedule really either in this scenario. Sure you're going to have to put slightly more effort into disposing of your trash - you may even have to walk over 100 feet in the process!!! But if it's necessary then it's necessary - councils have a limited budget and they're facing a shit-tonne of financial pressure on this - either they keep dumping in landfills and pay the fines knowing that landfills have a finite capacity and they're going to have to find an alternative sooner or later anyway - ORRRR, they invest in recycling facilities now and we endure a tiny bit of inconvenience. I vote tiny bit of inconvenience.
Some folks worry about the cost of any new recycling reforms to the tax payer, well yes, it will cost us, but probably a damned sight less than continuing to pay fines for overuse of land-filling until the landfills are full of shit we could have re-used and we realise we need to bump up the recycling toot-sweet before we're all neck deep in empty bean tins and shitty nappy's. And hey, recycling is good for the environment too, so suck it up whingers.
The next story is very much related to the first, and I've just realised that one is also a Telegraph article. We're again talking about food waste, but this time not the sort you scrape into the bin after a meal - this is the stuff we're flinging away before its even been eaten! Apparently we, as a nation are throwing away £10 billion worth of edible food every year, and it's all to do with one confusing little phrase: "best before". The suggestion is that people and businesses are hoofing out food based on the "best before" date displayed on the packaging despite the fact that this food is still very much edible for a few days after that point. Quite sickening really that there are people in this country itself that struggle to feed themselves and their children and there are people throwing out edible food because of misunderstanding. Ten billion pounds too, just shy of 10% the NHS yearly budget - out for the rats.
Perhaps the people concerned about the stench of their bins are the self same people hoofing out edible food - in which case: eat it before you throw it out and most of the stink will end up down the toilet.
In other news, somewhat related in that it concerns a massive waste - Gordon Brown, but otherwise not. Good ole Gordon is apparently considering reforming the electoral system - you're only how many decades late G-money? I saw a bit of the PMs Questions earlier and David "smarmy arse" Cameron insinuated this move was somewhat related to Labours dismal performance in the Euro elections and basically a move to ensure the damage is limited when it comes down to future British General Elections. If I was a betting man you can bet your arse (and mine) I'd put everything on Cameron in this instance (although precious few others I might add). As I've said before the UK really needs to get rid of this undemocratic FPTP shit and move on to PR like most of the rest of the democratic nations in the world. Of course Brown isn't actually suggesting we adopt any form of PR, because that would be too fucking fair, right? Both Labour and the Conservatives are pretty keen to keep PR at bay because they both think they've got a decent shot at getting in power in any given election under FPTP and PR might shit on their chances of putting this nation through 5 years of roughshod mismanagement 70% of us didn't vote for. They are instead plumping for the "Alternative Vote". This is a preference based system where voters rank candidates in order of preference. The seat would then be decided by who the majority found most preferable, it is initially based on 1st preference votes, if no one receives 50% of the votes then the 2nd, 3rd, 4th preference votes etc are added to each candidates score until someone has >50%. This sort of system may benefit an unpopular Labour party who may fall out of the 1st preference category for many voters, but still acquire a significant number of 2nd and 3rd preference votes to steal a few seats back in marginal constituencies and minimise their losses.

So no PR then, David Cameron has already played the BNP card in his argument against PR, which essentially goes like this: PR may allow parties like the BNP who hold unpleasant views and policies to gain seats in Parliament, therefore PR is bad. Sorry David, but this is a democracy, and the fact that you, me or anyone else dislike the BNP and their policies shouldn't exclude the people who do support them from being properly represented in Parliament. It's the FPTP all over - repressing the views and opinions of everyone who doesn't hold yours. Perhaps if the BNP had to fight their policies in a professional political forum then they'd be exposed for the weak fascist insane fantasies that they are - this repression is giving the BNP some sort of fringe validation among the misguided fools who think they're right in some way. Well done Davy, shot yourself in the foot there, and I'd be quite happy for you to shoot yourself in the foot if mine wasn't right under yours with the foot of every other man woman and child in the UK.

freedoms_stain, despairing at the UK, out.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Musings on the European Results

So the European elections were held last week and the results are in. It's a mixture of good news and bad news in my mind. On the one hand there have been gains by parties who support online privacy and who take a favourable stance against harsh copyright laws such as the European Greens (who appear to be up roughly 8 MEPs at this point) and Sweden's Pirate Party who'll be getting at least 1 MEP, maybe 2; then on the other hand we have gains made by UKIP, the UK Independance Party who are rather anti-EU, the BNP, a bunch of fascist ignorant cunts to fascistly ignorant to realise how fascistly ignorant they are, even if fascistly isn't a word and a general rightward swing in the make-up of the EU parliament.

I'm always slightly worried when right-leaning individuals are in power, these are the sort of people who buy their votes with promises of freedom and decrying large governments and government involvement - then as soon as they are in any position to wield power they start yanking away freedoms, beefing up the government and sticking their noses into anything and everything. Lying Bastards in other words. These are also the type of people who'd be more willing to side with big business and the entertainment industries over things like copyright issues - little things like that that are aimed at benefiting the few over the many. Hopefully those parties with sensible copyright views will be able to make their presence felt.

Perhaps I'm confusing the European right wing with the US right wing too much, even right leaning Europeans are mild compared to the right leaning Americans - so perhaps my fears are unfounded.

One of the major shit stains surrounding this particular Election here in the UK has been Labours sizable fall from the premier party to 3rd place - doesn't really bode well for them in the coming general election - which I hope will be soon and swift. I think Labour deserve to lose power this time around, they just haven't been doing well enough and Gordon Brown is a weak as piss leader - I'd have Blair back any day, shit, I'd probably prefer John Major over this clown. People seem to think Brown was a good Chancellor, why? he has been a major influence on creating this craptacular economy we're supposed to be suffering for the next 8-10 years. So long Labour, maybe we'll have you back when Brown is a faded patch on the shitty mosaic that is British politics.

Pretty disgusted that people voted BNP at all, particularly in the levels that they did. Even if one of their primary policies wasn't a piece of disgusting wankery on its own (that'd be the one where they pay everyone not white or born in Britain or to white British parents to leave) it's plain fucking insanity when your economy is in the shitter and public services are being stripped to the bone to cope. Oh, I'm sure there'll be plenty of jobs when the "immigrants" leave - so many in fact that the economy will probably plummet further because there aren't enough adults of working age or condition to actually run the country!

Oh, and their "paying everyone not white and British to leave" policy isn't racist, just so you know. I can't see how its not racist even after reading their piss poor explanation for how it's not racist but they assure us it's not.

freedoms_stain, voted Green, out.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Out With The Old

Last summer I needed a new mouse, being a bit of a keen gamer I decide to go for something designed specifically for gaming. The gaming peripheral market isn't huge in the UK, but there's enough of a choice to merit significant pondering and in the end I pipped for the Saitek Cyborg Mouse (pictured above), after all on paper it looks fantastically impressive:

  • Adjustable mouse size extends or contracts to suit any size of hand or grip
  • Adjustable Scroll Wheel – changes click strength of scroll wheel
  • Programmable, 4-way, low profile hat switch
  • 2 additional programmable buttons
  • 3200dpi for increased precision

Flashy, no? No. The problem is that despite the sexy specs the mouse is crippled in several ways.

Firstly there was the software, which didn't work out of the box, briefly worked after one update before returning to non-functional status and finally being fixed by yet another update. Even when it worked the software wasn't very good, the UI for the profiler looked like it had been designed in a highschool visual basic lesson - basically not very impressive.

Next there's the form factor. As you can see from the pic above it's a bit of an ugly bastard, and sadly that ugliness translates into poor ergonomics. The length of the mouse is adjustable (and is adjusted by a moderately cool electric motor mechanism - if you're easily amused) - this is supposed to allow the mouse to accommodate all hand sizes, but it doesn't. The problem arises with the side buttons, the mouse has the two extra 4+5 side buttons most mice have as standard now, on the cyborg these are located on the weird cornery bit under the cyborg logo on the unit - that's right the grey portion on there are the actual buttons, the one resting under the logo fits fairly comfortably under the thumb, but the one along the jutting out bit is awkward as mother fucking fuck, rather than pressing it you are required to perform a weird forward-pushing action with your thumb that feels weird and unbalances your grip, which is a dumb way to have things. The side is also home to a 4 way hat switch (roughly under the cyborg logo) plus an additional no 6 button which rests on the extreme edge of the weird fin-like extension on the base of the mouse. The first issue with these buttons is that Windows doesn't natively recognise them, which means you have to use the shitty software to macro functions to them for them to do anything, the second is that they're pretty uselessly placed. The hat switch is placed in such a position that no matter how I adjust the length on the unit either my thumb is awkwardly placed to reach it or if I get it in a position where I can reach it then my index and middle fingers end up too far up the mouse for comfortable clicking of the primary mouse buttons - yet another pain in the proverbial arse. The fin button is also poorly placed, if the fin had been about half as jutty-out it might've worked, but as it is it's just ass.

Added to the irritation this mouse has caused me the noise of the mouse wheel is harsh, noisy and grating.

And the final straw: The mouse stopper responding properly to Mouse-1 clicks, a minor irritation in everyday use, but when you're gaming, particularly online, and your fire button is acting up, that can be the difference between winning and losing - and that's bullshit. It actually developed a new trick the week prior to its replacement - interpreting single clicks as double clicks.

The fucker had to go.

Enter the replacement, the Razer DeathAdder! Much to my embarrassment and shame I had been advised to get a Razer product over the Saitek prior to purchasing the Saitek and ignored the advice - to my cost. The DeathAdder is a much simpler design, and far more ergonomic. The Razer techs have obviously focused on designing and producing a product that gets everything it does right rather than piling on ultimately useless gimmicks that hinder rather than enhance the units playability. Here we have a standard 5 button mouse (with wheel) with adjustable dpi up to 1800 - this is a lower max dpi than the Cyborg, but faster than I actually use a mouse at anyway - so more than adequate for my needs. Probably the most important factor here is that the thing is comfortable - it sits well in the hand and all the buttons are easily reachable without having to do thumb gymnastics.

Completely irrelevant but pretty cool anyway - the logo on the back slowly strobes :D

I guess the moral of this story is to canvas opinions rather than allowing flashy specs to sway you.

freedoms_stain, out.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Gears of War Woes

It rather appears like I've left it a bit too long to get involved with Gears of War on Windows, very few people appear to be playing these days. When I go looking for Versus matches to join or for Co-op partners I'm lucky if there's even one game to choose from. And then when I do find a game it's usually populated by people speaking languages I can't understand which isn't the greatest situation for team work, and the second to last Co-op partner I had was an ammo hog who pretty much forced me to use the crappy Locust weapons - dick.

What really sucks about this situation is that it makes it incredibly unlikely I'll ever be able to pick up any of the online play based achievements - well, I'm pretty unlikely to pick up any of the Versus achievements as it stands anyway as I really suck at GoW online, but I'd like the chance to improve which just ain't happenin as it stands.

Maybe there are unofficial servers or something I can play on, will have to investigate that.

freedoms_stain, out.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Internet Just Got Bigger

This is Google Wave, a web app in development from the Google team that aims to revolutionise the way we communicate online.

And I must say, from the developer preview they've just showcased it looks pretty damned exciting. It's like a new take at email, combining principals of Instant Messaging, message boards and email itself into something that's very much unique. Anyone who has used Gmail knows that Google is fond of the concept of "Conversations" and Wave is very much a fulfilment of that concept.

Email is very linear - it works well on a one-to-one basis where participants are easily able to message and reply to messages, and Gmail is very good at collating messages that form a conversation (something that classic mail clients can be poor at). But when it comes to group conversations email becomes cumbersome and the more participants involved the more cumbersome it becomes. If a message is sent by one person to another 4, all of whom reply to the original message and all of whom subsequently comment on each others replies you quickly end up with a confusing myriad of messages that are difficult to collate into a coherent narrative. Wave aims to bring everything together into a single conversation at a central location much like a Message Board/Forum but far more flexible than that.

The great thing about Wave is that it removes the linearity that existing methods of online communication suffer from. If we go back to our group email, if the original message contained 5 points or questions then each participant would give their responses in one solid block which everyone would have to read as a single unit, possibly referring back to the original. With Wave any part of the original message can be replied to in isolation, therefore each participant can provide each of their replies directly under the point/question and reply directly to each other in the same location. The result is a single location for the conversation that can be contributed to in a fluid manner with contributors able to contribute anywhere within the conversation/Wave, even within other contributions. The Wave also has a playback feature that will playback every contribution to the Wave in order allowing the user to quickly track the progress of the Wave up to that point.

Another useful feature is the ability to embed content directly into the Wave, pictures, maps, videos, links, whatever you need really can be added to the Wave to enhance the conversation.

There is a whole slew of other shit going on here, and no doubt there'll be mountains more stuff to come, check out the video linked above to get the whole story so far - if you have 1hr 20mins to waste.

Wave is still developer-only at the moment, but it's expected to go into public beta later this year. I reckon there's a decent chance Wave could replace email as the online personal communication method of choice - it might even threaten IM protocols if they can get it to work fast enough. I do think email and IM have a place in the world with Wave, but I think their roles will change significantly. There is a strong possibility that Gmail and Wave could be combined at some point in the future, and with Googles strong commitment to integrating their web apps there's a strong probability Wave will be integrated too.

freedoms_stain, intrigued, and out.