Shazzan!

Where's my genie then?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Skating on thin ice

I actually started writing this some time ago, but I didn't finish it before I left on my trip. Apologies to anyone who cares, I am embarrased by my lack of updates this past week and a half

As you may have read on Paul's blog, last night we went outdoor skating with our cousin Mark and his wife Lara. It was at Somerset House and much to my dissappointment was not a frozen lake but an articifal rink with some marquee's set up either side for skates and a cafe. None the less, it was quite good if a little crowded but very enjoyable for the hour a skating we got (I have no idea if that was grammatically correct). Yes, 1 hour for £11. Very expensive by anyones standards I'd hope, but it's not every day you get to go skating at Somerset House now is it?

Paul and myself have a good grasp on the basics of skating thanks to some lessons during our younger years by a neighbour Claude. Claude had made a little invention that was a pint sized ice rink. It made a nice skating surface that was only a few feet wide in either direction and could be moved around easily or kept in a small room. So it allowed you to take ice-skating lessons like you would piano lessons, at least to get the basics right before you go to a full sized rink. Also, Claude used to be the Olympic Female Figure Skating coach, quite good credentials for a tutor. After retiring he took a few pupils into his home and taught them on his little rink. As far as I can remember, he tried to market it but it didn't take off.

While I had kept in touch with ice skating over the years (I went maybe once a year) I never quite progressed ... drat, left this post mid thought, I don't think it's salvagable.

Basically what I wanted to mention was that while I can skate, I would like to be able to do things like stop quickly, navigate crowds safely and skate backwards. Well Paul beat me to the last one while at Somerset House. Paul managed to master skating at decent speed forward, then turning around to go backwards for a while, then turning around once more. When I write it down it doesn't sound like much, but actually give it a try and it's very difficult. Paul then went on to try to turn while skating backwards and also trying to maintain his speed, both of which are accomplished with a quasi-foot-over-foot motion (like what you do to turn at high speeds forwards). You know what I mean if you've seen the figure skaters skate backwards. So kudos to Paul for that, I still need a lot of work at it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Marvel Madness

They just keep pumping out the Marvel movies don't they? I'm glad to see that Iron Man is in the works, but here's one from left field; Man-Thing

I actually knew it as Swamp-Thing, and the plot outline does say it's in the Louisanna swamp so I'm dead certain it's the same thing. We only ever had the one comic of Swamp Thing and it was pretty old. I had no idea that it was even that popular

[Edit] Swamp Thing was actually a DC comic. Apparently at almost the same time Marvel brought out Man-Thing. According to the IMDB forum Marvel beat DC to the stands by a month. Swamp Thing was more popular than Man-Thing but I don't know by how much. Mind you, I'm not sure that DC are still around to compete are they?

[Edit again] Well after a little searching I found that we did not have a copy of Swamp Thing at all. I must have replaced "Man" with "Swamp" because he lives in a swamp. I did however remember what he looks like quite well (good with faces, not with names). Here it is in all its nostalgic glory. Man-Thing was great, just a big lumbering misunderstood beast getting shot at by rednecks in a swamp. It seems they put in a few "Man-Thing versus big other monster" type issues, but I think the majority of plots were:

  • Young couple drive into swamp for some "private time";
  • Something goes wrong and they need saving or Man-Thing is spotted and scare the couple;
  • Young man pulls out a gun, trys to shoot Man-Thing to no avail;
  • Man-Thing touches his would-be attacker and since "Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of Man-Thing" he consequently dies;
  • Families of the couple sense something is wrong and group up with even more guns to save the couple;
  • Upon finding Man-Thing men in the group say things like "What is that thing?" and "Kill it!", try to shoot it with the same end effect as the young man;
  • Either the innocent young woman pleads to be let go or an elderly gentleman who doesn't fear for his life come to the rescue and they leave;

Another successful best-selling issue!

Monday, January 24, 2005

A White Christmas

Unfortunately I didn't get a White Christmas last year, it was more of a Frosty Christmas. And Damien took great delight in calling us from Glasgow during January to tell us that it was snowing outside his window knowing that it wasn't the same in London. That's all changed now, roles have been reversed, worlds are turning upside down! As I walked from the tube station to the office, it snowed. Plain and simple, it has snowed in London since I've been here. I'll admit, it wasn't the snow covered streets you might see in The Night Before Christmas or Oliver movies that get regular screening on TVs at certain parts of the year (I have no idea if that's true, but they're still classic stories. I especially like the Bill Murray Scrooged) but it was snow none the less. It lasted only the time it took me to walk the length of St Petersburgh Place which is less than 5 minutes, but how serendipitous that I was there (outside and not in a building) at that time. It will be a nice prelude to being at a ski resort in less than a week.

Speaking of skiing, on the weekend I went to see if I could find a ski jacket to take with me and that I would like to hold on to for years to come. I don't like the idea of buying a "crappy" £100 jacket to use because I didn't want to spend too much but really needed something and then not really like it. I'd rather spend a little more (no more than £200) to get a better one and keep it much longer. I've also been told that I'll need some snow pants, another £50 that I'll have to waste. I don't see myself getting dressed one morning and saying "I think I'll wear my snow pants today, even though I'm not going skiing". Mind you, after seeing the warning signs of an inevitable blizzard that'll hit London I might actually need them. I only made it to one shop, and their stock was exclusively Quicksilver. I'd have preferred to see and compare a wide range of brands, I'm particularly interested in Columbia gear. So after being dissatisfied with what I saw and having little time to see other places (I offered to help Damien carry luggage. His wife Annmarie had just returned from Australia) I'm now still jacketless. I'm quite sure that some of the ski rental places will let you hire your kit, and that may be the better option just now. I still need to book my board, hopefully I'll get the early booking discount.

The other thing I was hoping to do before going to Meribel was to have some snowboarding lessons. After mulling over it for a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that it's was too much to pay for this month. I'll get some lessons on the slopes and take it out of next months entertainment budget. I did want to learn with Paul, and since he's not going skiing, the indoor slope sounded like a good idea. It's always nicer to know someone when you go to learn something new. I guess I'll still need skiing lessons so there's still that.

Paul has made another post, from what he told me it was motivated from something I said in my blog. Allegedly I said his computer was crap. I was surprised since I didn't remember using those words, but since it made him actually type something I decided it was tough love, gotta be cruel to be kind. So now that I've reread my own prose, I can refute his accusation. I said his laptop was a lowly Centrino:

Given that the laptop is a lowly (no offence Paul) Centrino with a ATI Radeon Mobility 9700 128, WoW should run on just about any current hardware.

While that could imply I think his computer is crap, the preceding sentence seems to contradict that notion

Paul's laptop handles the starting areas very well, the only time it was jerky was during the opening fly-by, but in game ran very smoothly at decent res and good quality settings.

In fact the first statement was actually about World of Warcraft's ability to play on non-bleeding edge hardware, unlike something like say Ultima 9: Ascension. I doubt that Paul could claim his laptop to be a beast, except out of spite. Now that even laptop's can have hyper threading P4's with PCI Express, Dual SATA 7200 rpm hard drives and PCI-X 16x 256MB video cards; Paul's laptop pails in comparison to the current crop of rendering power. But here we're talking about desktops or desktop replacements. Paul went for the "Thin and Light" style laptops and indeed it is both light and thin, at the same time even. As I mentioned, it even plays World of Warcraft very well to boot. What more could you want? Longer battery life and something to keep the bottom of the laptop from burning said lap that it is on top of. Such products exist on both accounts of course, since it's not an uncommon problem. Now that I've said all that, I'll probably get harassed by Paul again.

Not last weekend but the weekend before I went to see House of Flying Daggers with Paul and Ben. Ben is an old friend of Paul's who went to work in the UK a couple of years ago, so we occasionally meet up with him since it's nice to see some Aussie people, even if he is from Queensland. House of Flying Daggers was definitely not his type of film, but it was mine. Excellent fight choreography, excellent locations and sets, and a plot that was different yet classic (a typical tragedy with a love triangle, it never fails). The use of wire stunts was not overdone. I can only think of the "tree running" that was obviously done with wires, but that's forgivable, and an early fight where a Ling Xiaoyu type running over the head move. All in all, a very nice movie. I still want to see Hero, hopefully Jet Li will be great in it. I'd like it to live up to Fist of Legend, but it probably won't. Can anyone tell me if it's good?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

w00t!

Pardon my 1337 but I'm now part of the World of Wacraft European Final Beta! Yah! Gameplay.co.uk still had a few beta kits left over from the Blizzard Pre-Order Campaign. Basically what the pre-order campaign offered was a authentication key for the final beta when you pre-order the retail version. So the final beta is a kind of semi-open beta, but Blizzard are supposed to be opening it to more people in the near future (before the end of January). Judging by the problems I've been reading on the US forums, Blizzard should probably get lots more people onto the servers to see if they can handle the load.

Regardless of the calamity on the US servers, I'm very happy with World of Warcraft (herein refered to as WoW). I'm probably in the starry eyed, first look after a very long wait kind of mode but, as they say, ignorance is bliss where wisdom is folly. All the reports of the game looking magnificant are spot on. By the time we set up the account and logged on last night, the game was well into the night cycle. In case you're interested, the game, I believe, runs on a real time 24 hour day/night cycle based off the server time which is in Paris ... well somewhere in France anyway. Apparantly the dawn/dusk periods are rather stunning but I'm yet to see them. So last night was all about creating a new character, getting used the interface and just having a look around. Paul's laptop handles the starting areas very well, the only time it was jerky was during the opening fly-by, but in game ran very smoothly at decent res and good quality settings. Given that the laptop is a lowly (no offence Paul) Centrino with a ATI Radeon Mobility 9700 128, WoW should run on just about any current hardware. I'm dying to give it a spin on the computer here at work basically being a top-end computer. P4 3.0GHz, 1GB RAM, PCI Express x16 GeForce 6600. Not a 6800 Ultra but head and shoulders above the previous generation cards from what I'm led to believe. We did have a less than pleasant first half hour playing it as we were dropped several times and had to reconnect. I'm quite sure this was actually due to our wireless network since when we used the wired lan connection, the game played with no dropouts and virtually no lag (30-70ms latency!) for several hours. Currently I'm using a Dwarven Hunter and Paul made a Tauren Warrior, but in about a month we'll have to start all over again when it goes retail. People on the forums have been asking "Will you wipe the servers?" and "Can I keep my character?". Blizzard choose not to respond, which is probably a good call since I'm 99.999% sure they'll wipe all characters and if they say that then a lot of people will stop playing and the testing will be less effective.

As a cruel twist of fate, WoW was actually released in Australia at the same time as the US so had I stayed in Australia I could have played WoW much much sooner. Also, the European servers are seperate from the US (which Aus uses) so currently you cannot play with inter-continental friends. That should change soon after the European launch, and when it does I'll try to find out if anybody down-under is playing and try to get on the same server to do some grouping with them.

Enough for now, back to work!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

In the clink

Had to laugh at this. The local volleyball club (Polonia) had emailed me back with details about training times, etc. The coach also mentioned that if we wanted to play next season it might be an idea to get registered now and maybe play a few games for the end of this season, saying that there were still 3 prison games that might be interesting. I'd forwarded the email to Paul to see what he thought and we were both intrigued by the mention of "Prison" games. The response from the coach was that there are some teams in the league that are prisoners. Obviously they cannot play away games, so the matches are held in the prison.

We have to play Wandswoth Prison once more and Wormwood Scrubs twice.

They obviously caanot[sic] play away matches, so we have to go to them for the home leg.

Interested. Most people get excieted[sic] about the chance to play against prisoners.

Up for it?

So I think this is an opportunity I can't pass up. I'm having thoughts of the movie Mean Machine, maybe they'll be crooked guards doing the refereeing too!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Appleseed

This looks pretty cool. It said something about being from the director or writer of Ghost In The Shell which was a very good anime film. I expect the release date is for the US, so I have no idea when it'll reach other countries. I'm missing a few of the series I was watching back in Australia. Namely Naruto, but also Initial D. I guess now that I've got a decent internet connection I should be downloading them myself.

I also haven't seen Ong-Bak, Hero and House Of Flying Daggers. Ahh, I'll have to fit them into my busy schedule of doing nothing.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Culinary Delights

Tonight I attempt to cook my first roast chicken. It seems like a pretty easy way to cook really; buy a chicken, stuff it with some things (I've used a lemon, some garlic and some thyme) then bung it in the oven for an hour and a half. If all goes well I could be cooking a lot more roasts, the lazy cooking is very similar to stews and, to a lesser extent, cassaroles (they need a little more prep time, whereas stews you can just put everything in your pot and you barely need to fry start anything). To go with the chicken will be roast vegetables of course and if I can manage to not stuff it up we should also get a nice chicken gravy. The whole process will be carefully checked against my current bible of cooking, Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Dinners. It's a really good cook book, not too heavy on the details (like the other cook book we have by Ainsley Harriot, Ainsley Harriott's Friends and Family Cookbook) but it's really made me want to eat more fish. The prices of meat have also made me want to eat more fish, even some of the expensive fish is cheaper than the chicken or beef you get around here. Lucky for me then I guess, more omega 3 and all that.

Enough about food, let me talk about what's been going on here. Not that it's really interesting, I just wanted to change topics. As I mentioned before, Chloe has been visiting Paul for the past couple of weeks. After doing some touristy site-seeing and meeting some relatives, they took the Eurostar to Paris for a few days. I thought I may be able to get a few quiet days to myself there but as luck would have it Annmarie was flying back to Australia the day after Paul and Chloe left for Paris. She was leaving from Heathrow so the family asked to stay at our flat the night before as travelling down to Glasgow takes such a long time it'd be easier to do it the day before. That was fine and Damien took the opportunity to stay a couple more days in London to see some of the things he missed from the last time he was here. Fast forward to today, Chloe has left to catch her plane to Australia, Damien and Willow are halfway to Glasgow and Paul is yet to return from Heathrow which leaves me in fragile peaceful surroundings cooking a chicken.

Last week at work I managed to stay late enough to see someone bring in a Sony PSP. That's the new handheld console from Sony, and it's the little sister of the Playstation 2. The PSP is a very nice looking device with an excellent large sized widescreen format LCD screen. The game I saw running on it (Ridge Racer) was very impressive even though I don't like the Ridge Racer series. The picture quality and framerates were definetely close to the PS2 so I'd place it as the best handheld platform around. I haven't really seen much of the Nintendo Dual Screen, but I have been looking at some of the Gamespot videos of Super Mario 64 DS. It looks nice, definetly being at least on par with the Nintendo 64, but I don't know how it compares to the Gamecube (probably poorly). It'll take me some time to stop thinking of the second touch screen on it as anything but a gimmick, but I'm probably clouded by my affection for Sony Playstation at the moment. The price I saw on press statements was 20000 yen which is around US$200 or £100 and the guy that brought the PSP in to the office even said it was US$200, but on all the online stores (like PlayAsia.com and Lik-Sang.com) they're around twice that. It's rather frustrating, but at least it'll stop me from buying one too soon.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

Well Christmas has come and gone and now it's a brand new year. My Christmas was well spent at my Aunt Angela's and Uncle Eddie's small(ish) farmhouse in Somerset; Stane Allerton to be exact. Very nice there, but I likened the trip to Planes, Trains & Automobiles except without the planes and I think that was the Thanksgiving holidays, not Christmas. At any rate the trip entered the realm of movies when our train from Bristol Temple Meads to Weston-Super-Mare was cancelled at 10:45. After 10 minutes of walking around the station, we eventually realised that no train would take us to Weston and inquired about the lack of trains. A couple had also been stung by this rather surprising cancellation were also asking about what can be done and we were all given a paid trip in a taxi to our respective destinations. Taking a taxi to Weston-Super-Mare we were then faced with the problem of trying to find Eddie and Angela. Since the station was shut we assumed that our lift has assumed that we would not be arriving there. It also seemed rather a slim chance that we would find our gracious hosts at whatever church they were attending the Christmas Vigil Mass at. Instead we took a taxi to the address Mum had given us, somewhere that our driver had not really been before which meant we took a rather scenic route. Eventually we arrived at the quaint farmhouse but with all the doors firmly locked we had no way of getting into the house. Our only shelter was an entry room barely big enough for the two of us to sit in while we waited for someone to arrive. It was cramped but at least it was out of the wind.

Angela and Eddie did arrive and were probably more relieved to see us than we were to see them. At least more than me, I'm not sure about Paul's take on the whole fiasco. Maybe I've become used to things like that with my Edmund Rice Camps, things like that almost routinely happen on those camps and you've just got to roll with the punches. I'm sure Paul would like to have a lot more control over the situation, but I'm quite happy to go with the flow in those cases. At any rate, we got inside, had a warm drink and went to sleep. The next two days involved eating a lot as any Christmas does and also meeting relatives, which any Christmas usually does as well. I didn't recognise my Uncle Grant at first, which I didn't readily admit, but it was good to see him. It was also the first time I'd met Uncle Eddie and I'm going out on a limb here and saying the first time I've met Auntie Angela (at least, first time in my working memory). On Boxing day, no servant/master reversals happened but I did meet my cousin Steven and his family of four. A very nice bunch, a lovely meal and a good relaxing day. Our trip back to London the next day was not nearly as eventful as the trip there, but then no-one has interesting "day after Boxing Day" trip stories now do they?

Paul had to race off to Heathrow soon after we got back to the flat as his girlfriend Chloe was arriving to stay here for a couple of weeks. They've been visiting the sites for past week and being really touristy whenever they can fit it in between the effects of jet-lag (Chloe has an excuse, Paul seems to be having some sympathy symptoms, but he's been getting sleepy in the mid-afternoon for a while. He's blaming the fact that it's dark at 4pm and his body clock's being thrown off) which pretty much leads us up to now, an hour or so into 2005. We'll have a holiday on Monday since January 1st was a Saturday, then I'm back to work on Tuesday. Chloe's couriered a book of mine from Australia that I should have brought myself but forgot. It's 3D Game Engine Design by David H. Eberly. I bought it a few years back when I was slightly motivated to write my own 3D Engine (really I wanted to write a renderer, but I thought I wanted to write an engine which is really many times more complex a task) and did succeed in reading most of it, but fell short in actually writing any code or even using the samples given on the accompanying CD. Now that I'm that much closer to actual applications of what was described in the book I figured I'd like to read the book again. Being 4 years old, the book is a little dated but from what I see it's still quite relevant on things such as scene graph management and some core maths processes (matrices, vectors, and quaternions). I think renderers have progressed significantly and some of what he discusses is of little or no relevance any more, probably the motivation behind the 2nd edition of the book which is due to be published soon.

While I've got a lot further with exploring his code this time around (examples have actually compiled) I think my interest will wane when I get World Of Warcraft. I think I've been mentioning this a lot recently and I've convinced myself that I absolutely must get this game and play it. I thought that Half-Life 2 was going to be my must have game, but WoW has really taken Half-Life 2 out of the picture (although a demo has recently been released so I'll at least have a look at that). I know that it'll eat my time away, and since there's not really an end to the game it could turn out to be an infinite time sink, but right now I'm confident that I'll be able to balance the other important things in my life (like eating, sleeping and working) with it.

Optimistic as always