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Thursday 30 December 2004

Working? [lurks]

Who's back at work then? I am. It sucks. Bugger all people here and most importantly, no one else in the country is working so I can't really do any more work anyway. Still, better off dossing at work now than take the time off. That way I'll have some up my sleeve to actually go somewhere later in the year...

Wednesday 29 December 2004

Tsunami - Donate to help [Slim]

Saw the following useful information from Sports Interactive, if you want to donate, this looks like an easy way to do it:
We've been spending the last couple of days trying to find one of themany worthwhile charities that are doing work out there to support. It's been a nightmare, as they are all doing such good work. This morning, I spoke to the press officer at Cathod, and she informed me that all the UK based charities have pooled together to have one donation line to make decisions like this a lot easier for people to know where to donate to.
The organisation is called the Disaster Emergencies Committee (DEC), and their website is
If you want to make donations, you can do so directly through - if you are a UK resident and working, PLEASE remember to tick the "Gift Aid - Yes" box, and the goverment will then pay any tax on the amount (28p in every £1 donated) through to the charity through your own tax payments (this is not an extra payment, just money taken directly from tax you've already paid), which means that for every £1 donated, the appeal with get an extra 28p.
Thank you for reading this far, and if you haven't made a donation yet, please do.
I wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year, and hope that you can spare some time to think about those less fortunate than yourself at this festive time.

wanky banky [Shedir]

Well this one year I tried to be sensible.
I transfered my wages (which arrived 10 days early in december) to another account, then setup a transfer which would put them back the day before my DDs.
Got the kid out on his bike and we went for an ice cream that day.
Arrived at bank, bosh no dough and well overdrawn.
DD's came off a day early and the money transfer hadn't happened!
Called bank and was told that money transfers can't happen on a non working day.
On an IT system of course this is utter tosh.
I've emailed them below but I'll be onto the branch next.
Wankers the lot of them.

I have phoned the telephone number and am not happy with the outcome.
I have been been advised that the origional T&C's said that the transfers would not work on a non business day.
In that case why am I able to schedule them?
Due dilligence should make sure that the bank cannot allow me to input inappropriate transactions.
I've used this facility in the past to great effect and have been very happy with it.
However this instance has soured me to the whole idea. Given the website is available 24/7 and I transfered the money by hand via the website *that day*, I fail to see how the money wasn't moved.
I work in IT myself and unless the transfer is approved by hand somewhere, I cannot understand how a scheduled task (or cron) on a computer cannot run because it's a bank holiday.
I look forward to your explanation on this, hopefully with a promise that it can be rectified for the scant 20 days public holiday there are in the UK.
Also that the service is unable to be set to weekends as I assume that it will not work then either.
Yours, Pete

Tuesday 28 December 2004

A reading list of a different variety [Muz]

Having heard good things about Dan Simmons' Ilium from both Lurker in blog 181 and a friend of mine who is a professor of literature, I thought "Hey, might be something good there" and picked it up.
However, I thought before reading this reworking of Homer's classic, it might be worth reading the Iliad first. (I know most of the story, having read books about Greek mythology, but never the great work itself). I ordered the Oxford World's Classics edition and have just gotten around to starting it. What can I say, other than "woah", in a suitably monosyllabic Keanu Reeves fashion. This is nearly 500 pages of verse, with a cast of dozens if not hundreds of characters, composed by a man who very probably didn't have the aid of a formal written language to write it down. Poets would memorise this literal epic, and then recite it verbatim. The sheer scale of it boggles the mind.
Anyway, I digress. I'm only a few books (chapters) in, but already there's been enough about ancient Greek culture and mythology to get me wanting more. I've already ordered the Odyssey and the Aeniad; can any of the more cultured and learned among us suggest any more sagas in a similar vein that might be of interest?

Creative Zen Micro review [Lurks]

MP3 players have come a long way since my first one, the Diamond Rio withits 32MB of memory and 115k serial link. Creative's newest Zen Micro isabout the same size as the ancient Rio but of course sporting a hard drivethe Zen Micro is gunning for the iPod Mini. This here blog is a review ofthe Zen Micro but I'm going to have to digress a little to discuss whereCreative fits in the scheme of things.
Until fairly recently, Creative shipped more MP3 units a year than Appledid, thanks to the solid-state Muvo series. That'd still be the case ifthey owned all of the solid-state market like they did, but now pretty muchevery shed in the Pacific Rim is churning out solid-state MP3 players thesedays and many of them were just plain better.
On the hard drive side of things, Creative pretty much invented thatconcept. The Zen Jukebox series were basically CD player cases with themechanism ripped out and a 2.5-inch hard drive inserted. Of course when1.7-inch drives came along, it was Apple that realised that with a bit ofdesign there was a mass market device waiting to get out.
When hard drives got so small that they threatened the smaller pocketablesolid-state players, Creative also beat Apple to the market with a 4GBmicro-drive based player, the Muvo 2. The Muvo 2 is still a reasonablelittle player but it suffered from a particular Creative disease. It lookedlike it cost £5, even though it cost over £200. It didn't help that theyslapped it in a plastic clamshell box. A year-or-so ago I had a meetingwith Creative where I ranted that they were an inch from the finishingpost, if only they would sort out the presentation and usability.
Then I got a plain package in the mail with a note attached, "Happy now?".Inside was a proper cardboard box for the new Creative Zen Micro with tendifferent coloured Zen Micros on the front of the box. Changable faceplates? Actually no, it comes in ten different colours.
Alright but let's look at the player so I bust open the box and I findsomething which Creative have never done before, presentation. It's notexactly iPod level but it's pretty good and surely no coincidence that thePSU and USB cable are bone white too. It's difficult to illustrate themassive difference this makes from the nasty transparent plastic clamshellof the Muvo 2.
What of the player itself? Smaller than a pack of cards, the Zen Micro hasa bone white back with a compartment for a changable battery. The frontface is flat and painted any of the ten colours. The display is on thesmall side but is quite high resolution. 160 x 104 in fact. This is enoughto show you really what's going on and allow proper browsing.
Here's the kicker, the Zen Micro doesn't have regular buttons as such. Theentire front panel is touch sensitive. Depending where you're at, the tallrectangular section in the middle serves as a volume control, scrollerthrough your music collection or menu options and as a selector by simplytapping it. I confess I'm quite used to difficult and fiddly controls onother MP3 players but nevertheless, I was up and running with it inminutes. The only real drawback here is that you really have to remember tolock the device before tossing it into a pocket but fortunately they'vemade that easy with a slidey dual purpose on/off and lock control.
The display has its own backlight while the buttons and a thin transparentline around the entire front face are backlit with another deep turquoisebacklit. No power supply is necessary for the Zen Micro, it charges on USBand in fact through the USB is the only charging mechanism. For thatreason, they've provided a PSU with a USB mini connector on it to chargeaway from your computer. When the Zen Micro is charging, itslowly pulses the keypad, surround backlight. Nice touch, very tron.
With the Zen Micro, Creative have moved away from the device simply showingup as a mass storage device in Windows. At first, that upset me. I'vealways preferred to just be able to shovel my own music on how I like.However doing so means that the player has to scan your collection on powerup, which can take a little while. The Zen Micro steps over to the iPod wayof doing things and uses a database on the player. It doesn't show up as ahard drive but you can, if you wish, partition some of the 5GB drive toshow up as a hard drive for portable storage purposes. You can't play anyMP3s you shovel onto that though.
We'll touch the user interface in a moment but given that the Zen Microneeds software to upload files - it's going to live or die via how easythat is to do. The software installation is sadly bloatware deluxe butCreative have provided three out-of-the-box mechanisms to get stuff ontothe player. Firstly there is your standard obligatory all-in-one music ripper,organiser type application called Creative MusicSource. It seems serviceableenough but, well, for aficionados of the 'old way' of doing it - it'spretty horrible. And even if you like this way of doing things, it'scertainly no iTunes.
Fortunately the player shows up under 'My Computer' as a virtual devicecalled the 'Zen Micro Media Explorer' and if you browse to itin Explorer, it will show you what's on the player. You can importdirectories and access the nifty functions such as syncing up the built-inorganiser with Outlook and so on. The third option is to use Windows MediaPlayer, which has this sort of standardised mechanism to sync to supportedMP3 players. So if you use that to organise your music (and obviously a lotof people do) then using the Zen Micro is as painless as it gets.
Out of the provided mechanisms, I found the Media Explorer mechanism to bequite serviceable. The only real problem I found with it was that itdidn't work with my Explorer replacement, Directory Opus. Buggery.
At long last, let's discuss the player interface itself. It is, not to puttoo fine a point on it, absolutely wonderful. Of course a fogey like me hasto get used to browsing by artist and/or album, rather than directorystructure but it's very easy to do. So's adding things on the fly thecurrent playlist. The interface is, for Creative at least, revolutionaryand I must say a country-mile in front of iRiver.
One thing I particular found intuitive is that there's a button on thebottom right which looks rather like the 'menu' key thing on a Windowskeyboard, between the right hand windows key and alt. It does the samething, basically like hitting right mouse button on whatever file/optionyou're on to offer a context sensitive menu which you can scroll through(with the volume/scroller control) to select the right option. It'sbrilliant. In fact the touch controls work so well it took me no time atall to enter in my entire (long) name in as the owner in the settings.
There is a built-in microphone for meeting recordings, which I found moreor less acceptable but nowhere near the superb iRiver 100-series andthere's a built-in FM radio. Reception seemed fairly poor using theprovided headphones (which get used as an aerial) inside but I found itworked well enough outside and it does carry the usual features includingan auto-scan. You can record the FM to PCM, although I never worked out quite why you'd want to. In addition to MP3, the Zen Micro also plays AAC, WMA and - vitally, DRMed WMA files courtesy of all those MS-powered music download sites that are appearing.
Audio quality wise, Creative have always known a thing or two here and haveincorporated good quality headphone amplifiers with separate dc-to-dcconverters offering higher voltage rails for the amps to work with. Thatmeans that even if you plug in a set of decent hi-fi cans with highimpedance drivers, you still get a good level out unlike many other devicessuch as the iPod. The Zen Micro doesn't disappoint here either but the realsurprise was also the presence of some actual bass with the provided in-earheadphones. Now they're not fabulous by any means, and I'd soon scrap themfor the sublime Sennheiser PX100 portable headphones but these things areactual useable, in stark contrast to the abortions which come with theiPod (yet miraculously still get used by seemingly endless iPod owners).
Extras wise, the Zen Micro comes with a nasty belt clip thing that does,usefully, double as a desk stand when a little plastic foot is slotted intothe back inside of the belt clip. Given the device necessarily needs you tobe able to touch the entire front panel, your options with regards to carrycases are limited but it strikes me that so long as you're putting in apocket by itself, it will be resilient to wear and tear.
It's also worth mentioning that the third party Notmad Explorer works atreat with the Zen Micro and allows simple copying of music files to thedevice where upon it will extract the tags and update the databaseaccordingly. I found this worked with Directory Opus so it is my currentfavorite choice of getting music onto the player.
In all, I'm going to stick my neck out here and call the Creative Zen Micro the best MP3 player I've seen. Good looks, 12 hours of battery life, 5GB micro drive, FM radio, microphone, excellent interface and superb audio quality have really made an impression on me where I didn't expect to find it.All this for less than £170? Bargain.

Friday 24 December 2004

Xbox KAI, i.e. xbox live lite! [Shedir]

This is superb.
For the unscruplous among you this thing is just fantastic.
Download but run as the engine only version.
Install that and reg a nick.
Using XBMC on your beloved xbox you can slap in your ID/passy and IP of PC running KAI engine.
Spot a mate online and arrange a quick game of something. In the media centre :)
Slap the xbox game on your larger than retail HD and it can auto load it and you just hit system link to play.
tres handy
ho ho ho!

Merry Xmas! [Spiny]

Merry Christmas everyone :)
Anyway. I don't care what vouchers your nan got you, go out & buy this. I can't believe most of you slackers didn't buy this. It's worth it for the multi player alone.

Thursday 23 December 2004

Big Ass Stilton and Broccoli Soup recipe [lurks]

One of the presents I got from the industry involved a pretty flash wooden box with a smart french cab sauv and a huge kilo lump of stilton. The wine wasn't difficult to dispose of :) but the stilton proved a little more problematic. I quite like a bit on crackers but this was a whole quarter of a round so what the hell do I do with that.
I just took a big ass delivery from Asda today and it seems I had fucked up the quantity of broccoli so I had three full heads of that. Accordingly I hatched a cunning plan to play to the strengths of the surplus and lashed up a lovely Broccoli and Stilton soup. I must have a full gallon of the stuff so I expect my neighbors will be getting some :)
It turned out stonkingly nice so here it is in full glory:
  • One chopped onion
  • One chopped leek (just the juicy bit)
  • One peeled potato cut into 1cm cubes or so
  • One and a half full heads of brocolli (300gr-400gr)
  • 500ml of chicken stock
  • 300ml of skimmed milk
  • Big ass dob of double cream
  • Big ass dob of butter
  • 150gr of Stilton (or less)

Making it is pretty easy, particular if you have a huge big ass pan. Get the gas heat on the pan and melt the butter. Heave in the onion and leek. Soften it all up. While that's happening, carve up the heads of brocolli. Keep the skinny stems but dump all of the thick stuff. Then chop ti up a bit and chuck it into the pan along with the potato.
Then add the chicken stock. To make that, one and a half of those 'premium' chick stock cubes will do. Anyhow, get a big ass lid on your big ass pan and simmer it there between 15-30mins or so until the potato has softened up (probably on the short end of that time frame).
Now you wanna get the contents of that pan into a blender and blend it good and nice, and get into a big ass pot. No way all that is going to fit in your blender, unless you have a big ass blender, so you probably have to do it in stages.
When you've got all that in the big pot, add the milk, cream and season it up with some salt and pepper. Then lastly, pitch in the stilton and bring the temperature up again. Don't be boiling it now, that would be bad. Stir the shit out of that, so the melted stilton gets all through it.
You'll probably want to eat half of that for dinner and chuck the rest in the fridge for another time. Or do it when you've got visitors, should happily stretch to 4 persons. Perfect with stilton and port bread which I might dosh up a recipe for later. :)

Tuesday 21 December 2004

So who would you like to be then? [houmous]

I grabbed a copy of 'The Pet Shop Boys discography - the complete singles collection' last week for a bit of laugh - but the truth is I've been playing it non stop since - I'd forgotten how beautifully crafted their songs were, as evidenced by the way so many of them have stood the test of time, and how well they quintessentially capture those magic moments of the 80's and early 90's.
Now without appearing to be an even smugger cunt than I actually am I have to be honest with you and say that I am quite satisfied with my life i.e. there isnÂ’t many people I would rather be. However the assault on my senses of all these Pet Shop Boys tunes somehow jogged my memory to a time, during their heyday, when I decided I wanted to be Neil Tennant. I cant elaborate on why that was with any huge degree of clarity, but it was primarily driven by, not just his talent or his coolness, but that somehow he seemed 'comfortable in his own skin' ( to literally interpret a French proverb). It also helped that he was quite tall.
Anyway this got me thinking - had I ever wanted to be anyone else apart from Neil?
Well apart from a brief period in the 70's, when I became so obsessed with Roxy Music that I announced that I was changing my name from Robin to Roxy, and would forthwith only be answering to that name (I put up with non stop ridicule for a week before giving in) – but I still follow Eno's activities to this day :-), the only other person I have wanted to be is Dave Stewart - I love his....
1) Artistic integrity ( I emailed him a few weeks ago to offer my accountancy services for The Hospital - his new media arts centre),
2) The way he doesnÂ’t give a damn about success in any conventional sense - like the way he went from the Eurythmics - one of the best bands in the world to form The Spiritual Cowboys....... - which was one of the worst haha - but he is like...what the fuck....he enjoyed it!
3) The fact that he is one of the few pop stars who openly talk about that very silly phase we all went through in the 70's where the drug of choice was barbiturates - take a mandrax, go to pub, fall on people and then start a fight - I still cant suss why we thought this was a pleasurable experience...hehe
Anyway - to the purpose, apart from my own self indulgence, of this Blog - who would other fellow EED members like to have been? The woman behind the deli counter in Sainsbury's Clapham? The man who invented velcro? Do reveal all!

Graphics card bargain of the year [lurks]

Anyone after a decent graphics card would be well advised to take note of this blog. ATI Radeon 9800SE cards have come onto the market and these are essentially the same R350 cores as regular 9800s but 4 of the 8 pipelines are disabled. Some also have memory running at 9800 non-pro rates and some really shitty ones have 128-bit memory interfaces (instead of 256).
There's one card, however, which has become pretty well known of late. It's Hercules' Radeon 9800SE All-In-Wonder (AIW for short) card. This has a 256-bit memory interface and the memory is clocked at Pro rates (340MHz) instead of non-pro (290MHz).
The thing is, you can just head over and get some softmodded drivers which unlock the other 4 pipelines. So whammo, you get an ATI 9800 Pro with a TV tuner, video in and out and an RF remote control for £160. Bargain!
The thing is, the 4 disabled pipes aren't guaranteed to work but they work for most people. If they don't work, return the card under the distance selling regulations and buy a new one. This is madness, I've just replaced the monster card from blog 495 which retailed for £400 with a card worth £160 and it's better in pretty much every way.
They're getting in a little short supply now but these guys have them.

Sunday 19 December 2004

Christmas Party Time [vagga]

The Christmas party is upon us. Who would have thought it, me organising an EED event, as opposed to dodging one at the last minute with a flimsy excuse!!
Where we are going is The Dragon Inn. It is number 12 Gerrard Street (post code of W1D 5PP for multimap / streetmap). Gerrard Street is the ‘main street’ of Chinatown, which has the ornamental arches at each end of the street! You know the one :)
(As a backup BTW, shinji and brit also know where the place is, so if you are a pe0n and you cant reach me, contact one of them!)
The booking is for 13 and is under my name. We are booked for 7pm, the restaurant has my number and anyway I have a deposit paid so they should not fuck us about.
I will be in the area early as there is not much going on at work as everyone gets ready to fuck off for Christmas next week. There is an OÂ’NeillÂ’s at one end of the street (At the other end of the street there are what looks like private houses, so you canÂ’t miss it really) I will head in there, with the aim of being there between 5 and 6. I could be there earlier if someone like Daire was standing about on his own with fuck all to do?
My mobile is 07815 801 671 if there are any issues or problems! I have most of your numbers, saying that they are all a year or so old so who knows how accurate those numbers are anymore!
Everyone Happy?

Perfect antispam! [lurks]

Over in blog 567 I was discussing spam and how I had decided to take a serious look at some anti spam solutions. Actually over the course of the last month, I would say that I am more or less an expert in what spam software exists on the market by sheer virtue of the fact that I have installed around 2 dozen applications. Most of them were written off for missing major features but a few I gave serious trials to and still moved on.
I would like to announce today that I have found my ideal application and I am, in fact, in a state of spam-free bliss. It's a good day all right given my Tannoy loving from blog 591 eh?
Before I get onto that, I need to qualify what I'm talking about. I don't use Outlook, I use The Bat. Therefore I need a generic pop3 solution. Secondly, I get a lot of spam. 60% of my mail is spam and that's running at 175 a day. Thirdly, I want Spamcop blacklisting and I want Bayesian learning because I've seen how powerful both are.
I also want a proxy based solution because I aint fucking around with an application before I decided to get my mail. I also really don't mind having lots of things to twiddle with under the hood because industrial levels of spam needs an industrial solution. Spam Sleuth is that solution.
This is pretty much a monster anti-spam toolkit. It has a heck of a lot of built-in modules, only some of which are actually enabled out of the box. In fact out of the box it's pretty shit. One look under the hood though, and I wasn't detered. It will handle multiple accounts and work in proxy or poll mode. In fact it'll also poll even when in proxy mode. One of the modules is a relay which will send your mail on to somewhere when it passes a certain number threshhold. The threshold stuff is like Spam Assassin only in Spam Sleuth there's all these modules which can modify the final score on an e-mail.
Anyhow, that forwarding shit is brilliant because I've got it to forward passed mail to my web mail. So my Squirrelmail is being despammed right on my own mail server, only valid shit is sent up to Slim's Dodgy Hosting TM. So anyway, I've had to fiddle with it right. I've adjusted some weightings. I've plugged in my mailing lists (so they're whitelisted). I've added some bad phrases. I've got it adding spam weight to mails to my older legacy addresses which I don't use.
Now tonight I've classified enough shit that I got to train and use the Beyesian filter too. Suddenly it's working with seemingly 100% efficiency. Ace! This from a little tray thing which I've got running on Wench. So it's despamming away on that box 24/7 for me and squirrelmail and it's already performing better than anything I've used with the exception of SpamAssassin + another RBL looking. It might even be performing that good, I haven't enough data yet.
I've got a niggle in that the RBL lookup stuff doesn't appear to work but I fired a mail to support and they got back to me quickly, saying they're looking into it. Very nice. Very high quality app, good support, right price. If your values are in line with mine, you really can't go wrong with this thing. Highly recommended.
If you don't want to fiddle to get it set up and to get it all running pukka, then it aint for you. You shouldn't play with scissors either.

Saturday 18 December 2004

How Chuffed am I [spiro]

Its not the entire team, but I have a smile on my face from ear to ear

ebay ups and downs [lurks]

I've been doing a load of ebay shit of late. So much so that I needed to start tracking my auctions in excel. Has anyone seen an app that tracks auctions and stuff? Specifically what your payment status is on something, delivery, how many times you've reminded some fucker to send you something, give you feedback etc. If not, it needs writing I tell ya.
Anyway, as usual with eBay - I've had some wins and some losses. I think I can count myself lucky that out of 90 transactions - I've only had two bad ones. One where some bloke in the US sold me something, claimed it was delivered to my address but I wasn't there to get it and they err, flew it back to the US. Yeah right. Second, in the last week, some bloke sold me a duff D-link router and is claiming it's all fine. Time to dish out some big neg.
Yet for all that, this evening I've had the biggest win ever. I won an auction for a pair of Tannoy 609 Mark IIs. Ten year old speakers of the dual concentric design. Fucking awesome and I sniped the bastards for £122. Bloke brings them around tonight. Mint condition, absolutely fucking amazing. Chuffed as hell - I would have paid twice as much!
I have to say this is the first time where, as opposed to how much kit I get to dispose of and hence partially fund my techno-lifestyle, I have actually had a major buying win.
The strange thing is, I've still meeting fairly clued up people that own their own computer and have a broadband connection who don't have an eBay account...

Thursday 16 December 2004

Telewest Cable - binning BT, SKY and going 'all in one' [Brit]

Yesterday morning, I finally binned both BT and SKY - opting instead for the total TV, broadband & phone package from Telewest.
I've been unhappy with SKY for some time, after all despite paying the top notch rate of £41 a month and having spent cumulative hours on the phone with their entire technical support staff, I've been without BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, ITV, ITV2 and twenty or so other channels for over a year. I'm quite aware of the problem of course - but despite me being within warranty they insisted that an engineer would cost £65 plus parts. Fuck that.
So, at 8.45am yesterday the cable guy turns up. I like a couple of other clannies have been on Telewest's uber broadband service (now running at 4MB downstream thankyouverymuch) for a good while and I'm impressed with them. Simply put, they shit on any other internet service provider I've ever been with.
First off, the telephone is costing me £25.00 a month - the price of which includes all calls at any time to any landline number in the UK (this excludes premium rate numbers as you'd expect). No peak hours or friends & family crap. Line rental is in there too. No hidden charges. Bosh - Telewest 1, BT 0. Calls to mobiles are extra, but since I would use my mobile for those calls anyhow, its a moot point.
Secondly, the cable TV. Now I've heard horror stories about cable or rather the quality of service. Complaints concerning heavy artifacting due to the compression used to squirt data down the cable line abound. I have to say however, that I've found no such issues - the picture, if anything, is actually sharper than SKY's - hell, the colour tone is visibly better. All the characters in one of my favourite shows - Navy NCIS - used to have orange skin on SKY. Now they've got proper skin tone. Bosh - Telewest 1, SKY 0.
More importantly, I get ALL the channels (admittedly Telewest only carry one God channel, SKY carries four) and its cheaper than SKY each month by over a fiver. I get all the regular channels, all the 'SKY' channels (but not Sky MIX, that comes next year) and SKY movies etc, for £35.60 a month. Bosh - Telewest 2, SKY 0.
Of course, the highlight of this whole episode was informing SKY that I wanted to cancel my subscription. After a twenty minute phonecall with the subscription handling lady where I kid you not she spent fifteen minutes slagging off the technology behind cable, I finally completed the exercise and stuck it to the man...
Still, I do now have a letter from SKY informing me that as a valued customer in the past, should I find myself unhappy with Telewest, I would be most welcome to go back to SKY. Let me get this straight; SKY are telling me that they are happy to take my cash again? Jeez, they need a letter full of bullshit for that? :)

Oyster sucks part II [Lurks]

You may recall that back in blog 786 I expressed my dissatisfaction with the technological marvel of London transport known as the Oyster card. To cut a long story short, my card just mysteriously stopped working and getting it replaced was a saga of considerable inconvienience, dogged by confused London Underground staff all the way.
Eventually I got that resolved. My card expired and then my week in South Africa happened, I got back and needed to whack on another three months travel for the princely sum of £272.40. What happens is you nominate a station, the next day, which will update your Oyster card with this new season ticket. It happens automagically as you use the card at a barrier. I had to use Paddington because my local Finsbury Park station doesn't have ticket barriers.
On the day of the ticket updating, yesterday, I came through from Finsbury park (since they don't check tickets there) and was met with the dreaded 'Seek Assistance' message, irritating beep and the slam into my back as the gates refuse the open and the chain of commuters come to a sudden stop and huff and puff at me, assuming in some way that this massive inconvienence to their zombie-comute is my fault.
I tried to explain it to the ticket barrier LU assistant guy. He isn't interested, it's an Oyster, clearly it's magic so he just waves me through. Day goes by. I return home in the evening, quite late as there was a work bash, and again the barrier wont let me in.
I explain this to the current surly LU assistant who does a great line in condescending speech, it's my fault. Clearly the ticket has no credit. It does, I say, I paid two hundred and eighty pounds and got the email in the morning saying it was ready. This guy was deeply unpleasant, as indeed most LU staff are in my experience - proof that his £30,000 a year sallery indicates money does not indeed buy happiness.
I go to the ticket selling window, there's no one there but yelling EXCUSE ME for a couple of minutes results in someone appearing and pointing aggravatedly to the OTHER window which I'm clearly an idiot for not understand that this is the one she is manning. There's no money on my ticket. She tries, in fairness, to call the Oyster card hotline to query this only they're closed, she says with a resigned huff. Closed. But um, London transport is 24 hours.
She says try it on the gate guys 'swipey thing'. I communicate to this guy, who has decided to take a serious dislike to me for interrupting him from reading his newspaper in the deserted station. He says it wont work, call the hotline. I say it's closed. He says it's not. He gives me the number, I dial it on my mobile. It's closed. He doesn't care one jot, of course. Suggests I buy a single.
So... had I not had any cash on me, despite the fact I've paid a huge wodge of cash and been confirmed my card is updated, I'd find that I have no right of travel on London transport and absolutely no way of resolving it. Obviously Oyster is, on the basis of this experience, quite rubbish. I indicate this to this LU staff and he has the cheek to tell me that thousands get by with it fine, once again intimating that this is somehow my fault. To be frank, the red mist of rage descended upon me but now older and wiser, I managed to walk away without incident, buy a single and get my arse home.
Next morning I log onto the Oyster web and find out that despite issuing me a new card, they haven't updated it here. I've bought a ticket, by the looks of it, for my old card which they took off me. Obviously this is a defficiency with them, not I. I register my new card on the system, never told by anyone that I would need to do this and if it's not obvious to me, well... I can only imagine how Doris the Chav is going to deal with it.
I call them up to explain this. I get on the phone, similar to the last exchange I had with Oyster customer service, the most bored and condescending woman I can ever recall conversing with. She's slow, stupid, she doesn't get the whole thing and as it slowly becomes clear over the course of 30 minutes of sorting this out - and all they did was refund my ticket and force me to buy another - there's never an apology, never an indication that this is their system having failed me, always the ever-present insinuation that this is my fault. She raises her tone and gets snotty with me. She tells me to do things like 'disassociate the old card' which clearly has nothing to do with the web site because there's no such feature.
So who's going to give me back my two pounds that was on the old card which mysteriously stopped working and they took it off me. What about refunding my two-days travel expenses when the card stopped working? What is the possible justification in having the telephone helplines close at 6pm? What about refunding yesterday's travel expenses and today's travel card too? She 'doesn't know about that' and then hangs up on me.
I was absolutely flabberghasted. I've complained bitterly about the state of the British customer service industry before but never has it been rammed home with quite the nuclear force of this escapade.
Incensed, enraged, disgusted. I'm now writing an official complaint letter which I expect I shall escalate to the regulator and as this correspondence unfolds, I will send it on to the Lord Mayor's office as well. This shall not stand. I'm sure this is ultimately futile but by God, I cannot sit back and take this sort of treatment.

Sunday 12 December 2004

XMP [Spiny]

Remember the multi player addon for Unreal 2 UT XMP? I played it a bit, Slim said it sucked, I still liked it. But as not many people bought Unreal 2 & Lengend went tits up, its slowly fizzled out.
Enter stage left Free Monkey Interactive who've redone the game as a mod for UT2004. Beta one was released this week & there seems to be a shed load of players already.
For the uninitiated, here's how it works:
Two teams each start with two artefacts, the goal being to nab the other buggers artefacts before they pinch yours. You spawn at deploy points which can be caputured for strategic advantage, natch. There's three classes which are light/med/heavy, each with their own predictable advantages & disadvantages. Some classes can lay deployables like rocket turrets & so on. Trouble is see, there's a need for energy and you have to maintain control of the generators too. Fail to control the generators & when your team looses too much energy shit stops working, including the ability to capture artefacts & use fixed guns etc.
The authors have done a commendable job for a first beta & produced a very professional release. All the gameplay elements are there, stuff's well animated, modelled & textured. (Although from memory, the textures don't quite match up to Ledgends output). Being a UT mod of course, it's got a far greater potential user base, and well... its good, see. I does rely on teamplay, which is why it needs a decent crack at it before passing verdict.
So, give it a go. I think I may have even seen a shiny floor or two...

For your Reading Pleasure....... [Houmous]

We are all well aware of information overload – but how do you balance not getting stressed with piles of unread publications (or web pages), or end up considering suicide as you have to wade through something about celebs living in the jungle, while trying to satisfy a genuine interest to know what’s going on in areas that interest you?
Well I think I’ve finally got that balance with the following well crafted package of magazine subs coupled with a careful shunning of newspapers – having a crap has never been so good! (supplementary question –why don’t women read on the toilet?)
Anyway for your amusement and edification here they are – but pray tell – what other magazines do my fellow EED members subscribe to?
1) Ready Made – a cult US magazine that shows how to make art out of everyday objects but with a sense of humour.
2) National Geographic – I just love the pictures after years of looking at them in dentists waiting rooms.
3) GQ – essential reading for the man about town and one of the few mens mags that hasn’t dumbed “ look at those tits” down.
4) Private Eye – something I’ve read on and off all my life – incredibly funny – witness the cartoon with the cat and the fiddle standing there looking at a black dot in front of the moon, with the cat saying to the fiddle “ Oh no! The cows burning up on re-entry! “ It also inspires confidence by showing its not just you that hates hypocrisy and is amazingly cheap if you subscribe.
5) The Economist – I used to think this was really dry and boring before I started reading it – what I now know is that its concise articles are amazingly informative , easy to read and have a gentle dry humour. I read the UK section from beginning to end.
6) PC Zone – nuff said although this has definitely gone downhill over recent months.
7) Time Out – essential for reading about movies and music to *find out more about* on Bittorrent and for planning my weeks TV viewing.
So come on then - whose going to own up to Asian Wives?

Rough Trade [Houmous]

No don’t get excited folks, I haven’t changed sexual preferences – I’m referring to the record shop in Notting Hill. I don’t know how well known Rough Trade is to you all, but effectively it’s a record shop that its unlike any other, and is the shop on which Nick Hornby's book High Fidelity is loosely based.
I first got involved with the shop in the mid 70’s when I was heavily into punk and reggae, running my own fanzine "Situation 3" (one of the outlets I was selling it from in Scotland got raided for having obscene material after I put a drawing of an erect penis in it – I left work immediately when I got the call from the shop, went home and set fire to 200 copies in the garden – haha – but that’s another story!). I was also selling army surplus clothing dyed black in Notting Hill market which is how I discovered Rough Trade.
Its hard to describe the elation of discovering somewhere selling (and publishing) music that you didn’t dream could have existed (remember we are in the mid 70’s). My first purchase was a single by Richard Hell and the Voidoids – something I had only been able to read about previously. I became friends with the owner Geoff Travis and his shop became the biggest seller of my fanzine.
Anyway scroll on another 27 years and we find yours truly flicking through the Financial Times weekend magazine supplement *cough* when I come across an article on an outfit which operates a subscription service sending customers CDs which they think are good every month. Its not one where you can send back anything you don’t like (although if you really are unhappy they will replace it with another from their selection).
Normally the mere thought of the sort of crap you could end up with would make me quickly flick the page with a shudder – but fortunately before this happened I noticed who was behind this – Rough Trade !
A quick look at examples of CD’s they had previously selected included Nouvelle Vague, Black Keys and Devendra Banhart – all of which I love and took a lot of time and effort to find. – I’m hooked!
Joining fee is £30 and then you decide how many CD’s you want a month – the cost is about £12 per album – you can go from 3 right up to 10 a month! I went for the 3 albums. While this is obviously not cheap what I intend to do is the same as I do for all CD’s – I buy them, rip them and put up for sale on Amazon or Ebay.
As you can see from the web site everything is fairly aesthetic. I received a nice membership card, a trendy little calendar showing me the date each month I would get my CD’s (all of which went in the bin) but also a double CD of a sample of Rough Trades favourite tracks, which is great.
I’ve now just received my first CD’s – The Superimposers ( The Superimposers), The Glimmers (Various), and Eye to the Telescope (K T Tunstall). Each CD comes with a great little card with 3 paragraphs about the album under the headings of Who/What/Why. First listening impressions are that they are all good and very different so I’ll be giving more *details* about them on Wench shortly!

Saturday 11 December 2004

Hi girls! Its the EED mens facial correspondent here with more important facial product news for you! [houmous]

Sat morning at Jersey airport - returning home from our 2 day national partners conference (about 200 of us). I'm hanging out in duty free in the beauty section seizing a few minutes before boarding to examine the new Clinique mens 'surge extra' moisturiser oil free gel and pick up some more Clinique Aloe (and other mineral extracts) aftershave. While examining the contents of the box and discretely trying some of said moisturiser on my hand a random fellow partner wanders past.
'Hello Robin what you doing - buying some moisturiser? hahahaha'
'Errrr - yes'
Said partner looks at me with part disgust/part horror and without another word turns around and walks away.
p.s I know alot of you having been worrying about whether you should go for the Gillette Mach 3 turbo or the new Wilkinson Quatro four blade. After extensive research I can advise you that while the Wilkinson has a more solid feel to it, you get a closer shave with the Gillette :-)

Netgear Routers [lurks]

One of the benefits of my job is that when some equipment doesn't function as it should, I find that placing a call through the firms media PR agency actually starts to yield results. I recently resorted to that concerning my Netgear FR114P firewall router. This router has a denial of service feature whereby it decides that something is a DoS attack and then chokes off that IP address for a time. Good eh?
Good apart from the fact that the numpties at Netgear A) decided to have this DoS feature apply to outgoing traffic from the LAN and B) decide that an outgoing UDP storm from a game server scanner such as Gamespy or All Seeing Eye, should be classified as a DoS attack. Do you see where I'm headed with this?
In essence anyone that has this router, regardless of firmware revision, will get unceremoniously dumped off the Internet when running a game browser scan. Then some 10 seconds later, it lets you back on. There's absolutely no firmware control over this. There probably would have been had Netgear kept the old telnet interface to their routers but since the new millennium, in keeping with the culture of rounded corners and flaming logos, no such feature exists via the spartan web interface.
Oh, of course the router's DNS relay is randomly broken as I have seen on a number of other Netgear products also but I'll ignore that for now.
I went to Netgear support and logged a ticket. Zero response. I look around the web. I'm not alone. No one else is getting a response.
So I went via Netgear's PR agency in the UK and bingo, I have a nice man at Netgear UK who I've had to coach through repeating the problem. He's now replicated the problem and now kicked it up to the engineers in the US and will keep me informed.
Meanwhile... I bought a cheap D-Link 604 off eBay and I can't log into the router, it wont reset and the bloke that sold it to me claims it has no password and that he had reset it in the past. It looks duff and I'm going to have to give the guy negative feedback and cop some in return, most likely.
I only bought one off eBay because I happened to have money in my PalPal account - bleh, you win some and you lose some. Oh, Mr Netgear Man also managed to reproduce the problem on one other model of ADSL router with a firewall in it. I forget which one, a DG* type thing. Has anyone else seen this problem?

Friday 10 December 2004

XBMC again and Karaoke, sorry! [shedir]

Well, current XBMC builds support karaoke files. A bit hit in our house and is the old karaoke fun.
Have your MP3 files and CDG in same dir, press X and you've got karaoke on your chipped xbox.
Not up to singstar standards with scoring etc... but still a giggle nonetheless.
Now. No mic support, but the guy is working on that part.
So now I've got "in the right corner" my TV & Xbox. A single DVD with 4 gb of mp3 and cdg files. A virtual megajukebox of tunes to mangle.
"in the left corner", the origional karaoke box. PURELY now to do vocals. Independent volume! Music on TV and vocal boost can be customised, you don't see that everyday.
So if you can get a cheap mic and speaker setup for your living room, and have kids who want to sing it's another big WIN for xbmc!
Your honoured members of the jury, I put this blog forward as the one most likely to be deleted.

WinXP Activation [beej]

  1. Took XP CD home from work and installed it (how many people do this? Faaasands!)
  2. XP tries to activate, but as its already been done at work, it fails. You get 30-days for free, with the balloon reminder each login.
  3. I accidentally let the 30-day 'grace period' expire. At this point, its too late to enter another product key as documented on many forums. It won't have it at all. So you can't login at all... it logs you straight back out...only... you can by choosing 'register online', then opening a hyperlink in the activation app, which kicks in IE and of course that's complete access to your PC.
  4. After a week or so this is a real PITA (you've no Desktop, Task bar, or Start menu) so I called the Microsoft Activation Line to test the water on what sort of details they'd ask from me in order to get a code out of them.
  5. You key in the installation id from the reg app over the phone. The computer doesn't like this, so passes you on to a human being. She then asks for the first 6 digits again... after which she reads out the code to activate XP! Sorted!
  6. And I didn't even say my name or address. Whoah! Obviously the XP activation stuff isn't as sinister as the raving loony leftie lunix crowd make out.

Thursday 9 December 2004

Nintendo DS - handheld envy [Brit]

Driving from Ossining (just outside Manhatten) to Cape May is a tedious affair, especially when you're thirteen and the car is crammed with everything your American cousins can rip out of their town house. The epic 'max 60kph' voyage was made bearable by the presence of an original Gameboy, its tinny Mario music annoying the hell out of the adults up front more effectively than anything we could come up with.
That was fifteen years ago and I can't honestly say I've even given a second thought to handhelds since. I dabbled briefly with the Lynx (whilst a mate had a brief foray into the world of Neo Geo) but always went back to my PC. Verily, handhelds sucked.
Until last night, when at a bash thrown by a supplier one of their techies sidled up to me and produced a Nintendo DS (courtesy of a Canadian mate of his who had delivered it to him that very afternoon). I can't say first impressions amounted to much; a slab of bevelled silver plastic which whilst weighing convincingly in my hand looked like part of a wheel clamp - visually pretty, it isn't.
I'd seen photos of course - but up until that point hadn't actually seen one in real life (let alone played it). Super Mario running across the dual screens is fantastic and visually looks very lush indeed; the quality of the screens and the colour reproduction were bloody brilliant. I've no idea what it sounded like of course, I was trying to balance a Kir Royale with one hand, drive a baby dino round with my thumb and, most importantly, remain upright after some serious drinkage.
I assume there is audio however ;)
The deal was sealed when I realised that I could make my chap move by using my thumb - as the screens are touch sensitive too. This is something of a marvel since one thing that's always bugged me about handhelds and indeed consoles is the inability to simply click on the appropriate icon and go where you want to go... usually you're left steering a highlight box of some sort round a defined tab order.
Of course, the touch screen niceness would be a good idea regardless; what makes it a great idea is the fact that it works so well you can intuitively play games using it rather than the traditional (and somewhat clunky) four/eight point directional pad. It was a bit wierd at first, but dead easy and I realised that I'd been playing it for twenty minutes whilst all around me stared on bemusedly and poured booze down their necks.
Handhelds shouldn't be like this - for god's sake, this rocks!
I'm going to see what the games are like (the DS owner tells me there are only ten available currently and most of them are quite poo) in Q1/Q2 of next year - hopefully they'll be great, because I want one. Oh yes.

Tuesday 7 December 2004

Compulsory ID cards: welcome to our 1984 [Brit]

It appears that by 2012, every man, woman and child in the UK will be required to register for and carry a personal ID card.
The Independent newspaper published an article last week that identified in more detail than before the penalties for anyone found not to have registered for one, and they are (as you would expect from our current Home Secretary) unsurprisingly draconian (refusal to register will result in you being fined £2,500 for a start).
These biometric credit card sized devices will be a mandatory requirement for UK subjects, and are being sold to the general public as a way of combating everything from terror to benefit fraud to the somewhat ambiguous 'identity fraud'.
Currently, there is a voluntary trial in progress - quite how that will tell anyone in government anything useful is beyond me, other than the number of volunteers on the trial.
We're no stranger to having identity cards in one form or another of course, after all at sixteen everyone is issued their National Insurance number card (the equivalent to the social security number in the States) and then you have your DVLA issued driving license card, credit cards (the easiest 'id' card to track) and so on.
Where the new personal ID card differs however, and where is becomes distinctly Orwellian in nature, is the amount of information it stores and the number of organisations who will require its presentation before approving or offering services and products. The new ID cards will store fingerprint data (amongst other sensitive personal information) and give each person a number that would be tied in to a centralised database.
Personally, I don't see how these cards will do anything other than offer yet another opportunity for government to lay yet more red tape and associated penalties on a populace already sinking under the same. National databases have a long history of going badly wrong and costing an absolute fortune to implement; the government has estimated a £3bn cost for making ID cards a reality. If anyone needs convincing that central government led hi-tech initiatives are nothing short of a disaster waiting to happen, look at the laughable air traffic control service move to their new headquarters a while back.
The Great British Public (as they are so fondly referred to by observers hankering after a simpler time) are quite used to putting up with all sorts of nonsense from Whitehall, but this time I think they might find themselves facing another Poll Tax.
ID cards do nothing to assist in the protection or promotion of a democratic ideal - but do everything possible to erode it.

Wednesday 1 December 2004

DVD Player Face-Off [Spiny]

Having recently applied my decorating skillz to Spiny Towers(R), turning our dining room into a playroom for the kids, the plan was to bung the old telly in there with a budget DVD player.

Of late, here's been a bit of an explosion of big name DVD players supporting DivX. Not wanting something that would fall apart after 6 months, I was first interested in the new Sony players. However, the DivX forums revealed that they can only pump out DivX, not Xvid. Not a Good Thing(R). So I consulted endless mags & plumped for the WhatHifi product of the year, Toshiba SD340e. Eighty of your earth pounds from Amazon.

So far so good, but then our lounge DVD player died. A shame as it was very good. A Sony 735 with cracking dvd playback. However, as we all know, the march of technology is relentless. I was hardly surprised to find I could replace the Sony with a better performing model for around half the original price of the dead player.

The player I chose is a Pioneer 575A on the basis that I'd never seen less than a 5 star review & forums were full of happy customers, not bleating. (For bleating look to Dennon DVD player customers in the AV forums). Again, this plays DivX and Xvid with the addition of SACD & DVD-A should I want to run another 6 cables into my Amp. I picked one up from my local Sevenoaks when I had the chance. Not as cheap as on line, Richer sounds have them for £120 & I paid £140, but Pioneer are stuggling to meet demand for these players & the're rare as hens teeth.

So, how do they compare?...

Well, the reviews I've linked pretty well match my experience with the two players. The featherweight Tosh performing way beyond my expectations for the price & the Pioneer, just beeing damn good. But you want to know about more interesting stuff eh?

DVD-R Compatibility
The Pioneer beats the Tosh here. Using my Lite-On dvd writer the Tosh wouldn't accept DVD-Rs but would play +Rs happily. The Pioneer on the other hand, plays everything I've thrown at it. I've also been flexing the plastic on PC upgrades & bought a Pioneer DVR-108 burner to replace the Lite-On. DVD-/+Rs burnt with the Pioneer drive play happily in both. Navigation with discs bunt with the Pioneer seems faster than with Lite-On burnt discs too. Less errors I guess.

Again the Pioneer wins hands down. While the Tosh plays stuff fine, it's not too clever about aspect ratios. Playing an anamorphic ratio file stretches the picture rather than introducing horizontal black borders. You can bugger about with telling the tosh you have a 4:3 and then selecting widescreen on the telly to squash the picture a bit, but I didn't find an obvious remedy in the menus. The Pioneer on the oter hand, just works.

Bother players are obviously a lot quieter than Bill's Big Black Box. But the Pioneer is quieter than the Tosh's mechanism which can be heard when the volume is very quiet.

As far as I'm concerned the convenience of a networked Xbox is still king of the DivX players, but if you need better DVD playback & non networked DIvX compatibility you can't go wrong with the Pioneer DVD-757A.

Oh, and while you're at it, get a decent SCART lead. I upgraded to a QED P2110 & the difference was startling, a much "cleaner" picture than my old el-cheapo SCART.

Monday 29 November 2004

Gategate [Am]

It surprises me now, on an almost daily basis, that the repeated hammering of my forehead against this desk at the fucktardy du jour has not caused either a cranial prolapse or at least a trip down Ikea and an order for a new monitor. Today gave me more cause to wonder....
Latest in the list of interminable reasons to search through your draws for the Humanity Warrantee and seek to post it off asking for a full and immediate refund is the case of a mediumly attractive dutch girl who has had to validate her tits. Yes you heard it correctly, the dutch, a nation let it be said which is one of the only ones on the face of the planet to vaguely get with the whole might-as-well-be-fun-and-decent-since-we're-only-here-for-a-short-time (others including the Irish, the Carribean nations and goddam it yes the antipodeans) have become obsessed with the bona fides of the norks of some MAW (model / actress / whatever) from the flatflands.
Georgina Verbaan has managed to extract herself from the usual carsmash of colliding constenants that is the dutch language and has today posted online an x-ray mammogram to prove that she has not had her front bumpers augmented. Geen vals luchtkussen in ook niet tit as they say over an unfeasibly strong beer while playing backgammon smacked out their brains on finest Afghanistani bud. (No false airbag in either tit). As you can see, the suggestion that she had, ahead of a Playboy shoot, pumped up her puppies had apparently had the entire nation rapped and had become referred to as Boobgate.
Boobgate. They may be a nation of mayonnaise smugglers in every last filthy way that would make it inconceivable to trust a man with a jar of Helmans but "Boobgate"?
Smack goes the forehead. ~Wang~ goes the desk of fortitude quivering in sympathy.
Enough frigging -gates already! Hello can you hear me? No....more....friggin' -gates already! I'm not quite sure when I ran out of gatequota but it was a long wanking time ago. Don't believe me? Wikipedia has a damn good list of this most overused of taglines.
Pretzelgate? A titanic battle of hard baked snack product versus an intellectual inferior who also happens through the sort of co-indidences that gets a triple ~wang~ off the desk to be the President of the most powerful nation on earth. Camillagate? The humiliation of a nation as its future king casts Barry White into sharp relief as he tells his mistress that he wants to be her tampon. (No really for those of you reading this overseas). Nipplegate? The Janet Jackson no I really do *not* give a shit she got her puckered dinnerplate out on in the middle of the superbowl but for heavens sake is this just the sign of the stupidity of a nation that she actually thinks that she can say its a wardrobe malfunction when she's wearing some fucking happy star round it?
Gates have to finish. Here's the plan.
From now on I'm gonna saturate -gates. This is blog-gate. From now one whenever you see something unpalatable, try and drum up the filthiest -gate you can think of so eventually, finally, even the press will blanch at using it. Lewinsky-gate? Nah, should have been Cumgate. Or Sploogegate. Spatgate with a side order of Babybattergate. Cigarstuffergate. Someone in parliament has an upset tummy? Shitgate. Marmitegate. Bovrilguzzlergate. Chocolatewristgate. Royal gets a bit of acshun in the bogs of Annabels? OneoffatheWristgate. Toffgumgate. Jizzgate. Garglegate. Sloanymouthwashgate.
Anything readers. Just anything. Just getting the friggin gategates oot mah fookin headgate.

Friday 26 November 2004

Bluesky Half Life 2 Mods [Slim]

You've played Half Life 2, if you've an ounce of taste you fucking loved it and your weary tongue is now feeling a sad and empty socket where the golden molar of gaming goodness should be. But let me help you fill that weeping cavety with some half life 2 most wanted moddery wishlisting!
Lets throw the floor open here guys! We need to reintermediate efficient niches here and maximise shareholder values by engineering distributed partnerships, or something.
I'll go first.. I'd like to see something use the gravity gun, because it was the single most fucking cool arse thing about the game. Not something totally based on it mind, but something that uses it in a similar fashion to the ole grappling hook in quake 2 ctf. Like ctf in arenas where you use your trusty grav gun to pull and push platforms and swing bridges and shit around. You can also use shit as shields and stuff, ace for when you're leggin it with the flag, suck up a bit of steel and cower under the fucker!

Important Warning [Vagga]

I hate hoax warnings, but this one is important.

Please send this to everyone on your e-mail list.If a man comes to your front door and says he is conducting a surveyand asks you to show him your arse, do not show him your arse.This is a scam; he only wants to see your arse.

I wish I'd gotten this yesterday. I feel so stupid and cheap.

Monday 22 November 2004

Want to be the next president of U.S.A? [Shedir]
It seems its pretty easy to crack the voting machines!
Personally, I'll vote for Am.
AmLan 2008 in the Oval Office, you know you want it.
Jay don't hit the big red button, it's not teletext selection you know ;)

Sunday 21 November 2004

AmLAN - The Aftermath [Spiny]

Wow, what a weekend! Great to see everyone & dish out large helpings of 0wnage topped off with smack talk sauce. Ahem.
Here's a classic weekend moment. When watching the vid, just remember how everyone was cheering & chanting Dave to victory. Heh.
Post your snaps up here & for heavens sake G-man, get that Singstar wobbly cam footage up. Slim's Ace of Spades was a hoot.
I'll echo the others thanks to Clan-Am & start thinking about Wurzel-LAN 05 & let the detox begin....

Tuesday 16 November 2004

AmLan - Getting there by Train? [Vagga]

Right then I've been busy at work and have been paying no attention to who is going where and how for AmLan, but given Am has just told me 17 people are going Im taking a wild guess (given fuck all of us drive) we have fuck all cars going from London to AmLan that have we dont have anything even coming close to space; even for a monitor, let alone a big boned bloke :)
I therefore realise its totally pointless even asking about the subject, and assuming its the train I'm getting :)
Train is Victoria to Whitstable; from there Gareth picks us up at the far end.
There are trains every half an hour on saturdays, journey is about 90minutes. Cost seems to be 16.10 each way..
Its going to be a right pain with a PC and monitor, but we can do it :) Taxi to Victoria, train, and car from far train station to AmLan HQ - not hard :)
Who else is 'slumming it' then..

Monday 15 November 2004

AmLan - The Final Countdown [Am]

Some of you may remember Europe, a dodgy band who's lead singer almost succumbed to a fatal attack of hairspray in the mid-80's. Whatever the state of poodle-rock danger, it should be noted that The Final Countdown is now underway. In 72 hours we'll be looking at the biggest gathering of EED in the history of ummmm EED.
Well there's some shit to sort out with rides and kits but when you're in a clan that put the EE in L33T then you know stuff'll come right.
So to our readers, followers, fans and the plain people who popped around going "wtf", can I just say; This weekend the crosshatch will be basically closed down. We will be doing what proper clans do which is play shit loads of games but also get rip snortingly ripped to the tits and fall over a lot by the beach.
EED. What a fucking clan ought to be. (TM).

The night before.. [Slim]

Twas the night before half life and all through the net,
not a peon was bleating the forums were set,
the steam client was loaded in the task trey with care,
in hopes that gordon freeman soon would be there.

Half-Life 2 has not been released [Lurks]

AmLanAid [DrDave]

I just got off the phone with Midge Ure. He said this year's wanky pop acts couldn't sing for toffee and Band Aid looks as though it's going to turn out "fucking shite" (his words). I could hear Sir Bob crying in the background.
So he's asked if he could tap into the collective leet power that will be present over the weekend and maybe try to put some much needed spark into the charity single. We've been throwing around some ideas in channel and come up with this, which I think captures the essence of giving that EED so cherishes:
Leet The World: Do They Know It's 0wning Time
It's 0wning time, there's no need to be afraid
At 0wning time, we let in leet and banish gheys
And in our world of fatties, we will utter 'really, loike'
Throw your nukes around the world, at 0wning time!

But say a prayer
Pray for the pe0ns
At Amlan time, it's hard, like when you're poking bum
There's a world outside your windows
A world of lunix fa-got-try
Where the only skillz a' flowing, are the pe0n skillz of fear
And the MP3s that play there, are not even VBR'd

Well tonight thank Rebot it's them, instead of you

And there will be skillz in Whistable this 0wning time
The greatest gift we'll get this year is Half Life
(Oooh) Where bloggers never go
No fucking hits you know!
Do they know it's 0wning time at all?

(Here's to you) fuck them up their shit again!
(Here's to them) camping base, the dirty scum!
Do they know it's 0wning time at all?

(Do they know it's 0wning time?)

(Do they know it's 0wning time?)

Saturday 13 November 2004

Half-Life 2 and what it means for PC games [Lurks]

Its close. The 16th November, US time, which presumably means Wednesday in European civilisation. Needless to say we're all looking forward to this game like nothing before. We've also dished out no end of criticism to Valve on the delays, broken promises and Steam.
As an observer and participant in the games industry for a number of years, I remember working on a PC gaming magazine back when the original came out and I was tasked to review it. The game was revolutionary as we all know and that's what we're going to get this time around as well. Yet I want to step back a little from the game itself and analyse what Half-Life 2 means for the PC gaming genre due to Valve's unique publishing mechanism for the game.
Have you been puzzled as to why it hasn't been doing the rounds with tens of thousands of leechers on the warez sites? Maybe you've even been having a sly look on those sites yourself? I mean you're going to buy it anyway right? You have to for the multiplayer stuff.
It might be useful to quickly digress to examine the genesis of a pirated game; As a rule, games are generally leaked in the testing stage which is also the same end-stage of a game's development as when journalists get the code. So an equivalent of a release candidate, if you like, is what generally gets warezed and on the rare occasion that pikey journos/tests don't leak it, the next stage is that a retail copy is liberated from a duplication house. That's generally a week to two weeks before the on-sale date.
Half-Life 2 has been in duplication for some time with a number of people already obtaining boxed copies due to some retailers breaking the release date already. But still no warez, why is that do you think?
What has subsequently emerged is that even with the boxed copy, one must go online and register the game so you're able to play it. This is a brave move and one which has never been done before. It requires that the target audience has an Internet connection so you can add that to the minimum requirements, whether or not you intend to play multiplayer.
The simple logic here must have been game sales lost to piracy is greater than game sales lost to people without a 'net connection. On past evidence, that seems a pretty fair conclusion, particularly given that this is a core gaming title that demands a more or less modern PC and those obviously tend to be those with internet connections.
Beyond that, how is it then that the misdirected talent of some acne infested youth has not managed to zap the registration and crack the game for full play. Clearly it is not for lack of trying.
The answer, when you think about it, is simple. Valve have a digital content delivery system in the form of Steam as we all know. Therefore the easiest way for them to ensure that no one will be cracking anything is basically not to give you some vital bits of the game. Most likely bits of the actual engine, which aren't too large, but basically without them you don't have the brain of the game and so any crack attempt is going to have to involve working out how the game engine works and filling in the blank bits. That's beyond the abilities of said acne-wonder, certainly within the time frame which this scheme has to last. Which is just three days more.
Another fact here is that Valve hired the author of Bittorrent. That might mean that Steam will get something of the same technology of a peer-2-peer network, then again it might not. It doesn't really matter. What is significant is that Bram Cohen wrote a file transfer mechanism which basically chopped up the data into lots of tiny little packets and then distributed those at random. Is that not exactly the sort of clever thing you'd do with Half-Life 2?
Lets take it a logical step further in terms of software engineering. If you're missing 0.1%, for example, in random chunks of a set of data, particularly if its encrypted or compressed in some way, its not only very difficult to restore to a working condition but it will even be very difficult to decompress/decrypt as well.
Like all the best ideas, this one is as simple as it is clever. There's no getting around it. You need to get Valve's server to send you the bits you need before you have the game. Effectively we have a zero-day retail release and every bastard that likes PC games is going to have to buy it. Hats off to Valve, this is brilliant and they deserve every success - not just because they've made the best PC game so far but they've also worked out how to shaft the pie-rat scum too.
Of course when the game comes out, all bets are off. As soon as a cracker has a full copy of the game they can easily package it up into a warez bundle which will work for anyone - bypassing the log-in stage. There's nothing anyone can do about that. The achilles heel of any copy protection scheme is that ultimately the code must load correctly and be resident on a PC to play it, and if that's the case, a cracker can simply get at the end result.
This approach is going to work so well that the rest of the PC games industry is going to sit up and take note. Its not a difficult stretch of the imagination to predict that where Valve have pioneered here, others will follow.
Let's assume, by say 2006, that this mechanism is standard practice across the industry. What does this actually mean?
1. Reviews: It means that you wont get every web site and magazine reviewing beta code sent to them so you end up with 98% scores for games (because they got an 'exclusive') that don't see the light of day for three months. You'll still see some of this but your big early reviews will be from the major gaming titles, the top magazines and web sites because the publisher will fly them to the developer to play the game in order to review it.
The interesting knock-on here will be that for less than triple-A titles, they'll probably be no early reviews because web sites and mags won't be arsed to spend the time and the publisher won't have the budget.
2. General health: With piracy down and sales up, the industry itself gets a welcome shot in the arm. Those studios and publishers that have deserted the PC due to the rampant piracy will once again see it as a viable platform. Particularly when it comes to easier publishing via digital content delivery systems. Now it isn't necessarily a requirement to buy the prominent shelf-space in the major retail chains to end up with a blockbuster title.
3. Complexity and annoyance: The publishers aren't going to all rush to Valve for Steam. They're going to want to build this stuff themselves. It seems likely that you'll end up having an EA application, for example, which does your digital content delivery for their games. Naturally they'll also build in all the community and multiplayer stuff into their application, having failed to attract mass consumers to their web-site offering. EA and Ubi[soft] are prime examples here. These applications may turn into monsters. They'll be flashing you advertising, they'll be pushing content. It'll be like the Real Player of games.
4. Revenue in the mod community: This week Bioware started selling premium 'modules' for Neverwinter Nights. These were started as community mods, if you like, but were then spruced up by the developer and turned into commercial products - rather like Counter-Strike was. There's always a thriving community of people making quality mods as a hobby and as an avenue into the industry. With those digital content delivery applications, this will make it easier for publishers to do the sort of thing Bioware is doing. It'll also provide revenue for modders who are moving up to the realms of the the semi-pro. It will, ultimately, be feasible for some people to make a living as a modding group so that no longer is their best prospect that of being bought out by the guys who made the host game - ala Trauma Studios and Desert Combat for Battlefield 1942.
This is a great thing because this is what we want. We want more content for the games that are familiar with the engines we've set up and know how to play - particularly on the multiplayer side of it. But often these things aren't polished very well and you never get to hear about the good ones and no one has downloaded them or is playing them anyway, in the case of multiplayer mods. This mechanism means that the developer/publisher can select a number and raise the standard to the point that it's something worth paying for.

It'll be a brave new world, a frightening and complicated world of PC games but one which has a future which is brimming with new titles, content and amateur diversified innovation. This is a good thing because, by and large, the computer games industry had been giving serious thought to the viability of the PC gaming platform - with most commentators having a negative outlook on the prospects. A successful platform means more games, bigger games, better variety of games.
I hope in the final analysis, the irony is not lost on you. What is ushering in this brave new world, trail blazing the concept into our collective consciousness? Steam, that's what. Who'd think that annoying little system tray applet could mean so much in the wider scheme of things eh?
Valve may justifiably consider they got the last laugh after all.

Thursday 11 November 2004

Exile In A Wilderness Of Xboxes [DrDave]

Modded xboxes... marvellous things. Play emulators, re-enable the progressive scan mode, use it as a media centre, even stick a copy of Linux on it and use it as a capable server. Some unscrupulous cads even use it for playing "backups" obtained illegally across the interweb - hellions! Okay, it's true that Microsoft like to ban modified xboxes from connecting to their online gaming servers, but they have to catch you first and the addition of a simple switch was the perfect antidote to this heavy handed piece of facism.
See, the thinking always went like this: if you turn the chip off, then there's no way on earth that MS can detect a modification. The chip simply isn't there as far as they're concerned. So a generation of happy modders enjoyed the best of both worlds. After all, who was really losing out? Playing on Live requires the chip to be off, so modders were forced to actually (*gasp*) buy original titles. It seemed like the perfect arrangement...
But MS are rich and clever. Since March, they've been keeping lists and checking them twice. When you first connect to Live with an xbox, MS record your HD serial number and your xbox eeprom version number. MS have rather cleverly realised that the first thing a modderdoes is put a new HD in their xbox - to facilitate all that lovelypiracy see? The bounders. So... in theory, if the eeprom number doesn't match the HD number, then they've netted themselves a modder. They don't even need to see the chip, because the only way you can use a different HD is in conjunction with a mod chip. Three suckling pigs and a comely maiden - pure and true - to the MS drone who came up with that plan!
For some reason though, they never did anything about it. The modders continued to enjoy the benevelence of MS and everybody put in a pre-order for Halo 2 - the game destined to be the best reason to take your xbox online.
Then a few nights ago, somewhere deep within his orbital headquarters, Bill Gates stroked his long haired cat, sighed a long sigh and issued the command: "Ban them, ban them all."
A button was pushed, a dial tweaked, a lever engaged and from then on, anyone connecting to xbox live with a modified box that had been used online in its unmodified state previously... was banned. No appeal. No chance of reversing it. The entire box, blacklisted. The only possible solution: buy a new xbox.
Gentlemen, let this be a warning.... I was caught out. Yes, I thoughtmyself so clever as I cocked-a-snook in Redmond's direction. But they had my number, they were simply toying with me as a cat toys with a mouse.
I turned on my xbox last night to load my pristine, shrink-wrapped Halo 2 only to be greeted with an "unable to connect, modified xbox detected" message. Go to jail, do not pass go, do not play Halo 2.
Am I bitter? Nah. Am I angry? Nope. Do I feel cheated? Not really... I knew the Terms and Conditions when I signed up. I have the contented, if a little sore, feeling of having been buggered by a true pro, a real bedroom gymnast. Microsoft have played their hand admirably on this one - store up the information, bide your time, wait for the Halo 2 transactions to go through and the money to land in Bill's current account, then WHAMMO!
MS: I doff my cap to you.

Tuesday 9 November 2004

Ultimate gaming laptop [Beej]

This clan is no stranger to warm laps, and as I understand we also have a few happy notebook 0wners too (ba-boom tish!). I digress...

If there is an ultimate gamer laptop, and money were not the number one issue, what can you get?

I've been looking around over the last few weeks and have come up with the following ugly-looking sons of beehatches:

Alienware Area-51® Extreme - Mmmmmmmmm! I'll spare any attempt at a review because there are others who can wipe the floor with a more authoritative opinion :) For price, a P4 @ 3.2 + 1GB PC3200 + 128MB Radeon 9700 seems to come out at around $2500 (£1350). Hexus review here.

Voodoo ENVY M:780 - as I understand it, the same innards as the Alienware. Specs up to more or less the same too, except with 256MB on the 9700 and with a 1680x1050 WSXGA+ screen. Somehow though, I seem to have got the spec-o-matic up to $4900 (£2650) without noticing, whoah!

Falcon Northwest Fragbook - appalling named, but a bit of a beast. Black Ops™ aluminium carry case, ooooooooh! Comes in two flavours: "TL" thin and light with 15 inches, and "DR" desktop replacement at 17 inches. A hefty Prescott 3.2 config comes out at $4300 (£2300) which beats the Voodoo but still way right of field!

xVx Monstruo-M - no better named, but at last a lappy with 64bit. This is good right? A full on sensible but up-spec Athy 3700+ (rated 2.4GHz?) with a gig of the good stuff and a Radeon 9700 "Turbo 256MB" comes in at $2200 (£1200), so on a par with the Alienware.

Acer 3200 Ferrari - a bit overstyled for me, and prancing horse means "tiny penis" where I come from, but it has the 9700, and I've used one and it ain't too bad for your top-shelf lappy. $2000 (£1100). There are probably better Acers, but shopping for these things notebooks is a nightmare of numbers and it's almost as bad as surfing the VAIO catalogue... which brings me on to...

Sony VAIO T1 - successor to the TR1MP but designed for looks? Is any VAIO suitable for, say, DOOM3 and teh HL2 futar? I'm guessing no, it's for the clan posers :)

If the trick to buying a DR gaming lappy is getting the best graphics chipset available and a good-sized screen, then that means coming up trumps are the Alienware and the xVx. Battery life - well an issue if you're doing app stuff, and how do you tell? An optional second battery or HD would be a bonus. The Fragbook reads lubberly but that sort of money - even in a "money no object" blog - doesn't seem to be in the realms of normality.

What's the Area-51m like then?

Monday 8 November 2004

I want my HDTV! [Lurks]

Why is television so fucked in the UK? We've got this great public service called the BBC and yet they only manage to get on one or two must-watch shows a year tops despite having a budget 10 times that of the likes of HBO in the states. But let's just ignore content for awhile, I want to talk about technology. Despite the fact that we PAL based and therefore had an inherently superior television system to the Americans and Japanese for the longest time, these standards are positively archaeic in comparison with HDTV.
Why is it the Yanks are all over HDTV like a 'cheap suit' as I'm sure they'd tell you? Was the inherent shittiness of NTSC so bad that they broke first? Yet here in the UK we have a supposedly competent satellite broadcast monopoly in the form of the Evil Empire (Murdoch) BSkyB. These guys got EPGs right, they were the first people worldwide to offer a consolidated PVR-based service technology for consumers and they are one of the very few which have yet to have their encryption broken too.
And yet... where are we at today? I've got a big screen, a projector, as you've seen elsewhere. BSkyB looks pretty bad on that, blocky artifacts and all that jazz but the competition are even more of a farce. Bravo on my telewest broadband service is seriously transmitting at sub-VCD levels of quality. Even the best of the best show blatant DCT ringing around sharp edges (like their cunningly positioned station logos) and as soon as anything moves, the picture is demolished into a haphazzard collection of lego blocks like you've just passed the screen through Photoshop's mozaic filter. It's piss poor, really poor and no one seems to give a shit.
But surely they should give a shit? Surely the object is to make people watch more teles and subscribe to premium channels and pay-per-view movies rather than go to the cinema? It's similar to the loony tunes stuff we've seen with DAB radio in the UK. So many piss poor rubbish stations vying for the bandwidth that everyone transmits in low bitrates and looks shite. Own goal for the industry surely?
How can we arrive at the ludicrous situation where I am downloading American television episodes on my broadband and these rips, off HDTV sources in the US and transcoded to MPEG-4 for nice tidy 350MB downloads, are substantially better quality than my own fucking subscriber digital television?! To say nothing of the fact that I'm sitting back here watching ReGenesis and it's got the original AC3 sound track so I've got the full audio experience too.
Now why in the seven realms of shit isn't the BBC trialling some proper HDTV shit? Why, if this country was for so long the bastion of television production worldwide, is everyone pissing about with crappy outdated video equipment instead of the proper stuff? Why is it that Spooks was filmed and only will ever be available in standard crappy resolutions with a 2.0 sound track.
At once I've nothing to complain about because I get to pick the best of the yank stuff and I have the means to display it but why can't I get that from the BBC since this fucking government is forcing me to pay for that. I want more. I want HDTV and I want it fucking soon, even if I have to subscribe and pay more for it.
It's the year 2004 and it's time to move on so why is Britain just dragging their feet in the very industry it used to lead?

Thursday 4 November 2004

You got a poppy? [Brit]

November 11th is Remembrance Day in the UK and the British Legion have yet to appear in force anywhere to remind the public.
Despite working in the center of London, I have only seen one person with a box of poppies, at Paddington Station - and that person was seemingly being pointedly ignored by just about everyone.
The British Legion do fantastic work for ex and current servicemen and women, and of course are the bastion of Rememberance; an annual uncomfortable reminder of just how ugly things can get.
I always wear a poppy, but I can't help thinking that perhaps the reasons for wearing it are no longer properly communicated to folk - after all, if people understood, surely they would buy one and support the Legions' work?
Perhaps in this society of what amounts to near selfishness & apathy across the board, the poppy and Rememberance Day simply doesn't have the meaning and import that it a) used to, and b) should still.
If that's the case, it's a very sad state of affairs indeed; so go on, buy a poppy.

Tuesday 2 November 2004

EED Christmas Party 2004 [Brit]

It's that time again!
EED holds its 4th annual Chrimbo blowout - Chrimbo PARTEH!
Go to the Chrimbo parteh site at: for details and get your details and questions sent in.
Secret Santa is a goddamned go. Oh yes.
Go! Go! Go!

Monday 1 November 2004

A plan so cunning... [Muz]

Good day readers. I was having a conversation this morning with a fellow student, and as student conversations tend to do, it turned to politics. While discussing the asylum situation, the point was made that asylum seekers overall are a very hardworking group. The unemployment rate among asylum seekers is almost non-existant, and because they possess a great desire to stay in this country, they also tend to be very conscientious in whatever employ they find.

This is when it hit me. What we need to do is take advantage of this phenomenon. I submit it to you, readers, a plan so elegant in its simplicity that Baldric himself would be hard pressed to match it.

1) Round up the entire adult chav population.2) Deport, kill, or otherwise dispose of half of said population.3) Use freed up accomodation to house hardworking asylum seekers.

Can there be any drawbacks to this plan? A decrease in the chav population can only be a good thing - they are procreating far too rapidly for anyone's liking. The disposal of half of them will hopefully motivate the remaining half to get off their backsides and do something to enrich society. At the same time, the hardworking asylum seekers who take all the working class jobs that British people don't want realise that they aren't unappreciated. Getting rid of such a large proportion of our population in order to make room for them can only be seen as a supreme gesture of goodwill.

So, does anyone have any other plans for curing Britain's social ills? Or even refinements to my own?

Sunday 31 October 2004

AmLan - Teh Direcshuns! [Am]


Friday 29 October 2004

A Bientot Beej [Am]

Well, our clan-mate Beej is leaving Death-Central for a while for a new job which will not be without some liveliness. Beej, having completed his HNVQ in professional Doormanship is now taking up a post as the resident bouncer in the 414 club, Brixton. So we'd just like to say - stay safe fucker - don't do anything we wouldn't do and for god's sake don't say something like "yes sightseeing in Brixton does sound like a good idea" and venture out of the comfort of your little nightclub-compound for no good reason whatsoever.
A le retour Beej! We'll keep the beer warm and the women cold for you until your next return....

Thursday 28 October 2004

Welcome to the end of 4th Age - Petrolium [Shedir]

If you get this DVD, by whatever means, and watch it your entire perception of civilisation as we know it will be transformed.
We're living in an age of unrivaled ease and prosperity. Perhaps not monetary, but in lifestyle it's never been cushier for a westerner.
The entire thing is built on oil, it's uses are never ending and the bad news is it's running out.
When this particular shit hits the fan we are truly fucked.
Globalisation will shift into reverse, better be prepared for electrical rationing and no personal car usage.
It's not scaremongering, this shit is about to happen and you've got to just accept it and try and figure out what you're going to do. For you, and your family.
It's bleak. We have to use nuclear and all forms of enviro friendly stuff to keep the electricity on and begin now.
Oils other uses will be much harder to duplicate:
  • Fertiliser
  • Pesticide
  • Plastics
  • Fuel

Read the site and spinoff links, find and watch the documentary. Digest it, get over the fear and panic.
Personally I'm going to start harassing my local MP to get it raised. The corporations will stop it all of course, but you have to try I guess.
Our frivilous disposable culture is coming to an end, but really it should never have been allowed in the first place. This use of a finite resouce should have been regulated when they first started worrying about it in the 60s.
I'm away to fishing, archery and agriculture lessons.

Monday 25 October 2004

Another dentist blog [Beej]

I just spent a considerable amount of money on BriteSmile treatment at a private dentist. Now I know dentist blogs are fucking boring - we all hate them, what's to discuss? - but this I have to share for the goddamn record.

Firstly, I do not understand the technological process used to whiten my teeth. Gel + UV light + some sort of blocking stuff + cream on lips = white teeth? No clue. But I let them do it anyway. UV light for burning off enamel maybe?

Either way it f***ing hurts. Excrutiating, no exagguration. I'm good with pain, but if I cry and physically shake then that suggests something A BIT FUCKING WORRYING. I've been getting mini-jolts randomly since the treatment, but it's all normal (!) I can't eat any non-white foodstuff (!) and there's nothing I can do except pop another 4x nurofen and wait for it to wear off "in the next 24hrs". This begs the question WTF IS GOING ON IN MY MUSH?! I empathise with Wolverine and the adamantium.

I had him stop the treatment early. No side effects to this, just 80% as white as planned. I couldn't physically take any more of the pain (a weird feeling for someone with a positive completist sort of mentality) :(

a possibly relevant link relating to oral torture.

Maybe my opinion will change when I've had some kip but I just can't recommend this treatment with this sort of pain. No adult should cry in a dentist's chair. BriteSmile - don't say I didn't warn you.

My Mug is Dead! [DNM]

It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my beloved EED original blue mug. It has served many a tea and coffee, but alas due to a rather inept example of handling it crashed to the floor shattering into dozens of pieces. I was actually quite saddened by this!
R.I.P. DNM's EED mug1999-2004

Earn big money in Iraq! Just don't get shot. [Brit]

It's not a new concept that young men and women view working in a hostile environment with less detachment and objectivity than their elders. There are many reports of "hot headed" youngsters throwing their lot in with everyone from genuine armed forces to mercenaries in order to have that taste of adventure, particularlyafter graduating, or spending a few years in what they consider a job with few upsides.
The Iraq conflict has proven something of an absolute boon to such folk - modern warfare is conducted within a framework that can best be described as "a private public partnership".
Services normally provided by the armed forces concerned (logistics, administration, processing, etc) are now literally there to bid for and as such, those in search of life on the wild side can find employment in practically every war zone on the planet in fairly short order.
If its a bit of danger and adrenalin you're after, what better way than to sign up to a private "security and intelligence" firm, and ship out for a definite period on what usually equates to mega money when compared to your professional soldier?
This state of affairs is quite worrying. It is I suppose an indictment of recent and proposed defence spending that such vital services cannot be provided by an overstretched and under equipped armed force proper, but must be farmed out to private individuals to whom war is simply a way of quickly increasing their bottom line.
The reason this blog came to mind is for EED members quite obvious, but that aside this item on the BBC News website caught my eye today.
A 24 year old "bodyguard" from Gloucestershire was killed in Taza,Iraq (exact circumstances not revealed) whilst working for the macho-named Armor Group.
The guy concerned was a civilian contractor responsible for the security and protection of other contractors operating in Iraq. What stuck out is his age - at twenty four, exactly how much experience can one have of operating as a professional bodyguard in a combat environment? What sort of intensive training and recognised certification could have been undertaken?
It just seems completely slapdash to me - 24 year old physically fit bloke given quick turnaround training (I assume) and a weapon, and packed off on silly money to taste the danger and protect contractors.
I feel that the fact Iraq is so full of such companies, operating everything from resource distribution centres to security services, is a damning indictment of current USA and UK operating policy in such environments. The simple fact that such companies exist so easily demonstrates to me at least that our politicians, by cutting funding and therefore capabilities, are actually doing yet more damage to a fragile country teetering on the edge of anarchy as it is.
I've nothing personally against folk seeking out this sort of thing if that is what they want - everyone knows the risks, and if you're number is called, that's it - however, I cannot help but feel that somewhere a lot of people are making a lot of money at the expense of 24 year old guys from Gloucestershire, and that accountability, professionalism and ultimately the safety and security of everyone involved is put at unecessary risk.