Past EED rants


Live leaderboard

Poker leaderboard

Voice of EED

Monday 31 July 2006

Losing faith in Israel [brit]

A week or so ago I had a meeting with two Israelis, one of whom had flown in from Tel Aviv that morning. During the meeting, I had to ask a few questions about service reliability given the current situation and this swiftly led to these chaps passing what I thought were fairly insensitive (yet not unsurprising) comments about the events underway in Beirut. One chap described that blighted city as 'the greatest firework show on earth'.
What was even more interesting, looking back, was that it was taken for granted that as a white Englishman living in London that I was completely on board with the whole Israeli position, and that such comments would be acceptable.
This morning the Guardian newspaper tells us that over the weekend, and following the deaths of the UN observers last week, the Israeli airforce killed 60 civilians in a bombing raid and many of those were women and children, killed when the shelter they were hiding in was hit by whatever it is the Israelis use to ceate these great 'firework shows' of theirs.
The interesting thing is, nobody at a Western governmental level has come out and told Israel to pack it in; indeed, late last week this wall of apparent silence was taken, publically by some Israeli minister, as approval of their actions. Why is that? Of course, the UN has condemned it - but that's the equivalent of being told to sit on the naughty step.
There seems to be some unwritten rule that you don't criticise Israel - you just sit back and passively support whatever it is they do because they've been through such a lot / represent the only true western style democracy in the region / are surrounded by 'enemies' / etc. Worse still, if you criticise Israel, you incur the wrath of those ever so powerful organisations in America who do nothing but pump cash and rhetoric into the executive to ensure the support, aid and most importantly arms, keep coming.
Where does it end? I have vocally supported Israel's right to exist and defend itself before - and continue to believe that, however such support does not extend to the current actions being undertaken in Lebanon which smack of zealous disproportionate invasion where Israel's true disregard for those it must live next to, shines through.
How Israel expects to gain any respect for their position after this weekend's events is beyond me - however, I suspect that given my meeting with the two Israelis and their attitude to the whole thing, respect if not approval is simply expected from us. Once again, 'Middle East Peace' remains a twisted joke.

Sunday 30 July 2006

Lightroom [Spiny]

For the last few days, I've been playing around with the Windows beta of a new Adobe application - Lightroom.
In essence, Lightroom is an application that helps you manage your photographic workflow. You may ask what's the difference between something like this and Photoshop Elements?
Although Lightroom contains a library facility, some image adjustment features and exports to slideshows, it's not about consumer level features like quick fixes & redeye elimination. Lightroom is more about handling large numbers RAW images smoothly and providing adjustments that enthusiast or pro photographers will use. For example there's easy ways to copy settings that have been applied to one image and apply them to other images - a common scenario when dealing with a set of shots taken under the same conditions. For example a studio shoot. Theres also some rather nifty features which replicate the functionality of the Photoshop curves dialogue. A great deal of thought has been put into the user interface of this feature & makes more sense to than the standard curves dialogue.
There are a few holes in it, as you may expect from a beta application, notably support for Photoshop format files (PSD). Images edited with lightroom are exported to TIFF format files without layers. I'm sure support will be added in a future update.
Lightroom is definitely worth checking out though, if you shoot RAW.
There's a nice review of beta one here although since then, crop & rotate functionality has been incorporated as well as the release of the Windows version. There's also a podcast with interviews & a couple of video tutorials.

Friday 28 July 2006

Welcome to the age of unreason [DrDave]

There's a temptation to believe that as time progresses mankind will gradually accumulate knowledge and cast aside the myth and superstition of more turbulent times. As scientific endeavour answers the previously unanswerable, the pool of unknowns is slowly filled and we painstakingly light the dark corners of the universe with the comforting glow of certainty.
In reality, this glorious age of reason and logic seems as far from our grasp as it ever has been. The particular brand of idiocy that has fueled my ire today is an old favourite of mine: 11 September conspiracists. Like creationists, pertual motionists and lunar landing conspiracy nuts, these simple cretins have chosen to discard common sense, evidence, probability, science and eye witness testimony in favour of a tale so utterly far removed from reality that you wonder how these halfwits muster up the cognitive capacity to continue breathing.
This movement of "freethinkers" and "radicals" has coalesced around the so called "Loose Change" video, an example of viral documentary making at its most effective. If you believe that this is a niche group with no real support, then you might be surprised to learn that a recent survey suggested that 45% of americans believe the government was involved in these events to some extent. The video is also currently the most popular film on google video. I recommend you have a look for yourself:
Loose Change: 2nd Edition
Loose Change is, on the face of it, extremely compelling. If you were willing to ignore most of the facts or you really, really miss the X-Files, it is easy to see how you could come away from it thinking "yes, they make some really good points, something is wrong here". But the very nature of its effectiveness is based in the utterly selective nature of the evidence it presents. You'll note that this is a similar tactic employed by creationists.
The basic jist of the documentary, if you're not willing to sit through it, is this:
  • The events of the 11th September 2001 were orchestrated by the American government, presumably to ferment patriotic feeling and provoke the wars required in the Project For A New American Century documents;
  • Planes hit the WTC but the ultimate collapse was caused by explosives placed in the structure by government operatives;
  • No plane hit the pentagon, instead it was hit by a missile launched by the government;
There are many other aspects and variations, but these are the three "agreed" tenets.
Okay. It goes without saying that these claims are utter bullshit. It almost feels like an insult to your intelligence to go through them in any kind of detail. Besides, the Loose Change Guide does a far better job of it than I ever could. I recommend you read it.
Ultimately, the biggest failing of the conspiracist's view (when you ignore such trivialities as evidence, common sense and facts) is the sheer logistics of a plot of this scale. This isn't a shadowy cabal of a few men who know the truth - you'd need the cooperation of (at the very least) the military at every level, air traffic control, the fire brigade, the police, the FAA, the ambulance workers, the coroners, the media, the mobile phone companies and a large number of private citizens living around the affected sites.
Also, you'd need to fabricate a number of mobile phone calls to family members somehow, as well as potentially disappearing a plane load of people. You'd need to hope that all of the planes/missiles were succesful and destroyed sufficiently such that no-one could perform any kind of detailed analysis on them. Oh, and you'd have to make sure that no-one saw the cruise missile approaching the pentagon at very low level.
All of this in the country where selling your story for the TV movie-of-the-week rights is a national pastime and the closest thing to discretion and secrecy your average yank experiences is an intimate one-on-one with Oprah in front of a studio audience and 50 million home viewers!
The worst aspect of this though, in my opinion, is the danger inherent in this way of thinking. These fucknuts dream up bizarre notions, spread them with inpunity and somehow encourage the idea that anyone who questions the government is a lefty liberal nutjob fruitloop. Meanwhile back in reality we have a very real and very sinister situation developing: a government that has systematically revoked many of the freedoms and rights that Americans would claim defines them; a government that has demonstrably lied and fabricated evidence to act as a pretext for an illegal invasion; a government that has illegally detained and tortured unconvicted prisoners and ignored international agreements on their wellbeing; a government that has used superstition and myth to block legitimate scientific research.
All of these things are facts, they happened, and they are just as chilling as the fantasies of conspiracy theorists. I don't really understand why the alure of a flimsy conspiracy is more attractive than that of a real one?

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Gr-argh-aw [Slim]

Graw PC is potentially fucking amazing. After the Massive fucking over of the rainbow six series being wussed out to make a good xbox game, it gives me the horn to find Graw for the PC has been specially put together to target the more complex stylee of the original Ghost games. The maps are huge sprawling cityscapes, bigger than the console versions, there's an overhead 3d tactical view that you can issue commands on, theres's no shite damage model, one shot and your dead boy, lordy and the visuals are all hdr hot sex! Fucking amazing, finally something to get stuck into!
So off I go, the tutorial kicks in, oh you just use the middle mouse to command your troops? Fab. Go here then matey. No here. here. HERE YOU FUCER! Jeez its completely fucked, either the squad ignores you, says no to your command, executes your command perfectly but exteremly slowly, or takes some fucking roundabout route through the enemy to your assigned target that its dead before it arrives anyway.
Oh and it crashes, a lot. It's on it's third patch and it's still crashing every half hour. And the savegames are shit savepoints that mean you have to replay loads. And they fucked up multiplayer over the old ghost games by only allowing 4 player coop.
Twats, they fucked it after all, gah.

mobile blogging ftw! [brit]

So for the longest time now I have used RIM's Blackberry devices for mobile email and PDF access. I have tolerated the limitations of these devices for years, in favour of receiving timely email content via their push technology - but having been using a Blackberry 7100 for the last six months, enough was enough.
So after a week or so researching the space, I have now got myself an XDA Mini 2 S and first impressions are that it seriously rocks.
I've got myself a full keyboard just like the BB devices, albeit one I can actually use and: GPRS, 3G, wifi, bluetooth and IR in terms of connectivity. It runs Windows Mobile and comes with the appropriate versions of Word, Powerpoint and Excel - not forgetting Explorer which is how I am able to write this now.
In short it appears to rock and offers a real alternative to the BB and, here's a thing - it has email push capability which is (if we're honest) BB's core USP.
So, if you're thinking about a mobile internet enabled phone/PDA/media device, I would strongly recommend you take a look.
Mobile blogging FTW!

Monday 24 July 2006

What I learned on my holidays, AmLan 3 [shedir]

Just a few golden nuggets from amlan3 my stella saturated mind flung up while waiting on my flight home.
  1. Lanners don't DO breakfast
  2. Need photos, hire Jayvid Bailey. But use own camera too!
  3. No festival, however close, can outrank WoW
  4. When declaring the rate of alcohol consumption is too slow, do not fall asleep at the PC
  5. Checking a bag 8 times does not guarantee your ticket is correct, only that it is there
  6. The quality of a barmaids ass has to be discussed at the bar, never a table
  7. Sometimes your luggage can be the hidden


The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building and improving his house andlaying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances andplays the summer away.
Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed. The shivering grasshopper has no food or shelter, sohe dies out in the cold.
The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying upsupplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances and plays thesummer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.
A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press conference and demands to know whythe squirrel should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like thegrasshopper, are cold and starving. The BBC shows up to provide live coverage of the shiveringgrasshopper; with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a table ladenwith food.
The British press inform people that they should be ashamed that in a country of such wealth, thispoor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so while others have plenty. The Labour Party, Greenpeace,Animal Rights and The Grasshopper Council of GB demonstrate in front of the squirrel's house.
The BBC, interrupting a cultural festival special from Notting Hill with breaking news, broadcasts amulti cultural choir singing "We Shall Overcome". Ken Livingstone rants in an interview with TrevorMcDonald that the squirrel has gotten rich off the backs of grasshoppers, and calls for an immediatetax hike on the squirrel to make him pay his "fair share" and increases the charge for squirrels toenter inner London.
In response to pressure from the media, the Government drafts the Economic Equity and GrasshopperAnti Discrimination Act, retroactive to the beginning of the summer.
The squirrels's taxes are reassessed. He is taken to court and fined for failing to hiregrasshoppers as builders for the work he was doing on his home and an additional fine for contemptwhen he told the court the grasshopper did not want to work.
The grasshopper is provided with a council house, financial aid to furnish it and an account with alocal taxi firm to ensure he can be socially mobile. The squirrels food is siezed and re distributedto the more needy members of society, in this case the grasshopper.
Without enough money to buy more food, to pay the fine and his newly imposed retroactive taxes, thesquirrel has to downsize and start building a new home. The local authority takes over his old homeand utilises it as a temporary home for asylum seeking cats who had hijacked a plane to get toBritain as they had to share their country of origin with mice. On arrival they tried to blow up theairport because of Britains apparent love of dogs.
The cats had been arrested for the international offence of hijacking and attempt bombing but wereimmediately released because the police fed them pilchards instead of salmon whilst in custody.Initial moves to then return them to their own country were abandoned because it was feared theywould face death by the mice. The cats devise and start a scam to obtain money from peoples creditcards.
A Panorama special shows the grasshopper finishing up the last of the squirrels's food, thoughSpring is still months away, while the council house he is in, crumbles around him because he hasn'tbothered to maintain the house. He is shown to be taking drugs. Inadequate government funding isblamed for the grasshoppers drug 'illness'.
The cats seek recompense in the British courts for their treatment since arrival in UK.The grasshopper gets arrested for stabbing an old dog during a burglary to get money for his drugshabit. He is imprisoned but released immediately because he has been in custody for a few weeks. Heis placed in the care of the probation service to monitor and supervise him. Within a few weeks hehas killed a guinea pig in a botched robbery.
A commission of enquiry, that will eventually cost £10,000,000 and state the obvious, is set up.
Additional money is put into funding a drug rehabilitation scheme for grasshoppers and legal aid forlawyers representing asylum seekers is increased. The asylum seeking cats are praised by thegovernment for enriching Britain's multicultural diversity and dogs are criticised by the governmentfor failing to befriend the cats.
The grasshopper dies of a drug overdose. The usual sections of the press blame it on the obviousfailure of government to address the root causes of despair arising from social inequity and histraumatic experience of prison. They call for the resignation of a minister.
The cats are paid a million pounds each because their rights were infringed when the governmentfailed to inform them there were mice in the United Kingdom.
The squirrel, the dogs and the victims of the hijacking, the bombing, the burglaries and robberieshave to pay an additional percentage on their credit cards to cover losses, their taxes areincreased to pay for law and order and they are told that they will have to work beyond 65 becauseof a shortfall in government funds.

Wednesday 12 July 2006

Game Nostalgia [Spiny]

Pole Position ad.
Screw pixel shaders!

Creation vs Evolution [DrDave]

If you have a spare couple of hours, you might find this video interesting.
It's a reasonably light hearted debate between Dr. Mike Shermer (chief Editor of Skeptic magazine) and Kent Hovind, a young earth creationist of some reknown. Hovind is something of a bum, he claims to have a doctorate and insists on calling himself Dr., but his qualification is from an uncredited university that won't release his thesis for review. He also believes that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man, that the grand canyon was carved in a matter of days and that the earth is 6000 years. He's a nutcase basically.
So the debate should be fairly cut and dried. In theory, anyone with even a basic grasp of scientific method or a broad knowledge of recent discoveries should be able to give this fruitloop a run for his money. But this is not how the debate plays out.
For a start, the whole event stinks of a set up. It takes place at a University, but the audience is massively weighted towards the creationist side rather than the evolutionist side. Mike Shermer's jokes and observations are met with a sometimes embarrassing silence, while Hovind's put downs and factual inaccuracies are greeted with Oprah-style whooping and hollering.
Secondly, Hovind is by far and away the better orator of the two. He comes across as friendly and likeable, not remotely raving or threatening as you might expect. He has slides and pictures to illustrate every point that he makes or respond to. He's clearly done this before. Shermer, on the other hand, while pretty good for a scientist type, comes across somewhat less convincing. He seems unprepared and a little flustered by the whole thing.
Worst of all, he fails to capitalise fully on the errors and inaccuracies Hovind makes. Hovind makes a number of claims that are just plain demonstrably false - that the eye can't work without all of its constituent parts, that stars evolve by natural selection, that speciation involves dogs suddenly giving birth to other types of animal, that thermodynamics don't allow order to form in a closed system when energy is input. All classic creationist errors that betray a basic lack of understanding of the subject. Unfortunately, Shermer does little to correct Hovind's mistakes - possibly because of the sheer number of them - but also, I believe, because he doesn't have a broad enough scientific knowledge himself.
At one point Shermer is asked to provide the best evidence science has that the Big Bang happened. Ignoring the fact that this question is not even remotely relevent to an evolution debate, it should nevertheless be quite simple to field this. We have lots of evidence, very good evidence, that the universe expanded from a single point - the recession of stars and galaxies, cosmological red shift, the microwave background. Instead, Shermer fluffs it and gives some half arsed answer about the early universe resembling an explosion. Ouch.
So we have a problem. Evolution is a theory in name only. It happens, it is true. It is as close to fact as we can possibly get. Unfortunately, while we have facts and good science on our side, the creationists have the power of good presentation - evangelists who can stir up a crowd with religious ferver and actually put on a show rather than a lecture.
Sadly, this is why they're winning.

Tuesday 11 July 2006

CSI Crapola [Beej]

So... I'm switching channels on TV and Caruso comes on, so I figure its CSI Miami. And it is! So forgive me as I'm new to this and I've only really seen the Vegas one and I thought it was quite good.
In the episode I'm watching, there's a bank robbery, which the Crime Scene Investigators are first on the scene to. Riiight. Stick with me for this bit - then there's a tsunami in Miami, as big as a lighthouse the CGI says. Caruso survives by... locking himself in the bank's vault with the victims of the robbery (from where he watches the tidal wave crash above them on CCTV). They walk out about 10mins later, natch.
Oh, and then they find out the robbery was a distraction, the actual plan being to steal some gold and then float it away on the receeding waters (they know this from some special nylon they found at the scene... etc etc)
This is what CSI:Miami is all about eh? What a load of hogwash :)

Friday 7 July 2006

Earphones - I have found DAH ONE! [Houmous]

As many of you know ( and Lurks is getting really bored with me recounting to all my friends whenever I introduce him ) the only reason any of you know me is because I was thinking of buying a pair of Sennheiser PX200 headphones – I banged them into Google and for some strange reason the EED web site came up at the top of the list ( cause someone had done a blog on them ).
Wow I thought – what a great site – what interesting people – what a quiet reflective type this Lurks character seems to be…. I was wrong on all counts of course but, sadly, that didn’t stop me joining up. Now if you continue to follow this thread you get to the fact that the only reason Lurks now lives in a strange place by the sea across the road to me is also because of the holy PX200’s….but hey! Lets not get too anal right?
What most of you don’t know however is that I have a bit of head/earphone fetish and seem to spend vast sums of money on what ever is the new best thing…since the PX200’s the Houmous lugholes have graced many other sound devices including Etymotic Research earpieces ( don’t ask how much ), Sony MDR 7502’s ( my small headphones are kewl in the gym phase ) and lets not forget the old favourite – the Shure e4c’s…
Now I’m not saying that these listening devices aren’t any good, but lets just say that they didn’t make me fall to my knees looking around for something to sacrifice to the God of Sound.
However, the purpose of this blog my friends is that I can now announce that I have found them -I have found the god of all listening devices – I have found - DAH ONE!
The Ultimate Ears 5Pro don’t particularly look amazing , although they do have a nice system involving a piece of wire in the cable to make them sit real good in the ears, but….the sound, my god, the sound – its like a flock of seagulls flying out your arse – and its matched only by the quality of the external sound isolation – I swear – I cannot hear a word the ticket inspector is saying!
The engineering principle is that each earbud contains two armatures, one to handle the bass and one to handle mids and trebles – the effect is just fucking amazing!
They weigh in at £146 including postage and you can get them here. Sell what ever the fuck you are using on Ebay and get some – now!

ExpressCard - pointless? [Lurks]

Every now and again interfaces which have been used in computers for donkey's years need an upgrade. Technology moves on, we need more bandwidth, better power facilities, superior connection form factors. The benefits of the technology are rolled out to consumers in marketing messages and products appear on the market with the new connections and deliver what consumers need. Examples of this are AGP, PCI-Express, USB and S-ATA.
Here's one you probably don't know about: CardExpress. This is a long awaited upgrade for your standard PCMCIA/Cardbus slot which has been present on laptops since the begining of time. On the face of it, this is a good thing. It's smaller, which is handy for smaller laptops and freeing up space in laptops of the same size. It's also a heck of a lot faster, meaning you can do things like interface hard drives through it at full speed. Even, potentially, graphics cards.
There's a problem though. The problem is this; no one told consumers about it. This interface is basically as likely to appear on any brand new laptop you buy today. That's a bad thing you ask quizically? Why yes it is because there's been none of the consumer marketing message out there which means that the entire industry has singularly failed to develop the necessary market forces to develop the head of steam and push actual CardExpress product that you can buy. That's right, there's no CardExpress products. Not one. Go look in retailers if you like.
Things that wouldn't be unreasonable to have on CardExpress might include such crazy things as TV tuners, sound cards and wireless cards. All the stuff out there in the channel in immense volume and very popular add-ons for laptops. Particularly since more and more laptops are being used as a primary computer in the home.
So you get one of these brand spanking new laptops and you find you can't install third party wireless. Your probably stuck with the lame old 802.11g vanilla from Intel rather than something really spiffy like Airgo's Gen 3 wireless. Maybe you'd like to use a 3G card on your brand new 15-inch slim and light laptop? Bzzt! No ExpressCard 3G cards on the market and, I'm reliably informed, Vodafone at least has no plans to release one any time soon.
Surely the honchos have a plan. They wouldn't foist this on everyone with nary a bang or a whisper right? Well, I'm here to tell you that the industry's answer to this is USB. Basically you, the consumer, are expected to get past this drought of ExpressCard products and having to throw away your existing PCMCIA/Cardbus gear, by plugging in USB devices.
Yet naturally enough there's a number of products which simply do not exist in USB form factor yet including 3G cards. Others, like sound cards, are highly undesirable on the USB interface due to hideous on CPU consumption - you'd be better off with the nasty and noisy internal audio. This whole development is, in short, a massive inconvienience to a hell of a lot of people using laptops today. The only reason it's been allowed to happen is that the guys who design laptops have no vested interest in selling you peripherals. In fact they'd rather build everything you need into the laptop and, of course, if you can't buy something you need to upgrade your laptop - they'd quite like to sell you a new laptop with that functionality.
This is a remarkably scandalous development. My advice? Be damn certain you don't want to use any PCMCIA devices on your brand spanking new laptop or simply look for one that does have the old faithful connector. I don't see there is any point in CardExpress for the next year at least so bare that in mind when you're choosing a laptop model.

Thursday 6 July 2006

Layman's view of football [Lurks]

I'm an Australian right or, I guess, an ex-Australian at any rate. So that means I was brought up in a country where the only people that played soccer were girls. Seriously, the boys played cricket and rugby and the girls played soccer. Well the greeks played soccer too but we thought that was just because they liked the silk shorts but that's another matter. The point is I know fuck all about the game and I've been vocal about how much I don't like it for a long time. However I'm not a complete kill-joy. When it comes to the World Cup, I make an exception and take an interest. Why not? It's a huge event.
To be fair, I've been amazed at the level of skill in evidence. This has got to be the most indivually skillful game played on anything like this scale on the planet. Just by watching them I can almost feel the hours, days, months and years of training these guys have engaged in to get to this sort of level of kicking a ball around. That's what makes it fun to watch and why I've revised my view to the point that I'd actually go watch a game.
However also coming at it from the layman's view, I can see plenty wrong with the game. There's two big issues I have with it. The first is player behavior and the second is how easy it to stalemate.
The first point, diving and stuff like that. I guess football fans just lap this stuff up as an accepted thing but I find it sad and a little sickening truth be told. What you're doing is cheating. In full view, pretending to be fouled. Everyone can see you do it but because this whole game is stuck in the dark ages of having refs on pitches calling the shots, they get away with it. I see no reason why the sport has to let itself down in this way. Get refs on cameras. Award fouls on diving as well as the rest of the shit. Get this cheating junk out of the goddamn game - surely it would have occured to FIFA or whoever it is that runs this shit by now?
The other issue is the stalemates. The bottom line is that it's too hard score in a modern environment. Nothing has changed about the game specifications wise, I'm told, for hundreds of years. Since there men are taller, fitter, skills are better. Any which way you look at it, having a 90 minute game and then going to an extra 30 minutes and it's still a draw - it's too hard to score. Particularly when the absurd rules of the World Cup mean that it goes to this deeply silly and random penalty shootout stuff to get a decider.
It seems doubly absurd to me that a game which is all about tactics, skill and teamplay ends up getting decided in the end by something so random as a point blank kick at a goal.
Strangely this stuff, even from a layperson's point of view, would seem easy to fix. Use refs on video with radios etc to rule on fouls, penalise diving and generally make it clear this is unacceptable behavior. Secondly, make the goals bigger. Why not? Sure at a lower level the game might end up with more scoring but it's more scoring on both sides. What possible downside?
Maybe, even probably, I'm missing something. However as it stands I think that stuff needs to be fixed to win me over completely. Well, actually, I might be a bit harder to please since I'm not keen on foreign talent being bought for so-called local clubs but at least they can fix the basics?

Wednesday 5 July 2006

Ubuntu [DrDave]

Warning: Herein lies faggotry. Lunix faggotry.
Okay, okay, I normally get excited about Linux distributions and thenchange my mind about them when it comes to the nitty gritty ofactually using them. I appreciate this. But listen up chumps, Ubuntu,both the OS itself and my approach to it, is different.
See, Vista is coming out next year. I've used it, been on the betaprogram for a while and tried it out on my desktop as the main OS fora while. Unfortunately, it's a dog. Microsoft have gone bonkers on thesecurity side of things, meaning that to delete a shortcut off thedesktop (for example) takes four or five clicks and password entries.It's madness. On top of this, they've filled it full of OSX stylegraphical trickery which has rendered it useless on all but thehighest end graphics card. I don't see Vista as an upgrade path, notyet.
So you're left with XP. Now, XP is a great operating system. It justworks, is secure, looks okay, plays games. Ideally, I wouldn't want tojump away from it. However, with Microsoft tightening up their control over pirated keys, and releasing the hideous WGA application in critical security updates, I can see that the days of the casualpirater may be numbered. And I'm not going to buy a copy of XP... that would be silly!
So I was looking for an alternative main operating system for at leastone of my machines. Probably a laptop OS, since I don't play games on this, just casual surfing and internet stuff. I played around with Mac OSX for a while, and though it is very nice, the homebrew drivers aren't sufficiently mature that I would have a fully working system anytime soon.
So thoughts turn to Linux. Linux seems to have changed a lot in thelast few years. The distribution of choice for the casual home user isno longer automatically Red Hat or Suse or Debian, but a newcomer to the block: "Ubuntu". Like a lot of distros, it comes on a bootable Live CD that gets you up and running in a few minutes. As well as having a Live aspect, there's also an "install" icon on the desktop that, predicatably, installs to the hard drive like a normaldistribution. It is very quick to do, about 30 minutes on my oldlaptop, and also quick to boot. Then again, you can boot MSDOS in seconds, but you wouldn't want to actually use it. So how is Ubuntu in everyday use?
Right, I approach Linux these days in terms of looking at things thatannoyed me the last time I used it and trying to assess how these have improved. From the last time I looked at it, my major Linuxbugbears were:
1) Hardware not being installed and recognised (especially wireless);2) Package management;3) Having to eventually get into script editing at a fairly low level;
Firstly, the install picked up ALL of my hardware. This is a threeyear old centrino laptop, so it's hardly bristling with obscuredevices, but it was impressive nonetheless. Sound worked from the off, ethernet, wireless was detected and running, it even picked the right resolution. Very impressive, since not even XP can manage to get the right drivers straight away 100% of the time. What's more, everything is easily configurable via a nice graphical interface - I'm thinking mainly of wifi here. You have a notification icon that tells you signal strength, you click on this and set up your SID and WEP/WPA settings. It's great.
Next up: package management. This is generally where I screw up alinux distro eventually. Usually by getting so annoyed with satisfyingpackage dependencies that I force an install and break something else. My own fault probably... Ubuntu does away with downloading packages and installing with the command line like in the old days. Instead, there's a single app called "Synaptic" that lists every package available for the OS. Installing is just a matter of finding it and clicking on it - package installs, dependencies satisfied. So far,I've found it flawless, though I worry about how you'll go aboutinstalling something not in the list. Luckily the list seems fairlycomprehensive. The OS also takes care of software upgrades - like windows, you get a notification icon telling you when upgrades are available, but not just to the OS, to packages as well. Very nice.
Actually, I'm being a little kind to Ubuntu here. Synaptic isn'tquite all you need. Because of licensing, Ubuntu doesn't ship with MP3, DVD or several video format codecs. Nor does it have lots of essential firefox plugins like Flash. Some may see this as a goodthing. However, to get around this, someone has put together an appcalled "automatix" which can be used to "finish off" the operatingsystem. It also allows you to install a ton of other software (acrobatreader, Skype etc), and turns out to be quite useful for getting a base system up and running.
Finally, the age old problem of Linux: having to get your hands dirtyby editing config files manually. So far, so good on this. Thus far,I've had to fire up vi twice - once to change the default grub bootoption and once to remove a mounted drive from fstab. Actually,thinking about it, there's probably a graphical way of doing it thesedays, but because I knew how, I automatically defaulted to editing aconfig file. I would be interested to know how a complete novice goton with running a Ubuntu system.
Luckily for novices, the support forums are nothing short of revolutionary for a Linux distribution. They're comprehensive, well organised, and don't treat the newcomer like a fetid leper.
I have to say, it looks good for Ubuntu. I've been using it now as mymain OS on the laptop for three weeks and I've not really missedanything of windows. I can't see this being the case on my desktopthough, purely because of the games aspect. But for everything else,Ubuntu looks to have addressed most of my major concerns. I do stillhave qualms about it, though these are mainly cosmetic - I don't likethe default browness of it, sometimes it can feel a bit "flungtogether" - but it is entirely useable. And I'm dying to try outXGL/Compiz for all that cubic desktop nonsense!
Erm, Linux, yay!

Sunday 2 July 2006

Darkstar One demo review [Lurks]

I thought I'd actually play something new instead of WoW. So I leeched the Darkstar One demo, knowing pretty much nothing about it other than Slim saying "It's more freelancer than Elite".
Well, actually, it's more Elite than it is freelancer. It's a complete and utter Elite rip-off. X was inspired by Elite but Egosoft Krauts took it way further than any concept of Elite and Frontier. By contrast, Darkstar, authored by Ascaron - another bunch of Krauts - had a design document that must surely have began:

Darkstar One will be the Elite that everyone wanted. It'll have a new graphics engine that looks nice and you'll be able to completely upgrade your ship! Also there will be a thrilling story about how your super duper infinitely upgradable ship was created by your murdered father and you must avenge his death! The story will be told with digital actors with a realistic cinematography angle. We'll also add a wise cracking companion since every sci-fi hero has a wisecracking companion. We'll sell millions!

I see where they are coming from. I don't think there's harm in ripping off Elite and making a game out of it any more than there is the legions of Doom and Command and Conquer rip-offs. And in fact as your basic Elite clone (lest you think I play up the clone aspect, the mysterious alien threat in this are called Thul) goes, this is competently done. Unlike X, this is a game you can steam into. It's basic, controlling the ship is easy. Getting from one system to another is extremely fast, dog fights are, well, about as silly as all space dog-fights are but competently done.
Where it all goes horribly wrong is when the developers sat down and went "hey guys, every game has a proper story now, we better add one!". Oh boy is this one bad. It features some of the most apallingly bad acting. The pace is just all wrong, your side kick just sort of barges in and takes over the computer console on your ship all in the space of a minute. Picking up alien artifacts to upgrade your ship, all of which are deeply and pointlessly located inside silly asteroids. It's bad, it's really really bad.
The random dialog you hear from ships nearby is bad also. Everything to do with voice acting, story telling, jesus even the name of the game sucks. Darkstar? Christ, give me a break. The crazy stuff is they surely must have looked at games in the genre from the altogether-too-linear-story-driven games like freespace through to the impenitrable X series - all of which do the story stuff pretty damn well. It's so bad in Darkstar One that actually I found myself just ignoring it and going around trying the Elite style stuff. Bit of trading (until some government mysteriously decided to confiscate my cargo for no apparent reason - it wasn't illegal or anything), some escort missions, some other space type missions and LOTS of dogfighting pirates.
I found myself actually kinda engaged with it as an Elite clone. What about the ship bolt-ons and all that kind of jazz? Well, at one point I slapped on mark 2 lasers or something and the enemy ships were dying instantly and it was ridiculously easy but then I must have just gotten onto the next level of bad guys and again my lasers were doing just as much damage as they did in the first place. Upgrading stuff seems kinda pointless because there's no real sense of trying to get to the next stage, to overcome a more difficult enemy.
The demo is pretty generous though and I got my ship about as good as you can but it was pretty much exactly like it was when I started it. Decent missiles cost twice as much as anything bounty you'll earn by killing a ship so I didn't see the point and just made sure I had the best lasers I could afford. There's a kind of special weapon/ability thing which is configurable - boost your shields, your weapon recharge rates, remove enemy shields etc. Kinda fair enough although why on earth this is called a plasma canon is utterly beyond me? How, exactly, does one recharge your weapons energy with a plasma canon? It's not even remotely believable.
And there's the rub really. You play this demo and you're going to see kinda everything this game has to offer. It's not a terrible game but it doesn't excel in any area either. It's more accessible than the X games but then it lacks any real depth there either. For a simple game, it doesn't have some engrossing linear story to suck you in either.
The bottom line is, it's just about worth playing the demo to check it out but I'd be damn surprised if anyone went and bought it after.
Let's be honest here. The only reason anyone is giving it the time of day is because Braben and his merry band of goons at Frontier developments are too busy making shit Roller Coast game and the occasional lame Wallace and Grommet license to get off their collective slothenly arses and make the next Frontier. It's just a shame that Ascaron are barely any more competent themselves. Surely someone will step up to the plate?