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Tuesday 30 October 2007

Pay as you Throw? [Lurks]

Looks like we're set for a pilot of a pay as you throw scheme whereby you are charged for how much waste you produce. I'm a little baffled by that because it would seem that it's being said the scheme must be 'revenue neutral' so the coucil doesn't earn any extra money. Then surely what this means is that small households such as a couple like us, end up paying less while families pay more. That doesn't strike me as completely unreasonable.

However I think I have to take issue that just throwing this all onto the consumer ends up helping the issue of the amount of stuff thrown away. I'd really like to see a two-pronged approach with the government also 'going after' business. These are the real bad guys when it comes to rubbish with the mountains of unnecessary packaging and, a bugbear of mine, unnecessary paper communications.

I recently switched to Virgin credit card, for example, and I swear it's ridiculous the amount of paper junk they've sent me. Loads of things trying to sell me on this or that, duplicates too, booklets of rubbish, paper statements (which I don't even want, it's 2007 ffs) and the list goes on. And then there's the stupid plastic and cardboard packaging for everything. You don't have to buy much at all to end up with virtually a bin full of assorted plastic and cardboard. I mean even a goddamn cable in a box has to have a cable tie around it and then put inside another plastic bag. Why?!

We're pretty good recycling wise. We compost what we can. We recycle everything the council accepts. Yet I feel like it's basically companies working against our best intentions, fulling up our bins with crap.

I'd like to actually see companies face a levee for packaging and for paper communications. If they want to do it, sure, but it'll cost them. Then with the economics turned around suddely they'll make the effort. Just like companies made the effort to get everyone onto Direct Debit for billing when it became apparent they wouldn't be paying credit card clearing rates. Hit them in the pocket and they will comply.

Quad Core, do we need it? [Lurks]

There's an increasing industry momentum behind quad core processors. Which is what you'd expect since Intel wants to drive up the average price of the processor they ship in PCs and PC manufacturers are happy to have some new feature which drives up average selling prices and margins too. The situation is such that I've recently read reviews of things like gaming PCs where the authors have complained that the PC doesn't have a quad core processor. Despite the fact that in reality, for games, a dual core processor is cheaper and faster because generally you get a higher clocked unit for less money.

The popular 'wisdom', if you can call it that, is that game developers will come to grips with multi-core processing and there's all these games around the corner. However this has been said for quite some time now, remember dual-core processors have been on the market for an absolute age now. Even the supposedly multi-core and extremely CPU intensive Supreme Commanded ended up being a pigs ear. They made the game highly threaded but then didn't balance the threads across processors.

Most games, eg outside of the RTS genre, simply don't have a lot of things going on which lend themselves to offloading to another thread. Physics is one of the biggest ones, which is one of the reasons add-in physics cards are stupid. PCs have spare CPUs doing nothing in them as it is. Now the Crysis demo is out and they couldn't even be bothered to make that use anything other than a single core.

There's a solid case for a dual core processor. For a start the second processor is on the actual die. With absolutely no game support at all, generally your game runs on one core and Windows balances its own internal OS threads out onto the other core. Video encoding too, this works brilliantly on dual core. And of course most people end up only doing one CPU computationally intensive thing at once. That loads up one core, leaving the other for making your desktop and other apps responsive.

Current Intel quad core processors are actually two dual core processors in the same package and the power consumption ends up shooting up to around about the last generation of processors anyway. I think it's quite nice to have a fairly cool and quiet PC and that's a solid benefit of Intel's dual core stuff.

The news today is the launch of the new ridiculous extreme edition 'Penryn' quad core QX9650. This is a cool chip, don't get me wrong. It's got some nice enhancements and fabricated with 45nm, it's cooler, has more space for loads of cache and sports a new SSE4 which is something which absolutely can be used in games (in video drivers particularly). It's burning up benchmarks. Yet what's inside is basically two 'wolfdale' CPUs. It's that which is what we really need but of course if Intel are going to wrangle PR out of launching the new architecture it's going to be on-message with quad core stuff.

On the power side people have pointed out that the QX9650 used about the same power under load as the previous generation, the E6750 in particular. I'd rather take a processor that's able to offer more performance and use half the power, rather than adding another two largely underutilised cores. And I'd rather not pay for them too, given this part will likely cost in the region of £600 upwards. While the E6750 costs a meagre £117 and can be overclocked, easily, to outperform the QX9650 comfortably in games.

The thing is, the industry momentum continues. People benchmark this processor in countless reviews and they largely go for benchmarks, or at least feature heavily, those which show a clear benefit of quad core processors. Yet that's nothing at all to do with what you will be doing with your actual real world PC.

Why can't we put a stop to this. Enough is enough. Quad core when the software has caught up to even dual core. Give us 45nm dual core processors now, that don't cost £600, that use less power than the chips we're using now. It's high time that the whole industry of enthusiast hardware editorial journalists stopped trying to sell up the latest and greatest and actually got back to what matters to people who actually use computers.

Monday 29 October 2007

PC vs Xbox 360 [Lurks]

A decade of gaming under our collective belts and I think there's one issue I've been yelling at people to sort out all that time. Microphones. This was brought home to me recently in reading someone's review of Valve's Orange Box and TF2. They said they prefered to play the Xbox 360 version purely because it was likely you could communicate with people in game. They're right too, most publics are silent with the occasional talker.

Our server is very heavy on voice comms but even so, at any one stage I'd say 50% of the server don't have microphones or wont speak. It's funny, we said there's no way they'd allow 360 users to play with PC players because PC guys with their keyboards and mice would annihilate the console guys. However one thing I've noticed on the PC is that you can basically call out the losing team right away (if you're on it) by the complete lack of anyone talking and coordinating things.

It loses you games, quite a lot. I was getting highly annoyed with a team I was on last night because none of them deigned to tell us where they had gone when picking up the enemy intelligence. Naturally they were then killed somewhere, who knows where. Now we can't get the intel if we want to, it's not in the intel room, it's some random place along the way being camped by enemy until it returns.

It wasn't like it was one guy. Multiple guys came in, picked up the intel and carried it another 10 meters before dying. All without saying a anything. The chap who wrote how he prefered to play on the 360 spoke about the TF2 heavy/medic pair. The medic is often another pair of eyes that needs to call out where bad guys are lest he get taken out first. On PC, from what I've seen, it just doesn't happen.

So I thought an interesting excersize is this: Have a team of Xbox 360 players with voice comms go up against a group of PC players with no voice comms and see how they get on. Of course it's not practical because Valve haven't provided a mechanism for that but it'd be interesting to see.

And of course the handicap on the PC side is entirely user created. It's amazing how just making a microphone as standard on Xbox Live has done the trick. I guess you reach a critical mass and everyone realises oh, I just put this on my head and talk just like everyone else and they just do it.

On the PC you've got to go out and buy a headset. Then you've got to get it working in Windows, which is a complete fuck up - has always been a complete fuckup. Then get the levels right so that you aren't inaudibly quiet (very common) or completely distorting out (very common) so that you may be heard. You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for PC gamers, used to higher levels of complexity and faffing about with their gaming, but evidently it is.

The thing is, lots of people can be bothered and you know what, they tend to be gamers who do give a fuck and who, coincidentally, you want playing on your server. Not just because they tend to be more clued up, more tactically aware, it's the social issue too. It's almost as if what we want is some sort of cvar set on the client side if they have got a headset configured and working. Then the server can test for it and not let people join who haven't got a headset sorted out.

Impractical on many levels since microphones are purely analogue. And it'd require Valve to do something on this front and it's clear they will not. So that just leaves it down to human control. We're working our way towards a sort of white list, if you like. Where everyone in our Steam community has a reserved slot. Generally we invite people to the community if they are >14 years old and they talk etc.

It's still nowhere near there though. Howling on the MOTD blatantly wont work. What would? [Microphones required] in the hostname?

Fatlash USA [Slim]

Doctors apparently aren't doing fat people any favours by telling them being fat is bad for your health. This is the USA 'fatlash', a fat backlash vs what they think is unfair discrimination vs their weight, there's a video covering the rebelion on youtube:

There's even a lobby group, - national association to advance fat acceptance, who basically get together and tell each other how pretty and wonderful they are. That's all well and good, but let's be realistic, if you stop telling people it's bad to be fat, won't people be inclined to do nothing about it?

There is some hint of the truth here, however. Simply telling fat people to get thin or they'll die really isn't always going to help, and for many obese it's going to make things worse. There's many complex reasons why people are obese, and dealing with these issues effectively simply isn't happening in the main.

Saying it's fine to be fat isn't the right way either though, obesety does kill after all.

Saturday 27 October 2007

Crysis demo [alfa]


Filled with anticipation i download and install, it starts up. I then realise its EA and developed by someone as well, i dont know who, my brain goes blank. The reason i dont know who is because my mind is RAPED by an endless avalance of unstoppable fucking logovideos. After about an hour of abuse the actual game starts and a menu system is presented to me, "Woooo" i thought, lets change the keys! "Space" would be nice to use for secondary fire, lets get it done!

Except instead of changing the keybinding i get a warning, you know the most annoying thing EVAH, the kind that says the key is already in use. Mildly annoyed i click ok, i really do wanna change it. Then that fucking box comes up yet again, and again. FOR THE SAME FUCKING KEY!!! DIE YOU USELESS FUCKIGN TWATS DIE, DIE IN PAINS THAT WOULD LURE MEL GIBSON WITH A CAMERA TO YOUR HOUSE YOU FUCKING PLACEHOLDERS FOR PROPER HUMANS DIE DIE DIE!!!

I quit. Of course another fucking ad one cant close down gets thrown in my face. And just to add insult to injury there is no uninstall shortcut.

Why were these people not on the top floor of WTC on 9/11? Why?

Thursday 25 October 2007

The Dumbledore Closet [Lurks]

I don't really much like the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling spins a decent enough yarn but I prefer adult writing when it comes to my valuable reading time. I have, however, enjoyed the movies quite a bit. I mention this so I'm not putting myself across as a Harry Potter expert by any means. However when JK Rowling outed Professor Dumbledore as being gay, this raised a number of issues.

One interesting reaction was the Christian nutjob who come along and claimed Rowling is wrong, Dumbledore isn't gay. Which is a pretty startling position to take being as, you know, she wrote the stuff but then again these guys having read and enjoyed all of Rowling's works do tend to claim it's because of the built-in Christian themes, but then they tend to say that about anything they like. I think we can all agree that's a fairly ridiculous position to take.

However it did raise a point I thought had some merrit. Just why is it relevant or even, in a sense, true if after 800,000 words it was never deemed to have been worthy to mention. This is a bit of a can of worms. It was suggested by one person at least that this is because they're children's books. I don't quite understand why the subject of homosexuality has to be a something one needs to be an adult to learn about.

We're not talking about rampant cock sucking here, we're talking about one man's love of another. Why the hell shouldn't children learn this. Interestingly ever-liberal BBC doesn't seem to have a problem relaying the news on the children's BBC web site. Of course that's not to say that vast swaythes of the world would not have a problem. So it comes down to the reality that it was probably an expedient decision in aid of selling a lot more books.

I do think it demonstrates a lack of bravery though. To use this sort of revisionism to make a point about sexual liberation in this way. Rowling skillfully didn't just show up on a podium and say "I have an announcement to make", she did wait until actually asked about Dumbledore's past but I'd ask readers to be understanding of the circumstances of the Rowling empire. A suitable opportunity in the form of a question was going to come up and you're damn right she was ready with this particular answer.

As a dabler in the art of fiction myself, I think it's pretty poor form to come in after the fact and explain away anything that isn't there in text. Works of fiction ought to be, in my opinion, treated like pictures where it's not necessary for the author to explain what you cannot see before you. If you interpret it in a different way than that which it was necessarily thought of (I avoid the use of the word intended), then what you are doing is gently moulding a story into your world view in order to assimilate it. And that's a good thing.

If you feel you're making an actual point about the matter concerned, it should have been in the books.

About the best analysis I've subsequently read is by Times journalist John Cloud. Cloud makes two particularly salient points. The first of which is that Dumbledor's lurking in the proverbial closet ends up betraying a kind of integrity which would appear to be out of character. Secondly, there's many out there saying this strikes a blow for gay pride but does it, does it really?

Here you have a character who basically remained in the closet, loveless, romance unrequited for his entire 115 years before shuffling off his mortal coil. That's a pretty sad thing really, any which way you look at it. It's hardly a moving fan-fare for the heroic life and times of a gay man, fiction or otherwise.

I don't think it really makes the kind of point which I assume Rowling was trying to make with the announcement in the first place but really betrays of her a rather backward and tragic view of homosexuality combined with almost a cynical lack of courage of conviction. It feels a bit like your grannie saying she's not racist, really, but the darkies ought to put down their spears.

Better, I think, to agree with Cloud's final proclamation:

" would have been better if she had just left the old girl to rest in peace."

Well let's just hope that heaven has a special place for gay men with plenty of cock sucking and bumming going on so Dumbledore can finally learn what he missed in life :)

Monday 22 October 2007

Ubuntu (2) [DrDave]

I've been here before. I've been here before many times. I liken my vigil to that of the dutiful village elder, the custodian of an ancient tradition and keeper of prophecy. Since time before reckoning has he undertaken a yearly climb to the summit of the mountain fortold in a vain search for signs of the returning King. Every year does he climb, every year does he return forlorn and despondant. "Does he return Greybeard?", the people eagerly ask. "Neigh gentlefolk", he replies, "neigh".

These ten long years passed have I maintained such a vigil. Though I look not for signs of a hero's return. Rather, I quest for signs of a viable desktop OS replacement. Okay, this is far less romantic, involves considerably less climbing and means that I can continue this blog without the tiresome archaic-o-prose.

That's better.

Vista is a pretty tired OS, don't you think? I've got it on my laptop, have used it for about 4 months and I find myself distinctly unarroused by it. I don't hate - in fact, it feels just like a re-skin of XP. It doesn't seem to do anything particularly revolutionary though, it just kind of exists (and sometimes wobbles). Boring. But underneath that flacid facade, there beats a sinister heart. The not-so-subtle introduction of such mechanisms as WGA and DRM have left me thinking that my mantra of "never pay for an OS (but give generously to charity)" will no longer be a workable philosophy. Don't get me wrong, I'm still down with MS, I just reckon it would be nice to have a choice in the matter.

Linux has never really been that choice though. An over-enthusiasm for editing config files and a community populated by those insufficiently perfumed gentlemen for whom a dollar sign is an acceptable substitute for a captial-S... These elements do not combine to make an operating system you could happily give to your Ma to look up scone recipes with.

But it's getting there. With last weeks release of Ubuntu 7.10 Linux took one large step in the right direction. For the record, there are two main reasons why I usually give up on Linux:
  • Lack of comprehensive hardware support. I always seem to end up sacrificing something - be it proper 3D drivers, Bluetooth, power management or something;
  • I miss two or three core programmes from Windows - replacements exist, but they're just not as good. Programmes like Digiguide or Mirc;

For the first point, it is too early to tell whether this release is the one to cure this problem. Certainly the install worked brilliantly and within 20 minutes I had rebooted into a fully configured OS with everything apprently working. I would even go so far as to say that this surpasses the ease of setting up Vista (for this laptop anyway, which needs a whole world of proprietary drivers). Gimme a couple of weeks and ask me again.

The second point is really what this blog is all about. It's not an evangelical "use this OS blog", it's really a "wow, this was pretty cool" kind of thing. See, Linux has pretty much always had Windows support in the form of Wine, certainly as long as I've been tinkering with it. But previously it had never been remotely viable - it was a pig to configure, it was temperamental, it was slow, desktop apps looked just plain weird and didn't integrate well with the systray. But there always remained a glimmer of hope...

With precisely zero optimism, I attempted to get Digiguide working under Wine. The first surprise came when I downloaded the executable. Firefox recognised it as a Windows exe and asked if I wanted to open it with Wine. Why not, I thought. Up pops the familiar Windows installer, it installs and it runs. Just like that, prefectly. It minimises to the system tray, pops up notifications and reminders and generally behaves and looks like a native app.

I'm impressed, so I throw Mirc at it. Again, it runs, installs and works. It even creates a shortcut on the desktop and in the programme menu for you. Whizzer!

At the point, I'm getting cocky, so I give it the Steam installer. I fully expect it to fall over, and don't really care since everyone knows that you need a dual-boot for Windows games, right? This is undoubtably still the case, but Wine happily devoured Steam. And to my utter bewdilerment and amazement, it downloaded and installed Portal and TF2... and ran them at a perfectly acceptable frame rate at full resolution.

Regardless of whether you use it, or could find any use for it, that is cool by anyone's standards. Look, here's a linky to an image showing it all happening:

"Greybeard, is Ubuntu yet a viable replacement as an everyday desktop OS?", the people eagerly ask. "Listen, gentlefolk, I've been up yonder mountain all night getting my drink on and now I've got a storming headache and just want to listen to some Floyd, dig?"

Saturday 20 October 2007

The Royal Family from Spain [Am]

At present in Spain the monarchy is currently coming under sustained attack, particularly from people with regionalist interests to secure. However it is more than that - a wider debate with protests and gatherings happening throughout the country and pictures of the king being burnt in public by students. The quintessential question is, of course, ‘why do we have a monarchy’ and it’s got so bad that the king has actually gone public with a defense of why he matters:,8599,1668731,00.html

I have to say that I am in sympathy with the sentiment. I am, without reserve or apology a committed anti-royalist, not based predominantly on the people who occupy the slot in the tiny irrelevant time-slice we call our existence (although I will have no problem with pointing out why they illustrate precisely what is wrong with the ‘institution’) but with the institution as a whole.In England, the origins of Kings of states (with the lowest ‘s’ possible being quite deliberate) were of course regional factionalism and straight forward fighty-fighty behaviour over utterly random aggregations of territory which bore closest resemblance, sort of, to our current counties. The King of This or the King of That or all the alternative titles, of course, now mean nothing to us at all these days. Whether they were regional barons, earls, dukes or kings of whatever bit of the country they declared ‘theirs’ and expanded and lost over centuries in a serial fashion it is now just irrelevant other than as a bookmark in history.

So back then, kings or queens were simply the highest title of the most powerful leaders of the time, particularly in a military sense because without an army of blokes who could slap the other king / earl / duke / whatever down, there was little chance that you were going to be the king / earl / duke / whatever of even your own privvy next week.In other words the origin of monarchy is simply territorial one-upmanship which related to beating the shit out of people. In the UK’s case, the origins of the current monarchy are even more bizarre than a straight intra-country series of twat-punchery. We have no straight line which explains A begat B begat C within the UK without seeing multiple countries get in on the rumble as well. Our history is littered with interventions and invitations to foreign monarchs coming over and ‘assuming’ the role of monarchy and –natch as our yank brethren would say- the subsequent fighting over regional territories.

If you would like to spell it out, the history of the monarchy (even in some sort of consolidated sense) is a bunch of people from Wessex, then the Danes who invaded, the Western Saxons who restored shit, the Normans from france who shot arrows in peoples eyes and stuff, the Plantagenets who were also French, a weird bit of fucking around with the Irish (we’re up to about 1141 now), people from Lancaster who had been pooning people from Yorkshire, then the people from Yorkshire who pooned the Lancastrians who had previously been pooning them, a short intervention by people who were distinctly Scottish, a brief period of sanity for 11 years with no King, more Scots, the fucking *dutch* or Hanovers since that was different sort of but not much, a marriage to a german in the name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Victoria in case you’re lost) and then a rebranding of the royal’s surname from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor because it was a place, like, during a time the germans were fucking us over briefly – and lets face it the germans knew how to pick a losing fight in the 20th century – during WWI.So….. total fucking farce….right?

No continuity other than the precedent of the last bunch had overthrown the previous bunch. Now of course, despite this, it was astonishing what could be accepted as ‘right’ to rule, not least the inestimable fear brought about by total utter religious belief and the concept of the ‘divine right’ of kings. No matter that the lot in your irrelevantly brief time slot of existence hadn’t been in place that long, the ‘divine right’ of kings made them of a god-like status. There are fantastic versions of how the populace couldn’t even look towards a king even in the 1700’s out of the sheer awe for their status.

These days, when your future king is on audio record as wanting to the tampon (no seriously I’ll link it if you have forgotten) of his mistress while he was cuckolding his pretty but incredibly dim and messed up wife, I simply don’t know why we have them at all. As I’ve established, there’s no coherent sense of history as to why they are here and I frankly find it incredibly intellectually embarrassing that a nation of largely decent people go and prostrate themselves before a bunch of no-chins in front of the world. I don’t buy tourism (republics like the US and France get tourists), I don’t buy any rational (we’ll do irrational in a sec) argument to tradition either (what tradition - it’s a bunch of disconnect peons twatting each other) and I despair of what it says about us as a nation that people swear allegiance to the queen instead of their country on getting a passport. And I despair that we put this current lot of sloane-rangers on a pedestal and pay for their incredibly privileged lifestyle. There is some sense of tradition there, considering all the flag wavers of the Queen’s double jubilee but that would be so much better re-directed at pride in the country, not pride in a bunch of over privileged and distinctly, evidentially not very bright people who, imho, might (some of them) give good service to a country (hey I bet a lot of people could do a fuck load better given that comfortable cushion and service behind them tho) but have no logical basis in being there at all.

Thirty years ago the Sex Pistols sung possibly the most ironically held lyric ever in ‘God Save the Queen’. The BBC banned it so as not to ‘spoil’ the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Such petty, unthinking, slavish devotion was unbecoming then (I mean they said ‘God save the Queen, she ain’t no human bein’ – how fucking *radical* was that) but today the general basis is even more unexplicable. Whatever they are protesting in the streets of Spain today, I hope we get our own version too......

Friday 19 October 2007

Dodgy TF2 Voice Comms [Am]

Sometimes you post something up for a blog which must be, logically, so covered elsewhere, previously, that it seems a bit silly. However, even tonight, several weeks indeed months into playing a cracking game or three of TF2 there were several clannies complaining about voice comms in TF2.

I don't get this since the ones over Source generally worked perfectly well. However common complaints with TF2 voice comms (and I am suffering from this on a basic mobo without any uttershite(tm) creative reverb overlining) appear to be a random application of reverb / echo on a voice or loopback and particularly distortion on input vocals from almost everyone.

I think more than me would be grateful if those with experience could explain the nature of the problems and how to sort them out.

This has been a public enjoyment aural sortage broadcast; we thank you.

The UT3 Demo sucks! [Beej]


Finally bothered to install/play. I tried out "vehicle ctf" whichfeels fairly like Onslaught.

Things that are teh win:
  • the engine, verrrry purdy and fast
  • the landscapes rulio, anything with rocks or water
  • load time to get in-game was quick
  • has some of the stuff that works from UT2k4

Things that are teh suck:
  • BLUE and RED colorising of everything hurts my eyes!
  • ...but still can't really see what's going on
  • stupid explosions
  • stupid textures on things, eg. bricks, burned metal
  • they made the redeemer shit!
  • awful main menus
  • shit map tbh, a giant bridge and some brick dojos?!

Remember when you'd buy and play UT, it was shiny and colourful (notbrown) and you'd have easy fun? This game doesn't seem to be that.Didn't try online. Suspect its a bit like playing UT2k4. Overall, I didn't enjoy this demo at all.

Thursday 18 October 2007

What is quidco? [Beej]

quidco claims it is a cashback co-operative, but by definition I don't see how it is a co-operative other than in spirit. What it actually seems to be is a click-through referral portal offering percentage discounts off the big sellers.

But guess what... it isn't evil, and it works!

I signed up when I wanted to buy my big telly. Cost of Samsung LE37M87 1080p telly on Amazon, £830. Cost of same telly on, £770. Free discount code found from Googling, take £25 off that. Quidco offer 3.5% off, that's another £26 saved! Final price £745, with Quidco wiring £20 to my current account (they've already taken £5 for their annual fee... fine by me!).

And that's it. Really, that's all there is to it. They've got people like BT and the AA up there too, its not just white goods.

Look on for offers, and ensure you enter the shop you're buying from by clicking through from quidco. And if your cashback doesn't turn up, they try to track it down for you.

Pretty amazing really - a discount site that actually works and doesn't screw you over with marketing, insult you, spam you, or steal your so-called cashback.

Where fragging comes from [Beej]


The wikipedia definition of gamer fragging is not the best article in the world. In fact, I think its pretty bad. But I came across the historical use of the term from 'Nam... is it related? I don't know.

American troops killed their own commanders so often during the Vietnam War that the crime earned its own name — "fragging."Fragging - derived from the hard-to-trace weapon of choice in such attacks, the fragmentation grenade - has varying definitions, from the killing of any superior to the murder of a soldier's direct commander to avoid combat.

So, fragging in combat is a bit like being shot by Lurker and his BB Gun, or being tk-punished in CS :-)

AP - Fragging Is Rare in Iraq and Afghanistan

Friday 12 October 2007

eBay dodgy dealers - what to do? [Lurks]

I bought a fair amount of stuff on ebay because it tends to be odd items which are often tricky to find from regular online web shops, and I'd rather not create an account and type in my credit card yadda yadda just to buy something for a fiver. I have to say most transactions go okay although maybe 50% of them arrive fairly slowly or need some sort of chasing.

Strangely the worst treatment comes from these sort of semi professional shops operating on ebay. The problems seem to kick in when you want anything like customer service that you'd expect from a shop.

A had a recent nightmare with some guy operating as roundtheclockshop. I bought six bulbs off this chap, some kind of obscure bright ones for SAD purposes. Unfortunately I made an error and despite the fact the shop listed both ES and BC bulbs, I bought the ES ones - which were no use to me. I figured it out and asked if he'd replace. No communications days go on. I request contact details and get a phone number. Dial through a few times no answer.

Eventually I get a response - I've swapped them for you, you just need to pay now. So I do. Whammo, the useless ES bulbs turn up in the post. Great. Again just can't get email response, wont answer the phone. I'm a bit fucked really and I don't have forever to wait for this guy and his weekly e-mail checkups. So I just order some better ones of someone else (which turn up next day, bosh).

I end up leaving a neutral for this shop. It's not really their fault I ordered the wrong ones so a negative didn't quite feel justified but you know the guy did promise a replacement BEFORE I paid for the auction so you could argue the guy has messed me around too.

I post a neutral of: "Item okay but failed to send alternative product as agreed. Poor communications."

He responds with: "Item for exchange has been sent stuck in postal strike beyond our control sorry"

Which is a blatant lie. No replacements have been sent. It gets worse still, the guy then posts retaliatory negative feedback for me: "Totally unreasonable customer items sent for exchange then cancels the order."

Yes... except no items are sent and I didn't cancel the order. This guy has my money. I have product no use to me. Exactly who is wronging who here? Bottom line is that I walked into this not being naive about it. By being the first guy to cast a stone you're basically screwed on the ebay system, particular if you post a positive or a neutral. I learnt that the hard way when some dickhead left me a negative feedback after I left a positive, for deigning to simply request if I send money using electronic banking rather than writing a cheque.

However I thought about this for days and I thought that the whole system basically gets fucked up like this. No one ever leaves negatives because they don't want the negative in return. Your position of strength is simply to imply you'll leave a negative and a web shop with thousands and thousands of sales is quickly going to bury anything you send and shift their percentage a hell of a lot less than yours will be.

I thought about it some more and concluded that really I have quite enough feedback myself and any negative I get (2 out of 238 or something) really just wont have any baring on me selling something, which is the only real time that your feedback is important. So I just decided to actually do what was right rather than what was necessarily smart.

I think ebay is a useful resource for all those obscure shops using a common e-commerce system but this does leave a bad taste in my mouth. The ebay system itself just doesn't seem effective in combatting asshole dealers. It's my view, really, that if you've paid for an item through paypal right away, the retailer should not be able to leave feedback for you at all. He has a job, deliver item as described to the address given and that's that. Maybe that'd be better?

Misled on In Rainbows - the Radiohead MP3 rip off? [Am]

Well for the first time ever, I'm pretty damned dillusioned with Radiohead. As we covered extensively in the previous blog, there is plenty odd with the sound on In Rainbows. However I make no apology for starting a fresh blog here (the other got a bit techy) because this morning it has become quite clear that the band and their management knew that the sound was distinctly average. And we all know that they did not bring this to purchasers' attentions before we parted with our money.....

Anyone with an ounce of experience of mp3s and digital sound (lets make that several hundreds of millions of us shall we) is going to at least raise an eyebrow or at best get really fucking pissed off at some telling comments by the band's management in music industry publication Music Week. How do these hit you;

"Hufford emphasises that a record deal remains an absolutely essential element of the release strategy. With the music set to appear all over P2P networks as soon as it is made available in any case, the download is purely a promotion vehicle for a CD release in January"

"In November we have to start with the mass-market plans and get them under way,” he says. “If we didn’t believe that when people hear the music they will want to buy the CD, then we wouldn’t do what we are doing"

"Far from being enthusiastic about digital downloads, both managers strongly favour the compact disc as a format of superior quality. “CDs are a fantastic bit of kit,” insists Edge. “You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible. The attention to detail on this record is remarkable. We can’t understand why record companies don’t go on the offensive and say what a great piece of kit CDs are. CDs are undervalued and sold in too cheaply.”

So I paid 8 quid for In Rainbows because I thought it was the full release and I wanted to pay fair whack to a band I like. Turns out the management were only doing as a promo to get me to buy the CD. From their own mouths. Nowhere did it say this was a promo and the specious bullshit, let's make that BULLSHIT about not being able to achieve CD quality on mp3 (or FLAC) is, as a few hundred million of us know is just not true. And I don't believe a band as sophisticated as this don't know that either.

The band's management are at pains to reassure Music Week that they are looking for a record contract and that "we want our partners {that's music industry / record companies} to earn money," Hufford adds. "We don't want to rip them off"". So what are their partner's interests? Selling product - The In Rainbows CD. So how do you protect those CD's..... well one way would be, wouldn't it, ensuring you release something that isn't going to be of a fidelity to 'threaten' those sales.

So clearly we have no clue what actually happened. But lets posit two fictional scenarios;

i) did a band as sophisticated as Radiohead sit around and go 'oh don't worry about queering the pitch for CD sales because everyone knows you can't get anywhere near CD quality on an mp3 so it's all fine' and that's the line we hear their management still trotting out (and Jonny Greenwood).

Or did they ii) go 'well of course we know you can do 320 or FLAC but...*look*.....we can't do that without queering the pitch for the CD and that's not our promotional approach - we want people to buy the CD.....' and then after a bit of headscratching did they go.....'I know, lets make it better than iTunes so we can reference that (and look 'good' relatively) but go for the worst sound quality above that low bar, which is ok on mp3 players, but won't be compromising the CD sales'.

With a band as sophisticated about gear and sound as Radiohead (and they are truly) what do you think the conversation was really like? Fucking really like......

Now MTV are running an article with some decent commentary on Fans feeling duped

Lastly, having dismissed my own 'deliberately fouling the pitch' theory as ludicrous conspiracy theory in the previous blog, I note the following from the management again;

"You can’t listen to a Radiohead record on MP3 and hear the detail; it’s impossible. The attention to detail on this record is remarkable." (emphasis added) .... then this....

"With recording for In Rainbows completed in June, prior to the album being mastered and then remastered to meet the band and producer Nigel Godrich’s exacting standards in September

So the mp3 160 rip you can listen to...... does that have the sound the managers are talking about with 'remarkable attention to detail' which was not only mastered but then remastered to meet 'exacting standards' of some incredibly talented musicians and their great producer? Does it fuck. And us hundreds of millions know that it didn't come about simply by ripping it down to 160.

So where exactly DOES all that distortion and the rest of it come from? If you like your conspiracy theories, have a mull over exactly what was possibly done at those two mastering sessions. Was it a fantastic 2nd mastering session that produced a fantastic sound you can't hear on your 160 rip...... or it did it go for a little special treatment in September and thereafter lots of people's special interests were feeling much more comfortably protected? OK it's pure grassy knoll but where exactly is this fantastic quality????

The good news is, this will out one way or the other. When In Rainbows is released, I will buy it (I have to - I love the music) and I will listen to how it sounds in this mystically pure unreproduceable CD 16 bit format. (Don't worry I won't get started on that). And then....well then I will have a beer and rip it at 160 with the same converter. And if I my original 160 and the new 160 are somehow strangely dissimilar with one showing remarkable attendtion to detail and one not, well then I think there will be a little class(y) action to follow.....

I trust this will never come to pass. I just can't believe the nutty conspiracy theory could be true. But reading those managers' comments in Music Week, frankly I am not comfortable....yet... and I do know that I have paid, what I considered full price for a promo that was not declared as one and one which is, out of their own mouths, an inferior product. And that is wank.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

The Radiohead In Rainbows Experiment [Lurks]

In one bit of majorly good news we didn't anticipate, Radiohead came out and announced their latest album In Rainbows (which we didn't even know was near done) would be released soon. Today in fact. Better yet, following on from countless comments of ours on this web site over the years, they decided to embrace a pretty damn brave distribution strategy. It would be available for download with DRM and you can decide how much to pay.

That's brilliant. I only want the download and I think albums ought to be worth a fiver. I'm sure record company execs don't but fuck them. Enough people buy a digital download for a fiver and that's plenty of money in anyone's book.

There are some oddities. First of all I preordered it. Then they sent an email this morning to download it. So I did and I expected it to be slow as fuck, fully expecting to end up downloading it from a well known music torrent warez site instead (but feeling obviously morally justified). However it came down nice and fast and in no time I was listening to it.

This isn't a review of the album. It's brilliant though, a proper Radiohead album. The only real question that remains here is whether this album ends up getting to us the same way as had a record company been involved, a CD bought and then ripped. So has it?

No. There are two issues. Firstly the MP3 is a strange old version of LAME 160kbps CBR. That's a fair bit short of the mark of what anyone has been using to rip to MP3 lately. Secondly, and you know I suspect this is pretty subjective, but I suspect that with no record company to front the dosh for a proper sound studio and the valuable time of a recording engineer, the album itself sounds not quite like you'd expect.

It is, in short, very lo-fi. There's a lot of mixed in guitars with an inherent distortion to them. This done in such a way that to my ears it makes the vocals sound distorted, even though they're not. The stereo imagery is also not exactly subtle. It's like something said "this should be on the left and this should be on the right". Maybe they wanted this effect but I think it's pretty out of character with previous Radiohead albums.

So, in all, it's good news. Lots of artists are watching this and commenting on it. However the delivery could be a little tweaked. We'll get better quality MP3s at some point when the discs ship and people with a clue do the MP3 rip. However the audio mix is probably always going to sound like this. So hopefully it'll just grow on me to match the level of my enthusiasm for the superb content itself.

I do need to be clear about this though. A certain amount of the lo-fi approach I could put down to an artistic direction. So many artists have used it to good effect. I don't think it's particularly well used here, to me the album sounds like it's been produced in an distinctly amateurish way. Some of that could be put down to a pretty bad MP3 encode. Certainly it doesn't help.Portions of it sound genuinely bad which is practically a disaster and pretty sure to have record company execs chuckling into their sleeves somewhere.

Other commentators have been right, in my view, to also point fingers at the whole endeavor as being something that can only ever work when a band has made it big. And they're right too, you know. Clearly only a percentage of Radiohead's fan base is going to fork over money for something they can just as easily grab from a mate or download from a site. Yet when your fanbase is in the multi millions, and given you've just chopped out a significant middleman and, it would seem, heavy production costs too; they're probably not worried about the upcoming price rise price of a can of baked beans.

The thing is, it was basically record companies that helped them get this popular. New artists don't have the luxury of this approach. And you know, what we'd ultimately like to see is that pretty much all music is available from a single store for about a fiver (ten dollars) an album and in a variety of formats to suit your needs. However record companies don't show any sign of 'getting it' any time soon but with this, who knows. Maybe some lightbulbs will switch on in the boardrooms?

I'm guessing that for that to happen this would need to be a resounding commercial success too. And you have to wonder if it will be, in terms that a record company exec would define as a success anyway. After all, he's not going to trade in his Maseratti because the new age of music has less profit margins there for him and his ilk, are they?

Digital Delivery, The future today! [Slim]

What a morning for digital delivery! I awoke this morning, got my early net fix while eating me breakky, and what do I find? Not only is Half Life 2: EP2 and Portal busy decrytpting themselves (after a steam restart - why won't they fix that?), but Radioheads newest is also online and legitimately available to download.

I trotted to work with it on my ipod, a very happy bunny indeed!

So these things have arrived to me without transport waste, without packaging to throw away, without any installation time as the games were pre loaded and the radiohead stuff didn't need to be ripped, without any pain in the arse drm on the Radiohead album, without the need to find the cd when I play HL:Ep2. Pretty much everything we've ever asked for, right now, today.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

The end of the Royal Mail is nigh [Beej]

rm bin

Three years ago I began our long-running blog about the declining condition of the Royal Mail in Blog 699: Die, Royal Mail, Die. Today, we’re in the midst of a long weekend strike of about four days, which is long enough for my daily life to be ever so slightly affected as sacks of mail accumulate like its Christmas.
Because the small-scale strikes have fallen on deaf ears, the Posties’ Union has revealed new strikes that are not just breaks in service, but a major rolling strike intended to maximise the disruption to the nation. For weeks not days. Who does it affect? Well not them of course, they continue to work through their backlog – it affects you, me, your Gran, your cat, and every business in the land.

Gloves are off now though, with a list of 1970s union-supported working practicesnow revealed. You may not be surprised by them:
  • Two or three hour minimum daily overtime - if 30 minutes of actual work is completed, between two and three hours' payment is demanded
  • Set overtime claimed at Christmas, even if there is no need for any additional hours and no extra hours are worked
  • No flexibility between different parts of the same sorting office - if an employee sorts letters for a particular postcode, they will not sort for the adjacent postcode, even though both activities are often in the same room
  • Overtime to cover for an absent colleague - a full day is claimed, even if only half day worked

Work shy Posties? Erm... yes! And they should be ashamed of themselves.


If the Union cannot be castrated, we need to sack the entire workforce.

Every single person.make them all redundant, close the business. Then, using a new organisation, let's call it Royal British Mail Reborn, make them all re-apply for their jobs. Oh by the way, there's a contract for every employee. A fair one, not a loony-left one. Like normal British people in employment. Like you and like me.

Postman, mail sorter, van driver, box throwerdoesn’t want to sign a new contract? Doesn’t want to work hard for a living? Doesn’t want to invest time and effort rather than cheat their employer out of it? That’s fine. Because I suspect there’s plenty of new European immigrants who will jump at the chance.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

TF2 - class specific tips/guides/thoughts [Brit]

Right, so we're cranking out a TF2 blog at the rate of one a day right now, and thats indicative of just how well EED has taken to this game. What I've noticed is that I and my fellow clannies have all pretty much settled into one or two preferred classes, out of which we rarely step (unless we're literally subsumed by peons).

With that in mind, I thought now would be a good time to look at class specific tips and tricks, and then perhaps revisit them in a months time when the official launch has happened and the wider playing public get their mitts on things. So to kick off, I'll start with my favourite class and the one I'm inevitably seen playing.

The Heavy

The heavy is not a long range class; so it really isn't worth wasting ammo shooting at anyone or anything more than a few yards away. At closer range, it is absolutely devastating, with the ability to completely destroy 3-4 opposition with or without a medic in tow (although the latter is unlikely). It is worth noting that unless you have 3/4+ health before wading into battle, you should find a dispenser or medic to heal you, otherwise (and guaranteed) the first opposition you run into will pretty much screw you over completely before you can take them down.

A heavy becomes almost unstoppable at close range, due to the critical hit mechanic the game employs. Closer range engagement means virtually all your shots hit, and at the rate of fire, this means you go critical quicker than any other class (based on observation). This in turn results in most of your shots landing crits, which means you can essentially destroy the _entire_ opposition team in one go, plus all their turrets if you find them. Of course, this works best in close quarter situations/chokepoints but is a phenomenal thing to behold; personally speaking I have regularly obliterated absolutely everyone on screen in one go, all the while operating closely within the confines of the assault team.

Remember - you don't have to kill anything in order to add value. In corridor/T-junction/chokepoint situations, the heavy can simply act as a supression player, using well timed bursts of their main weapon to draw enemy attention to themselves. Even without a medic, this means that up to 3 enemy players will undoubtedly focus their efforts on taking you down - with a medic, probably more - which leaves openings for fellow team members to sneak through to the control point or grab the intelligence.

As a heavy, your most lethal enemies are: the pyro (since the tweak, these guys have become seriously annoying), the demo man (because of his range and ability to lay down a lot of firepower with area effect damage), and the sniper - two shots, even at less than 100% power, and unless you're with a medic you're pretty much finished. Note that I don't mention the spy here - there is little you can do to avoid these folk when you're moving into position.

Killing scouts is extremely easy even though the little blighters move fast and can double jump. Taking these folk down is easier still because pretty much every scout I've ever seen thinks it important to take on a heavy in what can only be described as a weird David v Goliath moment... whilst some people claim the heavy moves/turns too slowly to be effective, this is just a skills related issue - a decently spec'd machine that keeps things moving freely in terms of FPS and a precision mouse is all you need here, and of course practice. Learn how a scout's arc during a jump works because it is always the same gentle upward curve and in doing so, learn how to hammer them from the moment they take off to the moment they die - which is inevitably before they start their downward journey.

In defensive posture (i.e. guarding a control point or the intelligence), the heavy can operate independently. In offensive mode however a heavy should always be accompanied by a medic, preferably one who understands how to communicate with the heavy up front. Some pointers are: a) stay close, and right behind the heavy. Use him as a barrier as people are finally working out that its easier to take down the medic first. Understand that by remaining close, you reduce your most obvious signature - the medic 'ray' which opposition use to find your location and take you down. b) use voice comms to inform the heavy of where other players/objects are. When the main gun is firing, and ordnance is coming in, the heavy can lose the tactical 360 picture.

Now, some tips for attacking.

You've got to focus; focus on one enemy and try and prioritise based on the order in which they should be taken down: pyros first, then demo men, then anyone else. Leave engineers alone - they are easy to kill and will probably try and deploy a turret right in the middle of the battle (so just wait for the turret to begin its deployment and therefore the engineer having used up his metal to do so, and blast it).

I cannot stress this enough - it is one of the reasons I regularly end up in the top 3 "MVP" per round and in the top 3 leaderboard after a map... pick your target, and go solely after him until he is dead, or you're dead. Rely on the medic to do their job and only respond to them if they pass information to you concerning someone behind you, and only then if you've been told its a pyro or demo man. There is of course method to this...

I have seen too many heavies taken down by groups of opposition without taking down a single enemy player. This is a complete waste of time; it takes ages for a heavy to get into position, and longer still to hook up with a medic. If you're going to die, make sure you take people down with you - the overall aim is to take the objective; individual points are nice, but secondary. FOCUS on your target and ignore all else - in doing so, you help get additional crit shot %, which means by the time he is dead, you're likely to be in a position to rub out the remaining opposition with little bother.

If the enemy has gotten to a control point, do not hang back. Wade straight in and again, focus based on your target priority list. I have seen people hang back in a misguided attempt to wait for backup and consequently lose the control point. As a heavy you can cause significant damage even if you're solely on your own and your team are on their way or waiting respawn - in doing so, you reduce the oppositions group health levels, meaning your fellows can swiftly make light of removing their grip on the control point once they arrive back on scene.

So for now, thats it. In summary:

- Understand the target priority list- Focus your attention on one target at a time- Work closely with a medic and learn how to interpret the "damage indicator" flashes, and the direction they indicate- Remember the point of Team Fortress - personal glory is a bonus. Achieving objectives as a team is the goal!

Teamfortress 2 (TF2) - Fix List Redux [Lurks]

It's been, ooo, hours since we've had a TF2 blog so it's high time for another. Obviously valve continue to tweak the game with server updates. Also with more play time I think we're starting to nail down some things that ought to be changed/fixed. Here's my list.
  1. Sudden death. This needs a rework. If you're on 2fort2 and you have 2 caps and the other guy has 0 caps, when the game times out the guys with 2 caps should WIN and not have the entire thing stalemated just because some dick hides inside his spawn point.
  2. Equally, on CP maps, if it should be necessary to sudden death - by the time the timer runs down to zero, the team with the most amount of captured points should win. This forces you out of your base.
  3. Bring back FF. It was retarded to remove it.
  4. Nerf the scout shotgun somewhat. I think it has been a little so far, but still this isn't a game for teenage bunnyhoppers exclusively - they shouldn't be able to run around killing everything and every one.
  5. Spys need a backstab cooldown. It's really not cricket they can just run behind a dozen guys and kill them all instantly.
  6. Spys need a maximum number of saps they can have active at once. One spy should not be able to sap 20 engineer items thus garanteeing a bunch of gear kills and points. Spys should play as a team TOO.
  7. Server or ideally per-map specified class limits. We prefer not to have to kick people when YET ANOTHER DICK has gone sniper. Hell, it'd be nice to be able to set sniper = 0 tbh. They don't add anything whatsoever to the game.
  8. More maps, natch. Getting a bit tired of the originals. Don't care if your research says multiplayer guys play the same maps over and over (dust), you appear to want to bring this game into the mass market - time to stop pandering to old ideas like that.
  9. Remove the silly actually-damaged-regens-medic-faster stuff - at least during warm upRocket jumping in map warm-up to charge your medic is a tactic that shouldn't be required.
  10. Stop being able to kill other team mates in set-up. Sigh, snipers between gaps in the map. What is the point of them?
  11. There's clearly some cheats that need fixing. I was on a map and saw it capped inside of ten seconds. The guy must have been in observer and able to cap or something.
  12. Scouts and custom levels of cl_ rates appear to be able to generate a warping effect making them even more difficult to hit. Some sort of solution needed.
  13. Let's have an active timer on screen at all times.
  14. Enhanced voice comms: It'd be nice to havetypes of talk key. Global, team/radio andlocal shout keys and with a speech bubble or something. Global comms, give a radio effect. Openglobal chat on map score summaries.