Saturday, March 28, 2009

What's wrong with a centralised computer?

At the Games Developer Conference '09 being held in San Francisco, among all the juicy gossip and teases was a piece of tech which could potentially change the face of gaming. Okay, so that may be a hackneyed piece of conjecture but the announced OnLive service could be a future direction worth investigating.

It works like this. Instead of using your rig to play games which need upgrading every so often in the areas of graphical power and processsor grunt you can play games on a central computer. Wha?

Okay, so you sign up for the service, and instead of your input commands going to your machine they go via an internet connection to another computer which handles all the grunt work like processing, then the information is relayed back to your computer via the same internet connection.

This means all you potentially need to play high-end games is an internet connection, as all of the processing is outsourced to the OnLive service before being relayed back to your computer via a stream.

Sounds pretty neat, no?

While others have said this could basically stop production of high-end machines in its stride, others have expressed their concerns over the service.

For one thing, what happens when the glitches start? With your own rig, you can actually open it up and see if there's any physical damage to any of your parts and run diagnostics, but when your stream goes down you can't waltz up to OnLive headquarters and see what's wrong. At least I don't think that's included in the subscription fee.

Then there's the little matter of the internet connection. What if that goes down? You're basically stranded because you don't have access to the database while offline so there's no singleplayer if you don't have an internet connection.

If this thing really takes off like it can, then most games will be in a digital format, tied to the OnLive service. Digital may be the way of the future, but I'd like to have an analog back-up. I'd actually like to have physical proof that I own the game, and I think everybody likes going into a games store and browsing the boxes.

That being said, for all the potential drawbacks....I can play Crisis on a netbook.

If you have a stable connection, then you can outsource allof the grudge work. That's got to be worth investigating.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is wrong with flowing prose?

Normaly, I'm a fan of words that ooze off the page like metlted butter and nestle comfortably within my subconscious but lately I'm finding great satisfaction in reading boks that are fundamentally hard to read.

By that I mean books that only tackle complex and open-ended themes which provoke many points of interest to mull over but also hard to read prose. I'm talking Dostoyevsky doing Kafka doing Cervantes.

As you can probably tell, lately I've been submerged in the worlds of Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment and Metamorphosis. The thread which ties the first two together is they've been translated from very alien languages into English.

Cervantes lived in 16th Century Spain and Dostoyevsky lived in 19th Century Russia. To try and translate an archaic form of Spanish into flowing prose is a challenging undertaking by any stretch of the imagination and to be fair the translators do a pretty good job but in the end it still remains a hard book to read.

The translators have to deal with a whole different verb structure than our own ('Lucy's in the Sky with Diamonds' becomes 'Lucy, she is in the sky with the diamonds') and you can tell the translators have tried to salvage the best out of a bad situatuion, but it still remains a challenging read nonetheless.

Dostoyevsky wrote society novels for the most part, and there is a stiltedness and formality to his writing even when ruminating of the internal thought processes of a killer, and for this reason any Dostoyevsky is hard to read for those not familiar with his style.

Yet with both remains the fact that they are totally engrossing authors with wonderful novels and need to be read by anyone who hopes to call themselves literate. Yet, you won't find the youth of today clambouring for first editions and exciting new translations but instead reaching for the modern stuff.

So, I make a point in reading hard to read novels. Sort of my statement against the intellectual laziness of today. I actively seek out books which are going to be hard to read for the mere fact that I feel there's some sort of jewell in the temple of prose and pot of gold at the end of the rainbow made up by words such as 'betwixt'.

So, I find myself with this fixation for reading ahard to read books out of some sort of intellectual protest. In an age where all meaning and prose is given to us in an eye-pleasing format why not go back to those masterpieces which are hard to penetrate? In an age where literature has become consumer product rather than adding to the lexicon of human existence, am I wrong for seeking out texts which go against this philisophy?

Or am I just mad?

'Till next time

Friday, March 20, 2009

What is wrong with Alcopops?

Alcopops, to our overseas visitors are basiaclly soft drink with alcohol added and marketing to a youth market. Varieties such as Lemon Ruski have popped up over the years, and it's led to a sharp increase of young people binge drinking. Now, Australia's always been fond of a couple of quiet ones but the level of over-excessive drinking has gotten out of hand.

The theory is that young people are atracted to these alcopops because they can't stand the taste of regular alcohol, so they choose to have alcohol with a whole pile of sugar to cover up the taste (because that's being an adult!). So, the federal government finally caught onto the trend and introduced a propsed tax on the sale of alcopops in Australia.

Not only would it curve binge drinking, the government argued, it would also be a nice little fundraiser. Now, instead of being a country run on the sheep's back we would be run on the pissed teenager's back.

Now, the sale of alcopops have suffered a hit but to make up for it teenagers are getting savvy and mixing their own drinks before they go out. They say that they save money by doing it, and this would combat any price hike the government may or may not introduce. Alcopops though, aren't the only thing driving binge drinking in this country.

The fact is, that Australia has had a drinking culture for as long as anyone could remember, with mainstream alcohol companies able to advertise during sports broadcasts to tie in the culture of sport with the culture of drinking, and this is backed up by seeing their favourite players intoxicated on the streets, groping sponsor's daughters and what have you.

It's been said that if the government outlawed all drugs and alcohol, Australians would spin around on their lawn until they couldn't stand. The question is though, how do you deal with the problem?

Senator Steve Fielding of the Family First Party yesterday had the swing vote when the alcopops tax bill made its way to the senate, and he chose to vote it down, wanting more to be done about binge drinking than taxing alcopops.

He said that any legislation had to be a comprehensive plan to get to the root causes of the problem, and would not vote for revenue-raising band-aid solution legislation. Of course, several people have criticised him for blocking the move, while others have lauded his efforts.

In my own personal opinion, I don't think putting a tax on alcopops would dramatically decrease the level of teenage drunkedness in the country but it's a start. I think the legislation should have gotten through, but Fielding has a point in his opposition to sport-related alcohol advertising.

It's a ridiculous loophole which allows alcohol compaies to advertise their product during the day time, but only in conjunction with a sports broadcast. It comes down to the dollars the companies give sports organisations in the country through sponsorship and spokesman deals. So the uniforms of the players may have alcohol logos on them, and signage at the stadiums will display the logo from time to time, and then the companies strike a deal with the television network carrying the game to advertise with the broadcast.

Then what you have is not just a logo, but an association with professional sport, and with pro athletes. Ridiculous as it may sound, many young people look up to these overpaid beefcakes and think that by drinking the particular product advertised, they can be just like their heroes.

If that's the case, then we're all in trouble.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What is wrong with a golden handshake?

Outrage this week over the executives who deserve a golden shower rather than a golden handshake. The tizzy started when it emerged that due to pre-existing conditions, the top brass at AIG were going to get a whole bunch of moolah as a bonus for doing......well you got me.

That's right kiddies, the guys running AIG, the company currently being bailed out by the American taxpayer were going to get paid obscene amounts for their incompetence. The socialists were howling at this one. Luckily it lookslike they're not going to get the money, but the reasoning behind the payments was a bit baffling.

They said it was due to a clause in a pre-existing contract and their hands were tied, and I understand that but then they came out and said something baffling. They started to argue that incentives were needed to keep talent at the company.

Hmmm, spot the flaw if you can. It seems to me that the people who ran an insurance giant into the ground aren't actually that talented, just sayin'. Is there something to the argument though?

No, of course not you dolt.

They say that to get ourselves out of this mess, they're going to need the help of the people who got them in the trouble in the first place. I can understand there perhaps are a limited number of people to run a multi-national company, but it's just ridiculous.

In no other profession is this approach taken in the face of extreme incompetence. Just imagine it now, the manager of your club has just lost fifteen games on the trot. What does the club do? They sack the hell out of him.

They sure as hell don't invite him back to try and rebuild the squad and throw a bunch of money at him. It seems though, the men with the suits and ties are somehow granted an exemption. Here in Australia, the story is much the same.

Everybody's favourite moustachioed (is that even a word?) Yank, Sol Trujilo, was given a nice little 30 million dollar handshake for advising over a company which had failed to even get on the shortlist for the new broadband network, and played bizzare power games with Stephen Conroy.

Socks, jocks and offshore-location experts Pacific Brands payed a bonus to a former CEO last year to the tune of 3.4 million dollars, a period where they would have been planning the mass sackings of Australian workers.

So you see, the problems which beset this financial world aren't just American. Everybody assumes that this whole thing was kicked of by the leveraged US companies but the problem goes deeper than that. The problem is greed on a masive scale, and that sadly, is a universal theme.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What is wrong with going stir-crazy: pt II

Many of you will remember my epic stapler review(here:, but I'm not satisfied with that, oh no. Instead, I'm not giving up until I write the most enthralling review about the most inane objects I can think of!

Here's one about a brick


By Corky McGee

If there was one darling to come out of last year's Leipzig Brick Show, it was the new Haigh brick which dazzled audiences and had brick journalists in a tizzy. Well, the day is finally here and today marks its release onto the market, but does the real deal measure up to the dazzling display at Leipzig?

For years builders and political activists alike had shown an alarming disinterest in the current generation of bricks, instead choosing to stay with the old standards such as the King and the Lindesay models, so it's no surprise the Haigh has proven to be one of the most anticipated brick releases in years.

Retaining a sleek finish, the Haigh manages to capture the charm of old-school design philosophies while adapting to emerging demands from China and India for Western building products. The Haigh will amaze many pundits with its compact design which will appeal to both markets.

Before this point, brick manufacturer's had to stake a place in either camp, and no firm has ever successfully managed to crack both markets simultaneously. Makers of the Haigh, BrickCo are hoping the brick will lead to an about face in brick market policies.

There's no doubt that in these harsh economic times, brick manufacturers are aiming to increase their market share, and to do so in multiple markets. By employing veteran project lead Jans Klaussen to head up the Haighproject, BrickCo have ensured a design which pushes forward in terms of adaptability and texture while retaining the classic brick-chic that he's known for.

The Haigh's texture was one of the things that dazzled at Leipzig, and we're pleased to report that this hasn't changed a bit at the point of release. The brick is still silky-smooth, but with a rough edge which makes the brick attractive to potential buyers. There's no doubt that under the gruff exterior of this brick is a soft and gentle side which is just so appealing.

We recently road-tested a preview model of the Haigh, and our political activists found it to be a better brick to work with as now they could throw the bricks through shop windows without having to use gloves, a key advantage when aiming for accuracy. Builders too said that after a day's build using the preview model, they felt as if they hadn't done any work at all owing to the milky texture of the brick not leaving any of the scuff marks long associated with the bricklayer.

In terms of shape, you couldn't ask for much more from the Haigh. Shape was one of the key reasons Klaussen was appointed project-lead for the brick, as his work on the Lindesay model helped forge a new generation of bricks, and BirckCo had suffered bad reviews for its previous releases regarding shape.

The shape is what you'd expect from a designer of Klaussen's experience, as the brick retains classic lines but changes things up with softer edges than we're used to seeing from his releases. It's clear that Klaussen has really tried to reinvigorate brick design from its recent slumber and this effort will force some textbooks to be re-written!

Klaussen with his design

Builders say the new design will be a godsend for those working all day long with bricks, as some of the tough lines of previous releases has left their hands with one too many tell-tale signs in the form of cuts to their hands. Political activists too are raving at the new shape, saying the softer edges actually increase the diameter of holes they can break in windows, rather than being a more concentrated area of destruction they've used in the past.

The Haigh also impresses with the colour scale employed. Rather than sporting a deep red as with most of the current releases, the Haigh uses a lighter touch and is more the better for it.

Whereas the market has been complaining about bricks all being the same colour in the past, the Haigh uses a deft touch to distinguish itself from the pack and by doing so distances itself from the frustrations consumers feel for the current generation of bricks.

The lighter tone lends itself a charm which brings back memories of a bygone era of brick design and reminds us that this brick is really what bricks are meant to be. The juxtaposition between its old world aesthetics and it's sleek new world design is a masterstroke from Klaussen who with the Haigh has reclaimed his rightful place at the summit of brick design.

Political activists, in particular are pleased as punch about getting their hands on the new brick, saying the old-school aesthetics reminds them of the work their pappies did in bringing down the government, and makes the political acts referenced by the brick a lot more poignant.

Indeed, Klaussen has always been a staunch activist and employed this new colour scheme in a majestic fashion in a nod to his predecessors. BrickCo may have been worried by Klaussen's revolutionary intent, smelling a PR disaster in the wake of the Tuscon incident, but their decision to allow Klaussen a free hand is one of the smartest business decisions they'll ever make.

Already, buyers from exotic shore have been lining up to sample the new brick, pleased the new style of brick reminds them of the fond days of colonialism. Now they'll not only be able to enjoy the comfort and sophistication of theHaigh but to appropriate the aesthetic meaning to protest western globalisation by lobbing one of the bricks through the nearest Starbucks franchise.

In closing, the Haigh measures up in every aspect to the promise shown by the Leipzig model employing some pretty cutting edge design philosophies by Klaussen to achieve an old-world charm. This is now the new standard by which new bricks will be measured, and I certainly look forward to how Klaussen and BrickCo plan to top this season's release.

P.S- I'm so lonely

Friday, March 13, 2009

What is wrong with this financial crisis thingamajig?

I've had friends and family come up to me during the last few months, looking to me for guidance about this whole thing kicked off. They know I have some sort of handle on this whole thing, and it's a very complex and tricky issue with no one person to blame. Heck, itwould be good if we could blame this whole thing on Bernie Madoff, but a number of events and lending practices has lead to the meltdown of the current capitalistic system.

First of all, we had the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Now, this basically stemmed from really bad home loans being given out. You see, at the height of the property boom in the US, there was a lot of money floating around the system, so lenders were able to package loans that they wouldn't have in normal times.

Like, the pay nothing for two years and then pay a fuckload of interest later on. These loans were offered to those who couldn't pay the interest straight up, and usually that's a sign that they're not ready for the financial strains of a home loan, but heck, there was money to be made so agents just gave the okay and collected the comission on the sale.

Now, the banks started to realise they had a lot of dodgy loans on their hands. So, they decided to package them up as securities and offload them onto Wall Street in order to safeguard their money. These securities took the form of bonds which the investor would hold, and eventually they'd get the full amounts of the loans and the interest.

Now, to help sell these securities, they were all put into a giant pool.The securirties were given AAA, BBB, and CCC security ratings by insurance companies. This means that the AAA were likely to be paid back, but with less interest and the CCC securities were less likely to be paid back, but the interest rate was higher.

Now, the people in charge of the securities thought by putting them in a giant pool wouldallow them to colate all the money in the one place, so the AAA security holders could be paid back first, the BBB second and so on. That's not it though, to help sell the securities they added on what's known as a Credit Default Swap onto the security.

This is basically insurance for the security, which means if you pay more you can basically guarantee a return on your investment. Here's the kicker though, these things could be traded as well. That's right, you could hold the insurance on another person's mortgage security.

So, you could basically bet on the mortgage not being paid back. Now, the market has gone nuts with these things, to the tune of an estimated 42 Trillion dollars.

Back to the Wall Street people who packaged up these securities. They thought at the worst, they could sell the houses if people didn't pay the money back and give it to investors. Here's the thing though, the availability of these cheap loans led to a heck of a lot more houses being built. Now kiddies, what happens when there's an oversupply in the market? The value goes down.

So of course there wasn't the money there to pay back investors and holders of CDS contracts and a lot of people lost money. Now the investors weren't just mum and dad investors, multi-billion dollar companies also got onto these securities and they weren't being paid back.

Now, there were a heck of a lot of companies not getting money back for their investment, and coupled with the market's penchant for CDS contracts which weren't subject to normal security scrutiny they found themselves in a highly leveraged position.

That means they were getting loans from a lot of other companies, and they didn't have the wherewithal to pay them back. So they had to sell assets, file chapter 11 (bankruptcy) and eventually the debt position of companies were exposed and the whole thing collapsed like a jenga pile.

Whew, I hope that helps explain the whole thing rather than fuzzy the picture for you, and crystallises why you should stock up on food sraps to throw at Wall Street gurus.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is wrong with Watchmen?

Not a great deal, as Snyder actually does a eally admirable job at adapting the book to the big screen. The ending is definitely rushed though, and that's my only real beef with the film though but the critics have been lining up left right and centre to criticise the film.

They call the film bloated and overwrought with characterisation.The thing is though, most of these critics have gone to the film with the brief "it's a movie based on a comic book'. The question is, did they try to view Watchmen as a comic book film rather than more of the philisophical and character piece it is.

After all, it's been said that the best possible film version of Watchmen would be a five hour art-house film, and I'm inclined to agree with that. The film cuts a great deal of the characterisation and introspection from the film, but cleverly references events to devotees.

The question is, as the critics have been swayed by their pre-conceptions that it's a 'comic book film', have I been swayed by the fact that I've read the book and know what they've left out? Have I not seen the bloated nature of the film because I've been focused on what they've cut from the film?

Anyhow, here's a quick review I did yesterday.


Watchmen- Film

It ain't as good as the book, but it's as good as a movie based on the book is going to get. As a movie based on one of the most loved texts of the last 20 years, Zach Snyder was always going to have a tough sell for this one. Entire audiences would be searching every frame for the meaning permeating through their beloved text. The question is though, did they pull it off?

Well, it came damned close. It came as damned close as a movie can get to expressing the themes and depth the book does, but for fans of the novel, the film will fall agonisingly short but it's through no fault of the film itself.

It's a damned fine film, perhaps one of the best of the year and for those unacquainted with the text it will open their eyes to a whole new way of thinking about superheroes. It's a superbly crafted film, with a visual electricity and some great performances elevating this flick from standard comic book film to a whole new beast.

All of the characters of the book are well represented, from the cold and subtle facial expressions of Doctor Manhattan played by Billy Crudp, to the raw intensity of Jackie Haley playing the psychotic Rorschach, and the manic depresion of the Comedian is brought to life admirably. It's clear the actors aren't in it for the pay check, but in it for the opportunity to bring the characters to life. The only disappointment is Mathew Goode as Ozymandias who fails to bring a presence to the screen that his character dictated.

That being said, they all bring the intricacies and nuances of their characters to the fore, and some of the scenes between the Silk Spectre and Nite Owl are great, as they explore their sexuality as tied to their personas.

Visually, the film doesn't employ the secondary colour scheme employed by the comic, but in its place is a beautifully photographed piece. Snyder shows his visual flair here, as screen panels are brought to life with an intensity which makes it an incredible experience for devotees of the novel. The opening credits especially are an absolute delight.

Striking, is an understatement. The screen brings to life the still panels, with all of the intricate details of the panels brought to life. From copies of "Under the Hood" lying around, to news clippings hanging on the wall all of the scenery is lovingly crafted with detail which will have fans of the novel grinning from ear to ear as they fondly remember the panels referenced.

Referencing the detail left out is perhaps the most frustrating part of the film for fans, as it points to detail that in parts the film yearns for. The back story of Ozymandias and Silk Spectre II are largely left unexplored and the tribulations of Rorschach's childhood are teasingly floated in front of our eyes and then snatched away.

It was always going to be difficult to fit everything in, and the film already runs a comparatively long two and a half hours. In truth though, if they didn't cut things, the film would have run for four. The novel uses news excerpts to explore the world and back stories of the characters, and that's just not quite possible in a film format.

The question is though, is the inherent meaning of the film lost in these cuts?

Well, for those who have read the novel the meaning will all be there, background explained with a flash of newsprint in the background but for others it may just get a little confusing and the meaning lost.

That being said, the film does a sterling job of exploring the themes inherent in the novel. One person I saw the film with could appreciate the nuances of the tale, and I now have a request to lend the novel to her so she may explore the world more.

Plot wise, it's all pretty solidly paced but one irksome moment comes when the climax comes. It feels rushed for a momentous moment of meaning, and some of the enormity of the moment is lost by the rush to get to the end of the film. Perhaps it's that as a reader you can hold the book in your hands and let the neding unfold slowly and ponder on philisophical points but having the moment forced on you like the Comedian on the Silk Spectre leaves an unwanted taste in the mouth.

One area the novel couldn't possibly explore though is the aural realms. The music employed in the film is nothing short of stunning. Using Dylan, Hendrix and Cohen to underpin the themes of the scene add another layer of meaning to proceedings. The music is from the quotes present at the end of each chapter, and for fans hearing the quotes of the music played in the theatre is an absolute delight.

The thing is though, for all of the meaning which is referenced visually and aurally it remains something special for fans of the book only, but an extraordinary comic book film for others.

Perhaps the greatest work of this film will be to tease those to seek out the book, to re-read the novel as a whole layer of meaning is hinted at. It's this meaning which would have elevated this film into a masterpiece, but as it stands it's a damned good comic book film.

It's as good as a two and a half film version of Watchmen is going to get. An experience of a lifetime to see the panels in live action for devotees, an intriguing film for those not acquainted.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What is wrong at the cricket?

Terrorists have today targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team, playing in Lahore as the vehicle they were in came under attack. It's a sad day for all of those concerned, and possibly the death knoll for Pakistani cricket.

Already western nations have registered concerns about playing in the country, with the upcoming Champion's Trophy moved because of security fears and Australia being vocal in its intention not to tour the country. Those concerns had always been raised by western countries, and the Asian bloc had always stuck by Pakistan in these disputes.

Now, it seems, anybody's a target for terrorists in the region. There was always the argument that it was safe to tour the country because it was an unspoken rule that they would never target cricketers or sporting venues. Now, that argument has been shot down as they targeted not just cricketers, but Sri Lankan cricketers.

It now seems certian that no internation cricket will be played inside the country, and the standard of Pakistani cricket will suffer for it. The real question is though, how did things become so bad that terrorists could target cricketers?

The short-sighted will point to the appointment of the current Pakistani administration and cluck their western tongues, professing that this sort of thing would never have happened under Pervez Musharref.

Of course, that's a pile of bul-clod and anyone with half a peanut can tell you that hardline Islam was gathering momentum in Pakitstan during the last administration. In the north of the country, there was an increasing call to allow certain provinces to enfoce Sharia law, in stark contrast to the secular shine the administration was putting on the country.

As Musharef became the centre of Washington's attention as the rise of hardline exteremism reared its ugly head, he was caught in somewhat of a quandry. You see, he really did need the support of these exteremists to get 're-elected'. So to the rest of the world he presented a brave face and said they were doing all they could to wipe out extremism in the region, but those inside the country knew the administration could be doing more.

Now, with the Mumbai bombings and these latest attacks, perhaps we're starting to see the fruits of Musharref's inaction coming home to bear poisoned fruit, and it will take a long time to stabilise the region given the extremists were given room to fortify during his reign.

All we can hope is that this latest attack will galvanise the curent administration's resolve to work on eliminating extremism in the region and we can start to see the potential of a truly secular Pakistan.