Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is wrong with shameless promotion?

First off, I've got to apologise for the intermittent blog posts. Real life has gotten in the way more times than I care to count over the last week, but at least something good has come out of it.

I've talked on this blog about the desire for me to get a website up and running so that number one, I can have an online presence potential employers can check out and number two to showcase some of the better citizen journalists and writers out there. I may just be one step closer to realising that dream through Weebly.

This is very preliminary, but so far I've been impressed with the service. What it is essentially, is free server space and a widget-based wepage creation toolkit. Which means that basically anyone can create a webpage using their templates or you can go under the hood and customise the code to suit your needs.

The catch is that you can only create about three websites before they ask you to pony up some dough, but how many websites do you need? It's free for crying out loud! To enjoy the freeness (yes, that's totally a word in the Dictionary of Drunkards) of the experience, you do have to put .weebly in your site's domain name, but it's a small price (actually, none) to pay for your own website.

Because I like working with images though, I'm afraid I may be spamming the Weebly servers if I put up a webcomic or something of that ilk. Not to worry though, as Wired actually got me thinking about Cloudsourcing as a way for small time operators to turn a buck.

The term basically means getting all the grudge work of the servers to another product. For example, what's stopping me from chucking up photos on Flickr and Photobucket and using those as a server for the images, while keeping a copy for myself? That way, you don't have to store the photos (or video) on the same server as your website and you can outsource that hassle to another site.

It'sall very initial at this stage, but things are looking promising on that front.

Anyhow, onto something that caught my eye while I was watching MediaWatch last night. You see, here in Australia we've had a recent spate of 'boat people' who undertake perilous trips across the waves to reach Australia in the hopes of political asylum.

Some sections of the media however, aren't merely content with calling them 'boat people' anymore. They've gone back to that old standard 'illegals', which of course implies these people are coming to our shores illegally (which they're not), and implies that these people may be criminals instead of people fleeing persecution.

Language has the power to make people laugh, give insight into darkened areas and provide hope for those with none. Words in the wrong hands can be dangerous things, as one word, one key phrase can change perceptions.

Once you change the perceptions of the voting public, you're going to have a tough time convincing them otherwise.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's wrong with a tea party?

Earlier this week in the great ol' land of the USA, demonstrations were held protesting the high taxing of the Democratic party. Unsurprisingly, many to all of the protestors were Republican, and they objected to the trillions of US taxpayer money to bail out crippled financial companies.

Okay, fair enough, but the strange thing here is that they used the concept of
tea' to rally around in conjunction with tax season in the US. You see, they hoped to draw links back to a revolutionary moment in US history known as the Boston Tea Party, when people in Boston refused to allow tea shipped from the UK onto their lands under the grounds that they didn't want to pay tax to a sovereign nation which was not their own.

So, they threw the tea into the harbour so that they didn't have to be taxed on it. It was seen as one of the great acts of defiance against the ruling UK government and led to a revolution which kicked out the brits.

Now protestors are trying to draw paralells between that event and their current protests, and comparing the Obama government to an opressive regime which they do not support, and therefore should not have to pay tax to.

As any sound mind will realise by now, the whole thing is completely ridiculous. Sure, go ahead and protest but you still have to pay your taxes. The whole thing smacks of Republican sour grapes, as now their arguments centre upon not recognising their own government as legitimate and Obama as not a legitimate President?

They say they should have greater control over where their taxes go, and the over-spending of the Obama administration is grounds for revolution. Yeah, that'll fly.

Republicans weren't complaining when their taxes went toward providing the top end of town with tax cuts and perks under Republican auspices, and now the ineptitude of that system has been shown up and they want to protest about paying tax? Years of lax regulation under the guise of fiscal conservatism plagued the world and then US nation, and they want to complain about the opposite approach?

'Till next time
It's got to make you laugh.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What is wrong with a quick update?

This is just a quick update on a couple of things in the last blog post. The situation in Thailand got worse, with civilian deaths reported to be around the six mark, but I wouldn't be too surprised to hear that number go up to about 15.

The interesting thing though is the independant media in the country are reporting much of the strife was caused by the anti-government demonstrators , backed by Thaksin Shinawatra. Apparently they were the agressors in the conflict, driving a bus into a crowd of soldiers to inflame the situation and whereas the sound of troop guns rung out, it's understood from vision of the incident that the soldiers were shooting into the air to warn off protestors rather than at them. Some of the conflict has been between anti-government demonstrators and ordinary citizens sick and tired of the demonstrators bringing their country into disrepute.

No loss of life is a good thing, but I thank whoever's in charge of the whole cosmic show that it's only six people. That situation could have gotten very bad very quickly, but for the meantime things have seemed to settle down and anti-government leaders have conceeded they face a PR crisis which will make public support of further demonstrations very dificult.

Onto Fiji now, and foreign journalists have been escorted from the country and the Australian Broadcast Commission radio broadcast tower has been powered down by the 'government' acting under, well, I was going to say unconstitutional grounds but there is no constitution in Fiji at the moment.

I also let you know about the TV station which has refused to broadcast pro-'government' stories and how it may just help the situation. Well, it seems the local rags have gotten into the act too and started running stories about 'a man getting on a bus', and 'what we had for breakfast this morning' rather than pro-'govenment' stories which are the only stories they're allowed to run under emergency rules.

You gotta love it.

Hopefully the stories will make people in Australia and New Zealand take a little more notice rather than trivialising the issue.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What is wrong with an illusion of democracy?

Don't you just love it when you turn on the television set and see pictures of people fleeing their governments? Makes me kind of wish the news could be about a puppy on a surfboard all the time.

This week protests in Thailand and a military dictatorship in Fiji have been gathering pace, and we're about to see two traditional Australian holiday destinations become violent maelstroms of revolution and meanwhile Stephen Smith sits in Canberra and 'expresses concern over the situation'.

In Fiji, one of our close neighbours we have a military dictatorship which has seen the results of a democratic judicial ruling and thought 'nuh, don't like it'. So they (the military dictator in a Prime Minister's clothing Frank Bainimarama) trot out the President who reads from a piece of paper, seemingly bemused as to the powers he's giving himself. Basically, President Josefa Lliolo tore up the constitution and appointed Bainimarama as Prime Minister.

Oh, and about a year ago they promised to hold elections six months ago. Joyous.

Now, they've kicked out the head of the Reserve Bank of Fiji and the Fijian Human Rights Commission because they 'were formed under the constitution'. If that's not bad enough, they've basically shut down all independant media on the island, making it a crime to report 'negative' stories about the government.

So kids, what do you think the media did?

They did the only thing they could ethically do under the situation and refused to broadcast. They're doing their stories or they're doing none at all. Way to stick it to the man Fijian media, right on! Hopefully, the silence will be deafening.

Meanwhile in Thailand, simmering tensions between anti-government supporters and government officials have just started to flow over and the riot police have been called in. So far there no 'reported' casualties, but if you stand back and have a look at the picture in Thailand it may just make you lose your voice out of sheer bewilderment.

The current government, the one elected a while ago has been accused of corruption amongst other nefarious things, and seizing power illegally.

You see, the anti-government protestors are suporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the ex-PM who was ousted about a year and a half ago for 'alleged' massive coruption and supresing democracy in the nation. The military kicked him out, and he's now a criminal in the country.

That's right, the people of Thailand have basically moved from one corupt government to the next, and they're calling for the ex-PM to be re-installed to the office. What a crazy situation.

The paralells between Fiji and Thailand are quite evident at the moment, as both states are dealing with a government which was installed after a military coup, and both appear to be failing tremendously in their quest to 'restore democracy' to what they saw as failed states. Now, they're repeating the same mistakes as their predesessors and finding that power is a dark temptation indeed.

The over riding socio-political question at stake here has to be 'is it possible to violently insist upon democracy?'.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is wrong with over thinking things?

Well, you tend to go insane and write shambolic reviews of The Sims. Like I did about a week ago for a reviewing competition. I don't think I'm going to win with this effort, but it staved off the effects of insanity for about ten minutes anyhow....or perhaps encouraged them. Goo goo ga joob!



"When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream. How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?"- Descartes

I turn on the machine and live another life, I am ghost in the machine, and I am hungry for Baked Alaska.

When people think games, they think computer simulations with a point. Whether it be shoot a whole bunch of people, build a city or unravel a mystery, but has there ever been a game which is so nihilistically compelling?

When people ask me my favourite game, I say it is something along the lines of Fallout or Psychonauts, not because The Sims isn't popular, but because of my own shame. Each time I start up the game, I hear the hollow silence of my own coffin underneath the cheery music which permeates my consciousness.

I know that for an hour or twelve I am certainly not myself, I am not the same man who thinks playing until two in the morning isn't a fruitful exercise, instead I am not only a taskmaster but this game has somehow tricked me into believing I am a master of my own self.

I get a call on the telephone, that sim wants to come over for a while. I have work in an hour; I have no time for this foolishness. I need a goddamned promotion, I don't have any bills piled up on the table or children crying for the newest shiny toy and I feel myself lulled into a path by the promise of a piece of candy in front of my feet.

"And if you go chasing rabbits-
And you know you're going to fall"- Jefferson Airplane

I'm Alice, and I don't particularly care that the Cheshire cat is grinning at me. What do I care for the logical reality which dictates this all ridiculous? What do I care for the arguments that my time would not be served by playing a people simulator?

Paradoxically, The Sims has you obsessed with time management as you go down the rabbit-hole to confront your own shortcomings. I look at my sim, and I see an idealised version of myself. He has a job, several attractive sims a phone call away and a home that I could only dream of...and a hot tub!

For others, digital gender-play is the order of the day as their digital manifestations go and give birth to a whole bunch of more Sims which fulfils some paternal fantasies. Others though desire the game as a mere toy, the denizens of the world to do with what they will, locking them up in a room with no food or toilets for days on end and smile wryly as their sim fights for life.

What is this game where you can't just design cities, take life but instead control every aspect of a digital person's life? More to the point, why do I desire the control? In a game which takes control away from your real life and substitutes it for a program, is the need to dictate the terms of life to these beings the last bastions of our humanity telling us that this is a video game, and nothing to be feared?

Am I over-thinking this?

The reason why The Sims is a guilty pleasure is that I seek control. I demand perfection from my sims in stark contrast to my failed endeavours and this makes me feel more than a little guilty. Am I simply projecting my desires onto these hapless digital creatures? What right do I have to demand perfection from these creatures when I am sitting in my room at two in the morning playing a video game?

Perhaps a story will help illustrate my point.

It's about 7PM sim-time. The sun has just come down rather rapidly, and I'm preparing my sim for another day of promotion-chasing. He lives in a two-story house, has a good looking trophy-wife and two kids who are at the top of their classes. Yet, it's not enough.

I have to get him up four hours early, just to make sure that he's in the best condition he can be so he can chase that promotion. Most people will be happy just stumbling into work, getting through their shift so they can get their pay check and put food on the table. My mum did it after all, she raised two kids while getting a degree and working a full-time job.

I find myself now, faced with this being in my control and I'm making sure his kids have the upbringing I never had. Oh God I'm so ashamed.

Why do I want to push my sim into this path though? For some arbitrary cash bonus? Am I simply playing by the game's rules in the hopes of hearing some stupid little chime and my sim's stats getting a boost? Why am I following the pied piper to my own death? Not the death of my sim, but to the death of myself.

It's about 2AM real-world time and I feel like rebelling. The sun has long gone down and my sim is preparing for another day of work. Little does he know that he's not going to work today. That's right; I'm going to ignore the honking of the carpool.

So the hour is fast approaching, and my sim is seemingly looking toward the door. Is my sim...learning? Has years of routine finally come home to roost? It's a moot question anyway, and the car pulls up and starts honking. My sim indicates that he wants to go to work, to get the moolah, to get the points and to get the special item. No, I say, you will stay home and paint! Still he indicates that he wishes to go...I should have turned free-will off.

My sim hasn't grasped the concept or rebellion, and a look outside will tell you why. It's a sunny day outside, and as far as I can tell, it's never rained in this part of the neighbourhood. I look at the houses in the neighbourhood and notice a distinct lack of dilapidation present. This neighbourhood sickens me, but yet I want to spend every waking moment I have there? I'm so ashamed.

Back to my rebellion.

The honking is unceasing, it drives into your brain like a jackhammer into pavement, all compounded by my sim's desire to walk on the straight and narrow and my determination for him to rebel. Who am I to force my cultural ideologies on this little guy? If he really wants to go to work, I should let him. The car's honking louder now. No, I made him what he was through years of routine implementation, and it's my responsibility to show him that there's another way to live life. He doesn't have to go to work, he doesn't have to be a slave to the corporate dollar.

Back in real life I get my bank statement back, and the 90 dollars I spent on the game and 30 dollars I spent on the expansion pack stick out at me. Here I am trying to affect rebellion when I can't rebel myself.

Like a crack-addled clown I go back for more time and time again. Perhaps the greatest act of rebellion would be to turn the computer off, but there's no time for that now, the car's honking is getting louder.

Finally, the car speeds off and my sim is left in a daze, reflecting his creator's state of mind. Here I am free from the constraints of arbitrary gameplay goals and I have no idea what to do. All I keep on thinking is that he should be doing something constructive as I open another bag of chips.

He should be painting a masterpiece, getting his body in taught shape or cultivating contacts. In the middle of my ruminations, a little sim comes up to her daddy and gives him a hug before going to school.

Suddenly, it's not about rebellion anymore. The reason why my sim should aim to be all he can be is right there in a simple act of affection. Who am I to deny a future for this child because I want to rebel? That's when you realise that you're not the G-Man anymore, but instead this game has been controlling you all this time.

So, why is The Sims a guilty pleasure? Because I know it controls my mind, and yet I go back for more each night. There's an old joke, it goes something like this.

A man walks into a doctor's office and says he's depressed.

The doctor says "Polliaci is in town, he'll cheer you up"

The man says "But doctor, I am Polliaci!"

Playing The Sims is to experience all of the follies of human endeavour, and I'd be laughing at the joke if it weren't 2AM.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What is wrong with a rollout?

Hey, remember that hilarious National Broadband Network bidding process? The one where Telstra submitted not a bid, but a list of requirements it needed to submit a bid? Yeah, that was pretty funny, what with all the laughing at Telstra and everything. Turns out that this morning the almighty Rudd has announced all of the private bids for the tender weren't up to scratch.

Therefore, the Ruddster decided it was high time a newly-created and Government controlled 43 Billion dollar company was given the tender for the process. The private investment in the company will be capped at 49 per cent with the government retaining control.

Sound familiar kiddies? Should be.

I seem to remember a certain time when Telstra was under government control in a former life, under the trading name of Telcom Australia. That was government-controlled, before the governmanet stake was split up in three parts in 1997,1999 and 2006. While investors took up the offer, the company then screwed the pooch big time.

Make no mistake, this failure to capture the National Broadband Network building tender was a kick in the teeth for the company, so much so that everybody's favourite yank with a moustache, Sol Trujilo, up and left with a golden handshake.

The question is, is history about to repeat itself? In my humble opinion, no.

Telstra moved to a private company in a climate which government regulation was seen as the big, bad wolf and privitization was the groovy thing to do. The market was rolling, the money was flowing and there was competition on the part of Optus tomake things interesting.

These days though, following the Freddie May and Mac crash I somehow think the attitude toward privatisation is a smidge different. The market may say that the way out of a crash is to invest and spend, but I doubt whether governments feel the same way.

Tighter regulation of companies, transparency of reporting and general belt-tightening are so in roght now. Would the government move to sell its stake in this new company? Perhaps not right away(the government will sell its stake within five years), but you can bet one thing about this company; It's going to be regulated to within an inch of its life. You thought the relationship between Telstra and the Government was tetchy, just wait until investors start to smell a whiff of government intervention in free enterprise.

Besides, will these be a market in five years for the government to sell its stake to? What's the value in a company which has a foundation built upon strict regulation, and very few investments or strategies for the future (I somehow don't think the government owned company will employ an agressive investment strategy).

Anyhow, this new company would build the National Boradband Network, which is sorely needed. You see, the broadband speed in Australia is akin to a snail taking it easy. The network would deliver speeds of about 10 Megabits to about 90 per cent of Australian homes and businesses.

That's all well and good, but I feel one question has to be asked.

You deliver high speeds but we can't see the hardcore porn sites? What kind of twisted game are you playing at Conroy?

'Till next time

Friday, April 3, 2009

What is wrong with people accepting your pitches?

It means that you have to go ahead and actually write an article. Why can't people pay me for just being awesome?

This week I got in my inbox a bit of exciting news. It seems the Escapist accepted my pitch to write a feature article for them, which is a step up for me. I'm used to writing small articles for the US market but this is a step up, and a great opportunity to put something meaningful in my portfolio.

Anyhow, the subject is 'political griefers'. Basically, these people use traditional griefing techniques in online games in order to make a political point. People like Joseph DeLappe who posts the names of dead soldiers in America's Army and the group known as Velvet Strike who are determined to fill testosterone-filled rounds of Counterstrike with peace and love.

Goovy, no?

So far I've managed to get in touch with DeLappe about the article and sent him through some questions, but the leader of Velvet Strike hasn't gotten back to me yet. My 1500 word article will basically go through the history of this sort of activity, as well as raising questions about a play space being politicised, and it's going to be an exercise in staying objective.

Objectivity, as Jaded Prime devotees will know, is something with pluses and minuses but with this article I'm dealing with politics. I agree totally with DeLappe and Velvet Strike and their methods, but plenty of players just think they're exploiting a space which should be left untouched by politics.

So I'm really out to maintain a neutral and calm voice instead of publishing a rallying call, and the way I'm doing that is by trying to stay outside of the subject matter and presenting it as somewhat of a social experiment. I'm really just trying to ask questions from both sides of the coin rather than provide opinions.

So anyhow, I have 15 days to get the article in the can, and I'm being paid 25c US per edited word. So you may see me around the Perth Stock Exchange hoping to see red across to board, well, for a couple of weeks anyhow.

'Till next time