I have fulminated against the evils of the Starforce copy protection system before, specifically with reference to a Ubisoft product, and it seems that for once the plaintive cries of us mere consumers was not in vain. Ubisoft have officially announced that they are stripping the much loathed protection software from all future release. From my perspective that means it’s now safe to consider buying PC releases from them again, and hopefully more publishers will follow suit after seeing the immensely positive reaction from gamers. Incidentally, since I know just how mature Starforce employees are, I kindly request that you refrain from defacing this site in retaliation.
European .eu domain names were made publically available just a few days ago and already no less than 1,454,218 have been registered. One must wonder, however, whether in this age of searchable Google-dominated internet use your URL really matters any more. The Google philosophy is certainly the “content is king” approach, no matter where the information is located. So while it is undoubtedly true that having a domain to yourself is useful (and would be somewhat hypocritical of me to say otherwise), is its actual name nearly so important as the soaring price tags would suggest?
I’m now packing for my return to uncivilised life on Monday so as usual that means if you have any DVD requests for this term, check out The DVD List and let me know immediately.
Yesterday was Phil H’s 21st and his parents generously paid for a bunch of us to go paintballing and then have dinner in London. It was a Skirmish in Dormansland, near East Grinstead. In teams of 9 we played about 12 games which were suitably varied although my only complaint would be that several of the fields could do with being more balanced. The first hit I took was a nasty finger shot that broke the skin, but fortunately that was the sum total of drawn blood for the day (well, from me at least). My favourite shot was a long one from atop the Mexican fortress, hitting a very startled Ben H on the top of the head (he’d wrongly assumed he was totally safe behind cover and some distance away).
Zaki would probably like to warn you that, despite appearances, the inside of pink paintballs tase absolutely nothing like strawberry yoghurt. I would have though that was self-explanatory, it being paint and all, but other people are apparantly more thorough in their tests.
With a few hours to kill before dinner at TGI Fridays, a few of us headed back to Phil’s flat in Vauxhall. For those who haven’t seen it, he basically has the bachelor pad you would dream of, a few rooms filled with expensive electronics in a swanky apartment complex with a balcony overlooking MI6. His proudest new acquisition is one of those professional metal dance mats for Dance Dance Revolution on the PS2. I realised once again why I loathe DDR. It’s not that I don’t accept that it does require a high level of skill and coordination, and can on occassion look pretty cool, merely that it also rots your immortal soul. The trade-off is, I suppose, the individual’s decision.
I’ve been looking over last year’s film releases while eBaying. Now you probably noticed that I didn’t put together a “best films of 2005” list because to me it seems like a largely pointless affair. How does one properly compare Match Point and King Kong? But having just rewatched it on DVD, I feel confident that last year’s Best Picture That Nobody Saw was certainly Kiss Kiss Bang Bang which I’ve raved about before. It’s a real pity given the classy Hollywood polish they achieved with just $15 million (which was actually $5 mil over budget). The WB had not been “confident in the premise” (based in part on the book Bodies Are Where You Find Them, which I’m now curious to read) but after seeing it screened they loved it and gave it a high profile release. In short, if you are one of the vast majority who haven’t seen this film, do so now.
The Gallery has been remoulded to fit the site once more. Due to some changes to the core code it’s not quite how I’d like it just yet, but it’s pretty close to the old version with which you are familiar. On the subject of photos, I dropped in at morgueFile after receiving an email about someone using one of my photographs to illustrate an anthology called Writing Through Cancer. Since I haven’t been there for a while I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my total downloads has now crossed the 2000 mark.
On to the Google Analytics-inspired geo locational visits competition (I think that’s a world first!). So far Milton Keynes is actually way out in the lead, but I don’t know who claims that traffic. Next up are Cambridge, Nottingham and Colchester, with Harrow-on-the-Hill and Kingston-upon-Hull close behind. Remember there are no prizes as yet and randomly refreshing pages makes no difference, we’re only counting visits. While we’re discussing stats, would anyone like to shed some light on who performed a search query consisting of luke church, Cambridge, and saint. I’m just curious.
My thoughts on Google Analytics as promised. As one might expect from the search giant, it is a very different take on the generic site statistics to which you may be used. Filled with graphical representations, it aims to offer true analysis rather than merely raw data. Setting up “goals” it provides information on how successful the site is in achieving them. Ideally designed for those selling a product, it allows you to see the efficiency of your site in acquiring sales. Unfortunately the interface is designed with this sort of “executive” use in mind, making the system of collapsable menus rather unweildy until you know the location of what you are after.
However, even for general use, it provide some interesting options. The graphical overlay geo tracking, for examples, displays markers on top of a world map to show from where your visitors come. The more often they visit, the larger the marker. So I can now see the regularity with which certain indivudals read the site from, say, Harrow or Colchester.
It seems that the use of permalinks on the site has really boosted the number of visitors who arrive here through search engines. With the title of any post now appearing in its URL, we are actually the top ranked result for certain strings like “Silent Garfield“, whilst others are seeking all sorts of things from the “ingredients of Skittles Vodka” to “Jamie Kane albums”. It’s good to know the site is able to direct other people towards what they are after as well as earning a few new readers.
Although I’m pleased with the new system, it won’t be replacing the alternative sources of raw data I previously used. They simply allow a flexibility and depth that isn’t available in Google’s analysis. Yet for its pleasant appearance and the ease of excluding my own activity on my site which can significantly skew statistics, it will be by most regularly checked source.
Continuing our tradition of sampling game demos so that you don’t have to invest the time yourself, here are our thoughts on the latest contenders. First up is the highly publicised return of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: Legend. I was first introduced to the series around Tomb Raider 3 and found it an interesting but unfulfilling experience. It sounds as though everything after the first two were really shoddy knock-off sequels all based on the original game engine. The most obvious change in Legend is visual. New developer Crystal Dynamics has created a brand new engine which looks and feels truly next-gen. Miss Croft is equipped with a range of new acrobatic maneouvres, all fluidly modelled. Whilst the game’s titular tomb-raiding and puzzle solving are stunning and have some real depth, the gunplay still leaves something to be desired. Lara’s signature twin pistols are your default option with the benefit of unlimited ammo. She can acquire more powerful weapons from foes, but must then conserve her ammo. Overall the simplistic target locking and shooting doesn’t feel quite right on a PC although it may better suited to the console environment. The first important update to ther series in a long while, if third person action is your thing then its legendary heroine has returned looking more stunning than ever.
SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars aims to fuse the RPG and RTS in a continuation of the approach Blizzard implemented in Warcraft 3. Your main character and party members level up under your guidance, while other heroes can join you temporarily. For major battles you must then command larger forces, led by your hero. However, it fails to feel quite so epic as it ought.
Battle For Middle Earth 2 looks much like, well, Battle For Middle Earth actually. The most notable changes is that the license has expanded to include the books as well as the films, offering a wealth of new source material including Tom Bombadil. That alone will sell it to many fans. The combination of massive armies with impressive variety creates a truly epic fantasy environment, while looking as good as its predecessor.
Finally, Sniper Elite is the first FPS for a long while to create a genuinely new experience. Punishing any attempt to charge in guns blazing, the game has the player crawling through crumbling World War 2 battlefields, searching out vantage points from which to eliminate the enemy at long range (and there’s nothing quite so rewarding as a slow-motion follow-the-bullet replay of a carefully executed headshot). The constant tension is palpable, with the continued roar of distance gunfire and shells gouging new craters around you, though one might argue the timely strains of creepy music are not strictly in accordance with canon. I’d recommend this even if, like me, military sims aren’t usually your thing.
I feel it was somewhat remiss of me failing to remind people that Lej could be seen on terrestrial television as Beauty and the Geek hits from last Friday at 10:30pm. If you missed it previously, now is the time to see what all the fuss is about. Tomorrow night is, if memory serves, the infamous jam sandwich episode. But for Lej fans old and new, Viney and Tim have opened the ultimate Lejmund fansite. I think it hits just the right tone and offers a lot of background to The Legend for those who do not know him personally. It’s already received hundreds of hits on the day it was first advertised.
City firm Berwin Leighton Paisner asked me to attend an assessment centre on Tuesday rather than merely an interview. With eleven hopefuls (the Oxford guy never showed up — what can I say?) we had to prepare and deliver a short presentation and were then paired up for a negotiation exercise. The former went smoothly but not excellently while the latter was really fun. I did manage to use my hair (or lack thereof) to my advantage by opening the presetation with a joke about it, earning a laugh. My partner Hannah and I complemented one another’s styles well and, although I wasn’t sure how successful we were at the time, given the opposition’s expressions afterwards, I’ll hazard a guess that we trounced them. Politely. Unlike the others I won’t hear back for a couple of weeks, but it’s comforting to know I already have 5 weeks of work lined up for the summer even if this one doesn’t work out.
Kirsten decided to “surprise” me by coming down to meet me after the assessment. Unfortunately she claims I ruined her plans by finishing an hour early. Reconcialliation was achieved through a trip to the Häagen-Dazs restaurant in Leicester Square, and she’s been staying here for the past couple of days. She’ll be at Curry Night this evening so if you’re coming along you’ll be able to meet her.
My Google Analytics invite finally arrived as they expand their numbers once more. Having configured it for the site, I’m immediately impressed with the neat, coloured graphical representations offered, although the interface is slightly less intuitive than one might expect from Google. Nevertheless, you will hear my views once enough stats have been gathered to analyse properly.
Although I use Thunderbird as my primary email client, the ability to check my mail online from any computer is very important to me. I’ve spent the last few weeks trialling the latest betas from Microsoft and Yahoo! as they update their mail service. Replacing the classic Hotmail is the all new Windows Live Mail, part of the new suite of Windows Live™ products, including their new instant messenger. Unfortunately, although it boasts a generous 2GB capacity, the continued use of ActiveX scripting means that full functionality is only available in Internet Explorer (unless you are one of the small number of Firefox users who voluntarily install ActiveX). However, the ability to revert to the “Classic Hotmail View” ensures that you won’t suffer less functionality than previously. It is disappointing that Microsoft still seem not to realise that supporting alternative browsers and allowing users choice is vital in broadening the appeal of their updated services. This alone is enough to prevent recommending it.
Both new systems include a multi-pane setup that allows you to view your inbox in one while dynamically displaying the currently selected message in another. This avoids the need to refresh the entire page each time a new message is selected, and make browsing and sorting emails much quicker. The integration of drag-and-drop functionality is a great improvement and interaction is surprisingly intuitive given the major changes. Windows Live Mail suffers from placing menus in disaparate corners of the screen which will be confusing at first, while Yahoo!’s is much quicker to famaliarise yourself with.
I mentioned Yahoo!’s acquisition of OddPost several months ago, and with it their incredibly sophisticated webmail user interface which mimmicks a desktop mail client. What I had not previously appreciated is the speed and ease with which it operates. Fully supporting all browsers, after trying the new system for just a few minutes it seems absurd to wish to revert to the standard systems of the last generation of webmail. The inclusion of an integrated RSS reader, as well as the existing calendar, means that you can now use it for everything your desktop client would provide. Tabbed messaging will be a familiar concept to anyone using alternative browsers and means that composing emails or replying to messages will open a separate tab within the interface, allowing you to continuing browsing through messages as you write. The only thing it lacks is the ability to display message threads, but this is not something I myself use anyway. This is very much the future of webmail for those who do not wish to be tied down in their choice of browser. If you care about functionality and easy-to-use design as well as mere simplicity, then Google Mail has some serious work to catch up.
Several days ago a youth walked into a service station and, after a verbal fight broke out between the cashier and a third man, he released an unlicenced illegal argument so refined that only three labs in the world are capable of producing such potent and concentrated vocabulary. Its use is strictly prohibited in public as there is no known comeback. Earlier in the week police released this photograph of the suspect, taken by a CCTV camera shortly after the alleged event. However a recent court order requires that the identity of the man in question be concealed for his own protection as it is believed a bounty has been placed on head by several underworld leaders who wish to procure the illegal argument. Personally, I just hope that my upcoming interview in London won’t be prejudiced by the fact I now look like an extra from Prison Break.
With apologies to any readers who happen to be rehabilitating ex-cons, or indeed still incarcerated, this look is not exactly the first impression I’m going for. I’m not a shallow guy, but dammit I liked my hair. Gelled and spiked, it became something of a trademark, much as everyone loved to complain about its alternate use as deadly weapon/cheese grater. Now I can’t even put gel in it. Yes, you heard right. While it would be incorrect to describe my hair’s current state as “soft”, you certainly aren’t going to scratch anything with it. If I am forced to find a bright side, at least it’s still black.
Hope you all enjoyed our April Fool’s Day redesigned headers. Initially I had been planning some elaborate change to the front page until I realised that many of you come directly to the Fragments section so it would be rather wasted. Several cartoons narrowly missed the cut, most notably the insipid, criminally moronic Johnny Bravo simply because I could not find suitable images. Also conspicuous in their absence are Scooby Doo and the gang, the success of which to this day I cannot fathom since every episode is exactly the same. However, they seem to be old enough to have received an unearned “classic” status, so I was worried some people may miss the irony. It seems that some of you did anyway. These are cartoons I dislike. I mean seriously, what is the point to Yu-Gi-Oh! other than to faciliate the sale of yet another overpriced CCG (Collectible Card Game).
Today I had an imbecillic hairdresser remove most of my hair. April 1st it may be but this ain’t funny. My mother and I have been frequenting the same salon for over a decade, despite the fact it is extremely out of our way. However this day Gloria decided to pawn me off on her new “professional barber”, no doubt accredited with a BA in head shaving. He seemed incredulous that I had actually allowed a woman to cut my hair for so long and indeed it was this that allegedly, he revealed to me in the aftermath, first caused the gentlemen to realise that it would not “be all jiggy”. While I’m all for supporting those with whom one has a prior relationship, this weird new hip-hop style, which makes good business sense in drawing in more custom from the locality, really isn’t for me. I feel this relationship has run its course…