Kirsten and I are celebrating our one year anniversary today, so I’m writing this entry in advance. While we’re relaxing and enjoying ourselves, here’s a set of photos from Friday’s Hallowe’en Formal for your delectation. These are designed to show off people’s varied and wonderful costumes, and a proper gallery will appear once I’ve gone through the full size versions. TomTom probably came out on top, pulling off a fantastic werewolf make-up effect (diligently applied by Lyds). Being significantly hairier than normal, it proved remarkably difficult to eat in, particular with a soup starter. It didn’t last the entire evening, but earned many compliments before he scrubbed it off. When people actually recognised him, that is.
You will notice that there are no photos of me here, but I’ll wait to see what everyone has taken and then pop some of the best ones up here for those of you not lucky enough to be in attendance. The fangs were, I am told, quite real. Which was sort of the point. I’m not really into the rubber and plastic joke that Hallowe’en costumes have become, so was very pleased with how our whole group looked that night. I hadn’t realised that dressing as cats is apparently the in thing amongst girls. Cat rightly snarled that she had a better claim to the costume than the rest. As for me, I sort of miss wearing fangs and it certainly brought back memories. But then back home I would not have been allowed to dress that way for Hallowe’en — I’d get told I hadn’t dressed up.
I have rarely been impressed with the plethora of student discount cards that expect me to pay for the privilege of earning minimal discounts at clothes stores of which I’ve never even heard, let alone shopped. So you can imagine my surprise at discovering the free Student Beans service, recommended through the Globalist mailing list. Registering for free allows you to print off vouchers which are usable in a range of genuinely useful places, achieved by negotiating deals on a local basis in each of the university towns it supports. We’re talking Fudge Kitchen here. And you can keep saving during the holidays if your home town is on there, so finally Adam’s ice skating extravaganzas at Hull Arena will be subsidised too.
You may be familiar with del.icio.us, a social bookmarking system that I recommend not for its “social” nature (in that friends can see your bookmarks) but because it stores them online, accessible from anywhere, and when combined with the Foxylicious add-on, can be imported into any new Firefox installation instantly. Its downside has always been the minimalist (and I’m being kind) text-based interface. Yahoo! acquired them almost a year ago, but none of the usual rebranding occurred and even regular users would have been excused for missing it. Now Yahoo! Bookmarks Beta has apparently taken this idea and given it an actual interface, very pretty and intuitive while retaining the core system. And you can even import your old del.icio.us bookmarks. As soon as a Firefox synchronisation add-on emerges, it looks like I’ll be jumping ship.
It’s been a big week for free software releases, with Windows Defender finally emerging from beta to complement the new Internet Explorer release. For those not familiar with Microsoft’s Anti-spyware offering, it provides great real-time protection with a very user friendly interface and is a surprisingly good security app. The good news is that it is still free despite rumours that it would be a paid service or even subsumed into Microsoft’s OneCare package. Given that it protects users from Microsoft’s own security flaws, even staunch MS fans were protesting the notion of being charged for the product. In short, every Windows user should have this.
With inline spellchecking being Firefox’s most loved new feature, it has come to my attention that spell checking is also available in IE7 in the form of an add-on, which the browser now supports. IESpell does not highlight words as you type however, and will require selecting “Spell Check” from the right click menu to reveal errors. The IEBlog highlights more must have add-ons. They’re worth a look if you’re sticking with IE7 or flirting with multiple browsers.
The saga of the Browser Wars has sparked up once more, with Microsoft’s release of IE7 swiftly countered by Firefox hitting 2.0 within days.
Despite what detractors and FF fanboys will have you believe, IE7 is a worthy upgrade to its aged predecessor. Finally commonplace features from alternative browsers are present with tabs, search bar (which is not limited to Windows Live Search), et al. The new layout also maximises screen real estate for the page you are browsing. I had hoped for mouse gestures, even if switched off by default, but was disappointed. The biggest changes are apparently in security, and the bad news is that flaws were being discovered within 24 hours. My personal gripe is that CSS has not been significantly improved. In fact its Acid2 Test result is worse. For power users who like to customise their browser experience, Firefox is still the way forward, but for others the reasons to shift from IE are significantly reduced.
Meanwhile, Firefox 2.0 offers more new features than I had expected, but still less than one might have hoped. Interface changes unfortunately break most skins, but the updated default appearance is far more pleasant. Best new features include the integration of Google Suggestions into the search bar, new anti-phishing measures, and best of all an inline spellchecker which should finally banish typos from these posts! The underlying engine has been tweaked but its memory usage is still much higher than IE and this needs to be fixed before the next major release (3.0 is expected in fairly early next year), particularly if they intend to win over the business crowd.
With “Emergence Day” rapidly approaching, a stunning new Gears of War trailer has, well, emerged, set to Gary Jules’ now famous cover of Mad World. Slow and pensive, it is clearly designed to showcase the game’s impressive engine rather than its action, and it has never looked better. Game trailers often make us fanatics grin with excitement or drool in anticipation, but rarely does one cause us to stop and stare. Even if you are not a gamer, it is an undeniable work of beauty.
And finally, since others shared my views on the new Vista fonts here’s an interesting discussion on what makes a good typeface for easy reading. If you’re thinking of vamping up your CV then it is well worth a read (just remember to print or send it as a PDF if you use non-standard fonts!).
This won’t make much sense if you don’t know who the unpleasant lawyer Jack Thompson is, and that he has a launched a personal vendetta against game developer Rockstar and in particular their most recent release “Bully”. Set in a school, Thompson argues that it promotes bullying despite the fact much of the game is spent preventing other kids from being bullied and cleaning up the school. Beyond that, attempting to explain satire to Jack is probably a lost cause. The man currently faces contempt proceedings for his outburst a judge following a ruling that allowed the release of Bully to continue as scheduled.
I’m waiting for Rockstar to go ahead and make the sequel Bully 2: Bully For You in which you play a newly qualified lawyer who must make a name for himself by taking on groundless crackpot causes and using bullying techniques and scare tactics to unsettle the opposition and win cases. Progressing through the game you gradually become more of a nutjob, filing continually more outrageous lawsuits until eventually the entire world hates you and you win. Or lose. Whatever.
A Collector’s edition Nintendo Wii release comes with specially designed breath sensor attachment which detects how much hot air you produce for the most realistic arrogant bastard experience yet. Finally Jack can have a Rockstar game he’ll love…
Madonna’s high profile adoption of African orphan David Banda last week was a subject which strikes home to me since friends of our family recently went through the emotional and protracted procedure of adopting a child from Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this case is the new definition of “orphan” which apparently means someone with a father. This not-so-hilarious series of misunderstandings becomes even less funny now that the boy’s father has allegedly claimed he did not understand the meaning of “adoption” and would never have knowingly given away all rights to his son. If only pop stars and undead fathers were literate, things would be so much easier.
You may know that I dumped Norton Antivirus a few months ago as I was fairly vocal in my rapture that my computer was finally free of its vile shackles. In many ways its protection could be considered absolute — it took so bloody long to perform the simplest tasks that I couldn’t possibly do anything that would actually infect my machine with a virus! The immediate performance boost running sans Norton AV is striking, and as a temporary measure I decided to switch to the free AVG. I had heard good things about the product and was curious as to how the competition managed to charge exorbitant prices for system crippling software when sprightly free alternatives were so widely available. I discovered that the limitation of free antivirus applications lies not their detection of viruses, but in their poor removal ability. And so it was time to start paying for protection once more.
After much research I found NOD32 to be the most praised by the tech crowd, offering strong protection with minimal system drain. One independent test claims it has not missed a single “in the wild” virus for seven years. So why am I not wholeheartedly recommending to everyone and their dog? In short, the interface. ESET are not aiming for the lowest common denominator. While nowhere near as complicated as I had come to expect from others’ comments, the style is such that those who prefer to just install and leave may have trouble.
It is designed in a modular fashion and you’ll need to know what each module does, e.g. IMON for internet, EMON for email, AMON for active monitoring, etc. Once you know this, the control interface is reasonably intuitive, although setting each one up individually can be a bit unwieldy at first. The benefit is that you only need to run the modules your system actually requires (which in my case was all of them). It is certainly easy enough for anyone reasonably computer literate to use, and it runs so smoothly that you’ll often forget it’s there at all. Strangely at some point we seem to have forgot that this ought to be a prerequisite for system utilities running in the background.
At Rav’s recommendation I decided to give the new BBC version of Robin Hood a go. I had been expecting campy entertainment in the style of Xena: Warrior Princess or Kevin Sorbo’s womanising Hercules. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they have aimed for a little more depth than those staples of Channel 5 weekend afternoons (I may be somewhat out of date, since it has actually been several years since I subjected myself to the torturous haze of white noise that is Channel 5’s programming).
Yet I’d be lying if I said I found the first episode particularly enjoyable. It all worked, but there were too many niggling flaws. The most obvious is newcomer Jonas Armstrong’s lack of charisma as Robin. Playing too much to Robin’s honour and nobility, he forgets to have fun as an outlaw.
And then it struck me while watching the second episode. The writers have a serious political agenda here, hidden away in each episode. The political undertones in the first episode were subtler as Robin decries war upon his return, but it becomes far more blatent by the second. Guy of Gisborne discusses how the time of war allows them to “hold and execute outlaws without trial” and suddenly the striking political parallels are revealed. Robin ponders aloud why we would fight abroad when “the real cancer is right here”.
There is barely any discussion of the issues raised so don’t mistake this for some highbrow remake with aspirations of intellectualism. Fathoming its intended audience becomes difficult — is this really just a vehicle to deliver its message to those less aware of current affairs? If so, will they even notice?
As promised, here is the full fang moulding process in photographic form. It has significant advantages over the old system which involved a thermo-plastic and inevitably burning your fingers in boiling water. The powder capsule and liquid process is much less fiddly and gets the job done in one go (the old method used to take a half dozen attempts to get right) but the downside is that should you make a mistake, there’s very little rectification that can be done later. The major advantage is that you have far less plastic in your mouth now — as you can see at the bottom, they really are single tooth caps that fit snugly.
The step missing from this illustrated guide is the application of the paste into the tooth, but it’s a rather difficult to perform this delicate operation and take photos with just two hands. I should also point out that the in-mouth close-ups are while the tooth was still being fitted and the last two are before the edges are tidied up so the final result will look more impressive, but I wanted to save something for the night. I’m certain there will be a plethora of photos for those who won’t be able to see it in person.
Hallowe’en Formal tickets have been booked which can only mean it’s that time of year again — time to mould a new pair of fangs! Okay, I’m aware this might not strike everyone as a common occurance, let alone an annual ritual, and it isn’t really for me either. However, since my old set have been broken for some time I’ve picked up a pair of the latest Scarecrows for this year’s Samhain. To avoid the inevitable questions on the night, here’s how they work. The box contains two shaped caps with hollow interiors. The powder capsules create a quick-hardening substance that will take a perfect mould of your teeth, allowing the prosthetic to quickly and easily snap on and off. Hence they hold tight with no adhesive and no lisp-inducing rubber filled mouth. However, although they are fine to drink with, they are not really suitable for eating. I may document the moulding process in full here if you want a sneak peak before the night.
I have never been a huge fan of the Rainbow Six games, which I always felt were somewhat limited by their control systems and continuous featureless corridors. However the latest incarnation, set in Las Vegas, is looking rather good. I have probably warmed to the series due to how much I loved GRAW. This leads me to understand the continued use of the “Tom Clancy” prefix to the host of related games, despite the fact these arenas of conflict are now well established in their own right. Splinter Cell hardly needs the name of a no-longer-terribly-prolific author attached to shift copies. However, it does provide an umbrella which joins these otherwise somewhat disparate titles. If you enjoy sneaking as Sam Fisher, it suggests, perhaps you might like stopping militant rebels as a soldier of the future. And they were right; I did. Sure, it results in some rather silly protracted game titles, but at least it made me consider revisiting a series that I’d already written off.
Finally, here’s a recommendation for those of you having trouble sleeping at night. It won’t check under your bed for monsters, but assuming your problem is a less immature, Sound Sleeping may be the antidote. This site allows you to mix several ambient loops in order to create a soundtrack that you find relaxing and condusive to sleep. If nothing else, there’s something godlike about being able to control rain, songbirds, the ocean and thunder. Especially if you have an enormous sub…
Over the weekend Sparkie and Sonya were kind enough to cook a Greek meal for the whole corridor. Beginning with bread and a fetta salad accompanied by a plethora of dips — taramasalata, humous and a homemade tzatziki — the main course was a delightfully flavoured chicken dish. Followed up with yoghurt and honey, things started to get a little more boisterous once the “traditional” Greek spirits were brought out. Shamini could, I can only imagine, be heard several staircases away.
It was the first time I had been able to see Rob’s camera up close, dubbed the PredatorCam™ because of the not-very-subtle laser sights it plasters across your face before taking a picture or stealing your soul (at least I think that’s one of Sony’s scene modes…). The effect is akin to a dozen small lacerations opening up on the “victim’s” face. Shamini can be seen modelling the PredatorCam™ above. The other pictures adorning this entry are from the previous weekend’s festivities following Andy B’s birthday formal. There is something mesmerising about the thoughtful contemplation present as Dave blasts through Time Crisis. Who says games can’t be philosophical?
Now that wireless networking has been introduced to the Squire Law Library, I found myself trying it out on my laptop earlier today. The experience is remarkably smooth, but also presented the first time I had used my laptop for a prolonged period without connecting it to the mains. Despite being a laptop (well, notebook according to Dell, and I do appreciate the distinction) this is a very rare occurance. I make good use of its portability as it has now visited more countries than the average American, but I usually find a nice place to plug in an settle down. It normally generates a reasonable amount of heat and the fan will fire up and get a little noisy to compensate. Yet the entire time I used it this morning, the machine was barely audible was still fairly cool as I packed it up. The battery-saving techniques when not plugged in are not only impressive, they actually make it far more pleasant to use.
Microsoft’s Live Search allows easy construction of user-created search engines like this one for P-2006. Sure it has long been possible to get Google to display search results for your own site, but the macro system allows someone with no technical knowledge to create a customised engine that searched the sites they want in (to an extent) the way they want. The search facility in P-2006 is in need of an overhaul. The Live alternative has the advantage of searching the entire site at once and delivering summaries rather than full entries. The downside is that as an external page it lacks proper integration. I’d like to hear your thoughts on our search facility — do you use it to find older entries and how well does it work for you?
The ESA have released details about the downsized E3 2007. For starters it will be in July rather than May so that noise you hear is probably my DoS breathing a sigh of relief. Shortly after this year’s E3 closed, they announced had been the industry’s largest annual event would be significantly cut back into a focused trade show as it had originally been intended. Many felt the circuslike atmosphere, lax entry requirements and skyrocketing budgets were getting out of hand.
However, it was also the chief way the gaming industry was able to portray itself to the outside world — sure booth babes may not have been the ideal advertising mechanism (or perhaps they were too ideal) but the intense atmosphere showcased a flourishing industry at its excessive best. With E3 as we know it gone, will the external media take gaming as seriously, or find it as interesting? With activists and critics rallying against major developers and publishers, the industy needs an outlet to present itself in a good light, and the suited trade affair being planned is not it. Whether even fans remain interested in E3 depends largely on the traditional “big three” (Microsoft, Nintendo & Sony) pre-E3 news conferences and quality of game presentations that can be watched by home viewers.
Many surmised earlier this year that Penny Arcade’s fledgling PAX, which has gone from strength to strength in just a few years, might be primed to take over. It is a fan-focused show for those who play games, not just the industry bigwigs, and therefore extravagance counts. Whether it too will spiral out of control remains to be seen.