Monday, 18 August 2014

Game, Rediscovered


I had, and still have, some plans for posts in both this blog and my reviews blog.
Problem is, last week Good Game published its list of Best 100 Video Games as voted by the Australian Public That Bothered To Vote (you can download the episode for offline viewing here). In case you're wondering, Skyrim was the winner, but I don't care much for Skyrim: my main take was Mass Effect 3 reaching only as high as 18th spot while the generally inferior Mass Effect 2 out-took it and earnt 11th place. Clearly, the Australian Public That Bothered To Vote likes Mass Effect, but was bothered by certain aspects of Mass Effect 3. Most certainly, the ending.
Me, I wasn't that bothered by the ending. That is, I was and I am, but as a person who deals in software development I cannot see a way for BioWare to have practically developed an ending that answers to all the potential plot threads. In other words, for reasons to do with limited resources, they had to converge the ending threads into what the general public now acknowledges to be a rather disappointing ending, especially given all the buildup.
Being that I like to have my ears open to the public cries, I thought I'd see what the Mass Effect 2 fuss was all about. So I started playing that game, again. And I got caught in it, quite badly. Again.

You will therefore have to excuse me. Between all the various things I have to do, saving the galaxy (again) is at or near the top of my priority list. Sorry, but business has to come before pleasure.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Still Alive


This winter might have started late, but once it started it sure did. Start.
By this point in time I caught four to five colds, but it is the last one that moved me so much as to write this post. It has been so bad my head felt locked out of this world. Even a simple task, like emailing work to inform it with my absence, became a project: I found myself starting all sorts of applications but not the browser that I needed, and then typing the right URL proved a major challenge. And you know something is very wrong with yours truly when I can't even get a browser to work properly!
By now I am much better, thanks for asking, and obviously capable of staring into a computer screen (at least for a limited while). I am, however, still "weak as water", to quote Mrs Slocombe, and judging by what fellow citizens have been going through I might have to learn to live with it for a couple more weeks.
While I rejoice in getting better, allow me to point out the tragedy of the situation to you. As in, being home for around a week, on my own (during the work day), surrounded by books, comics, video games, music and computers - but totally unable to use any of them. If Shakespeare was half the playwright they say he is, he would have written a tragedy about modern day colds.

On another note altogether: I did spend some time thinking about the people of Gaza who were ordered to leave their houses in order to facilitate bombings. The thought of having to leave my house, feeling the way I was feeling, sure helped me realise how lucky I am to be living in a country like Australia.
It's just a pity Melbourne's winters are so bleak.

Friday, 8 August 2014

On a Roll


With the virtues of the toilet recently receiving well due promotion on these pages, I reckon it’s about time to discuss that most important of accessories that go along with it. The thing you will never want to get caught short of. Toilet paper.
Clearly one of humanity’s most important inventions, toilet paper is problematic nevertheless. You see, it is made of trees. And isn’t it a shame to chop down those mighty trees that took years to grow just so we could have something to wipe our arse with? I particularly resent toilet papers that feel as thick as a book; using them, which I end up doing with while visiting certain premises, makes me feel as if a library has been destroyed for the sake of my ass.
Which is exactly why we were into buying toilet paper made of recycled paper. Or so we thought, until this recent exposure on ABC’s wonderful and informative The Checkout opened our eyes. We checked out the fine letters on our toilet paper of choice and discovered, to our horror, that this green marketed product is made “with” recycled paper. Also, in contrast to The Checkout’s advice, it complies with the lesser PEFC certification. We wanted to wipe better.
Thus we went on a mission to the supermarkets we prefer to shop at, Costco and Aldi. And now I am here to tell you of our findings.

Costco:
We found Costco to sell three types of toilet paper as well as three types of corresponding paper kitchen rolls. The cheapest, Kirkland home-branded ones, offer no environmental information. The next one in price has the PEFC emblem. At the top of the line, sporting the coveted FSC emblem, stands Kleenex together with a promise of including fast growing bamboo in their paper. Note the FSC standard Kleenex complies with is of the “Mix” level, which is the lowest of the three FSC available certifications. Yet it is the best on offer at Costco.
We bought the Kleenex toilet people and kitchen rolls from Costco, which means that we are now well prepared for the zombie apocalypse. The interesting note to make about the Kleenex toilet paper is that its rolls are much bigger than normal: they last and last. In other words, perhaps they are not as costly as they seem.

Aldi:
The Aldi story is similar to Costco’s. The toilet paper department offers two brands, Aldi’s own and Kleenex, both of which comply with FSC Mix. Nice of Aldi to display its German credentials there - there were no environmentally crappy papers to be found!
In the kitchen roll department, however, the two brands on offer at Aldi are both of PEFC compliance. However, I could not avoid noting the $1 Aldi tissue paper boxes sport the FSC Mix standard, too – wow!

So there you go. Good hunting on your environmental toilet paper quest. Let us know if you manage to locate something better than our FSC Mix.


Image by emdot, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A World with No Copyright

Attorney General Brandis and Communications Minister Turnbull are busying themselves playing good cop/bad cop over the media, but their end game is pretty clear: implement changes to Australian law so as to accommodate for the copyright monopoly’s wishlist. After all, the Liberals owe their souls to Murdoch.
In order to convey my thoughts on the ensuing debate, I will ask you to take part in a short thought experiment. Imagine closing your eyes. Think for a moment on how your life would change if, for some fantastic reason, copyright was to all of a sudden disappear out of our lives. Let's avoid nuances, such as whether this would mean others could sell your work as theirs, and concentrate on the core scenarios in which copyright affects our lives today.
Now pretend to open your eyes again. What did you see?


I will tell you what I saw: I saw nothing. That is, nothing in my life had changed because of copyright disappearing. I still read the same books, watch the same shows, and listen to the same music. I still get all of the above through exactly the same methods I am getting them now, in this real world of ours.
I strongly suspect your vision was similar to mine. The reason is simple: the vast majority of us does not care much for copyright; we just go on with our lives, doing what we can with what's available to us. When a friend gives us a copy of a recording, we do not stop to preach them; we take it. When we record a TV show on our PVR and watch it again and again, we do not stop to consider that the second time we watched that show we were pirating it; we just watch it.
I don't know about you, but I do not take the threats that copyright legislation imposes by law into account in my day to day life.
What can be concluded out of this thought experiment? That copyright does not matter to the majority of consumers, not in the least. What we truly care about is being able to access the media that we wish to consume, being able to do so comfortably, and being able to do so fairly at a cost we deem reasonable. Don’t need no copyright for that, just common sense.


Image by gaelx, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

Monday, 4 August 2014

Songs to Regress to


It's funny to see what I regress to in times of distress. Times such as this, when the world news are depressing, the news from Australia and the escapades of its current government are depressing, and some personal anguish adds fuel to the fire. In times such as this I tend to regress in this way and that, including my music listening habits. In times such as this I tend to go back to the stuff that really works.
I've rated all sorts of musical favourites on my blogs before: I answered the call of Triple J radio to nominate my ten best songs of all time;  I discussed some fine music picks from early 2014; and just the other week I chose my favourite album of the last year. In times of stress, however, things narrow down.
These are the songs I seem to be narrowing down to. The songs I find myself singing in the shower, the songs I dream of at night, the songs I pick to listen to when I can't think of anything else. Surely, these are the songs I truly like the most:

  1. Led Zeppelin - In My Time of Dying: Because Jimmy Page is a guitar genius. And he still is, at least judging by the linked performance from 2007.
  2. Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks: Because of that John Bonham drum solo.
  3. Pink Floyd - Shine on You Crazy Diamond: Because I remember when I was young.
  4. Pink Floyd - Echoes: I actually prefer David Gilmour's performance, but never mind.
  5. Pink Floyd - Any Color You Like / Brain Damage / Eclipse: I regard the closing of Dark Side of the Moon to be a single long song.
  6. Dire Straits - Tunnel of Love: From the waltz at its beginning to the lyrics that take me all the way back, Mark Knopfler has a way of sweeping me.
  7. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Sir Psycho Sexy: It's not the very NSFW lyrics but rather the lingering riff at the end that always catches me off guard.
It's interesting to note the common themes with all of the above:
  1. The electric guitar rules,
  2. The songs are long, and
  3. Just as the Triple J Top 100 of all time list from 2009 featured no leading female throughout, neither does my regression list. Go figure.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

You Only Live Once

It’s quite hard to be an Israeli nowadays. Even as a retired Israeli that does not regard himself an Israeli anymore (although legally I certainly still am), it is hard to live with news headlines when they hit you in the face. How can I remain reconciled with myself?


Sam Harris wrote an interesting article dealing with why he is not rushing to condemn Israel for what it is doing. The beauty of this article is that, non coincidentally, it provides a fairly good overview for the way I regard my Jewish origins as well as my Israelism; the main qualification I would add to each and every one of Harris’ points is an asterisk leading to a disclaimer saying “it’s far too complicated to sum this up in one paragraph”. Obviously, I will need to add the fact that unlike Harris, I do criticise Israel. I do so in the open and I have been known to pay a personal price for my candour.
It’s nice to hold discussions such as Harris’, but at the end of the day we have people suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Gaza border. Gaza's suffering is dead obvious, but yes, I hate to break it to you, Israelis are suffering, too. Even if their casualties are minimal in comparison. Try living under a regular barrage or rockets and you will quickly notice the fact they are home made is completely irrelevant; they still strike terror.
Regardless of the question of who is particularly responsible for instigating this particular episode of extreme violence, we have ourselves a confrontation between two sides holding positions that cannot be farther apart: on one hand we have an Israel defending itself from a continuously pesky enemy holding firmly to the declared purpose of annihilating it (and let’s be honest, there's probably a great deal of annihilation to be done to the people in addition to the state); on the other we have an Israel that’s been strangling the population of Gaza for many years now, leaving them no prospect of hope whatsoever and now bombing the hell out of them, too.
In other words, we have ourselves a war between two sides that clearly lost their humanity and their human compassion. I don’t think all Palestinians and Israelis have lost the plot, but it is clear both sides are suffering from leaderships hell bent on taking their people down on a downward spiral. A spiral from which, in my opinion, there is little chance of recovery.
Usually, when we have ourselves a war, we seek to identify its winners and the losers. History proves we’re not particularly good at it, given that those who win the battlefield do not necessarily end up winning the war. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are your classic examples there. With that in mind, who is the winner of this current round of Israeli-Gaza hostilities?
Well, in my mind, I think it is clear that both sides are on the losing side. Israelis will now have to live knowing very well that missiles could fall on them at any moment regardless of where they are in Israel. Yet again the mighty Israeli army, capable of blowing missiles right out of the sky, was humiliated by disorganised gangs of guerrilla warriors. Yet again Israeli soldiers bled, and once again they did so with nothing to show for it. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have to deal with a huge number of human casualties as well as mortally crippled infrastructure.
So, no winners? No, I did not say that. I think there is a clear winner here, and that is Hamas. Sure, this organisation might have been punched to the death; yet this is a populist movement, and as such it does not need much to survive. I’m sure its recruitment facilities will have no shortage of volunteers dying to fill up its ranks once Israel retires to lick its wounds, as it is bound to eventually. And even if Hamas does die, we know enough about the region to know it will only be replaced by a much worse organisation.

The Israeli in me will now raise the rhetoric question: Was it all worth the 50+ (and still counting) dead Israeli soldiers, not to mention the other Israeli casualties?
This morning I listened to Israeli radio over coffee and breakfast. The midnight news bulletin reported the name and ages of the soldiers that died yesterday. All of them were little kids at the time I left Israel for Australia.
If I ever needed proof that leaving this hopeless downward spiral of a situation behind and settling elsewhere was a good move, there it was. Why did I leave? Because I will only live once. Might as well make the most of it.


Image copyright: The Guardian

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Saving Throw

Toilets are most definitely an under appreciated part of our lives. Think of how much time we spend inside one; how much of it is quality time, probably the only true quiet time many of us truly have for ourselves; and also pay notice to the fact that adequately running toilets are probably responsible for saving many lives, if not allowing modern day congested city living to take place in the first place.


Which is why I thought it proper to indulge you on a little toilet story of mine.
Several weeks ago I was doing what people do at the office toilet. Upon finishing my business I got up, and... for reasons still eluding me, my iPhone shot out of my pants pocket as I rose up. It flew above the cubicle door, and landed with a big bang on the hard tile floor somewhere on the other side.
I figured that was it for my phone, at least for its screen. Seeing no reason to hurry, I organised myself properly, left the cubicle as if nothing had happened, and went to see what was left of my phone.
And... nothing. Not a broken screen, not even a scratch was there to tell that my phone had just crashed on stones from more than two meters up high. Everything was in working order, thank you very much.
Somewhere out there I must have rolled a 20.

Sure, luck had a lot to do with my phone still working. But it wasn't only luck at work here.
First, the iPhone 5 has been known since its release to be a pretty robust phone, probably the most robust smartphone out there. That was one of the major reasons I picked it in particular: during the expected service life of 3 years in my pockets, I tend to drop my phone about twice a year. It is therefore necessary to buy a phone that would withstand those crashes. Alas, none of the phones coming since the iPhone 5 (including the similar looking 5S) are as robust, and I suspect the trend towards phablets will only make things worse.
Second, my phone wears a subtle cover designed to ensure its screen does not suffer the direct impact of a fall. It certainly seems as if that el-cheapo cover I got off eBay works.
My point? Being lucky is nice and all, but taking measures to ensure luck goes in your favour never hurts. Do not rely on rolling twenties the whole of your life.


Image by Scott Arg, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) licence

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Top Crabs #8

My reviews blog is celebrating its eighth birthday, and as per each of its birthdays it summarises the year that passed by discussing the best that year had to offer. Have a read of it here.


This is also a good time to stop and think where I want my online adventures to go from here. There is less reason for me than ever to continue my current regime of reviewing. For various reasons mentioned in this year's summary, I am watching fewer movies and reading fewer books. As it stands, the main drive is in the extra understanding I gain of the works through the analysis I am required to do for the purpose of writing my reviews. That extra depth is not to be trifled with, especially not when done in the context of what could pass a 1,000 published reviews within the next year.
Then there is the question of where I want to position myself through my online presence. As far as both hits and professional interest lie, that is the land of gadgets, "how to" technology guides, and various discussions on topics at the suburbia of technology. Matters of online privacy fall firmly into that realm.
Yes, I would like to go down that path. I think I can come up with quality material on a weekly basis. However, I also think I will not be able to go down that path without some time in hand, time that will probably only come at the cost of my current employment.
We shall see where the wind is blowing. For now, as I am about to embark on some professional training, I expect my blogging to pay a price.