Saturday, 30 June 2012

NPC Gamer

For the first time in a decade or so I bought myself a PC game. Now I am here to tell you what this decade plus console gamer thinks of the experience. That would be best summarized with “I think PC gaming sucks when compared to console gaming”. The devil is in the details and the details vary from person to person. Let us therefore have a look at the detailed account.
First for my PC game of choice. That game is 2007’s Mass Effect, the first of the Mass Effect trilogy of video games and the last to be purchased by me. For me, the saga started with Mass Effect 3, clearly my vote for the best video game ever, which I had bought for my PS3. Following its unprecedented success I went and got 2010’s Mass Effect 2 for my PS3; and following on the latter’s success I decided to go for a full sweep and get the original Mass Effect game. Alas, Mass Effect was only released for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs. Given I will not buy another console just for Mass Effect, especially not when I have a couple of PCs lying around, I went ahead and bought the PC version. There is a catch there in that none of my PCs are suitable for gaming, primarily due to the absence of dedicated graphic cards. Still, I reckoned that due to the age of the game at hand they might do. The $12 asking price for Mass Effect’s PC version helped the decision, too.
My first reminder for why I stopped playing games on my PCs came when I first realized I need to install the game to my PC, as opposed to just sticking the disc in and playing. The installation took a while – a long while (not to mention the time it takes Windows to update itself and everything). There went an hour of my life.
When all was said and done I double clicked on the icon and… An error message!
Quick googling revealed I need to install a patch. Why the original installation process didn’t bother checking that for itself is beyond me, but anyway – some fifteen minutes later I have found, downloaded and installed the patch. I double clicked on the game’s icon and… An error message!
This time around the fault was purely due to the game’s age. It turns out Mass Effect doesn’t like 64 bit Windows 7 PCs, so I had to run the game in Windows’ compatibility mode. On the positive side, it works; it actually works much better than I expected my none graphically carded PC to perform.
I started playing, only to realize I am actually expected to use my keyboard and mouse in order to play a third person shooter. Ugly! Then I realized I can’t really play on my sofa, the way I normally play video games, because the mouse needs a proper platform: without it not only will my shooting go astray and the baddie aliens will eat the galaxy alive, but also my wrist won’t survive for long.
The less than sexy presentation factor continued as it dawned on me Mass Effect will not be playing through my 55” TV and hi-fi sound system but rather through a mediocre 15” screen coupled to pathetic low fi speakers. How the mighty have fallen!
So yeah, PC gaming sucks. Console gaming rules.

You don't need to tell me: I know things could be different. I could be running Mass Effect on a properly geared PC and everything. Properly geared PCs come at a substantial cost, though, and although they can be vastly more powerful than consoles they are vastly more expensive, too. Besides, why should I spend my money on various accessories like a mid fi stereo system for my PC when I already own a proper home theater and a lovely sofa to boot? PC gaming has the potential to deliver a much deeper experience, yet is can never deliver the grandeur and the relaxation a console can.
Sure, I will play Mass Effect because it’s Mass Effect. But I simply cannot see myself playing games on my PC or my Mac; the experience is simply incomparable to the vision I have for gaming. Sorry, Diablo 3!

Image: Mass Effect for PC , Bioware

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bank Robbery

cop withdrawing cash

For reasons out of the scope of this post we are forced to trust the banks with our money. In return, we expect the banks to do their dealings safely and efficiently. When they fail at this core business of theirs we rightfully become pissed off. Following is an account of the latest reason for me to become pissed off with a bank. I shall not name this bank of ours, referring to it instead as Westbank.
We recently made an application to Westbank. As things go with banks, they asked for lots of very private information to be provided to them, which we did. Eventually they’ve accumulated all the necessary paperwork required for the application; we just had to sign the application forms and we were ready to go. Our local Westbank branch presented us with two options: either we show up in person to sign, or they post us the documents and we return them by mail. Given our tendency to work during business hours we chose the latter.
True to their word, the documents arrived by mail shortly after. We just had to sign and return everything back to the Westbank branch in the self addressed and stamped envelope the branch had provided. Which we did.
Two weeks passed before we were contacted by the Westbank branch. Apparently, they never received our application papers. My blood immediately started boiling: What do you mean you haven’t received our papers? We sent them to you in your own envelope! The reply I got over the phone was a rather faint accusation of Australia Post failing to deliver our application.
Which pretty much tells me what this Westbank is worth. True, there is a chance Australia Post lost our letter; but then again, Australia Post never lost anything sent to us, including some very dear stuff. Delays, yes; loses, no. Besides, if Westbank is so eager to blame Australia Post, why don’t they do anything about it? They’re a bank, for Goddess sakes! And if Westbank has a problem with Australia Post, why did they provide us with a stamped envelope? The bank should not rush to blame Australia Post so easily.
If you ask me, the timing and the type of contact we got from the branch suggest they lost our paperwork and they know that. That would have been fine if it wasn’t for the sad reality that, as far as we are concerned, our privacy has been irrevocably breached: unless our application forms magically found their way into a shredder, someone out there holds enough information on us to allow them to open and modify accounts bearing our names. For example, they should be easily able to get themselves a credit card with our name on it. The sophisticated identity thief may even be able to withdraw money from our real accounts. Taking matters further, whatever this identity thief will do is going to have an effect on our credit ratings. As discussed here, credit ratings are gathered by multiple third parties without our knowledge; we can only review their information if we actively turn to them and pay them up. Are we to keep on our toes now for years to come, waiting for some calamity to hit us? Then again, how the hell are we going to be able to dispute any false record they end up collecting on our behalf?
How, exactly, is Westbank going to compensate us for this? Clearly, the personal financing system used in Australia is deeply flawed in the way it treats, or mistreats, the individual. As if it's not enough Australia is run by a monopoly of banks, all of which are owned by the same primary stakeholders. I cannot offer much in the way of a solution, but raising awareness is a start. For now, my advice to you would be to be wary of Western. You don’t know how they’re going to treat your assets.

Image by David A. Villa, Creative Commons license

Monday, 25 June 2012


Some times this gadget freak manages to amaze himself with his lack of imagination. Some times things border the criminally negligent level. I bring forth the case of DLNA as evidence.
DLNA is a technology that allows the wireless transmission of video content between two DLNA compatible devices. The promise of the technology is comfort and ease of use: have a DLNA enabled TV, for example, and it can display anything a DLNA enabled source component in your house can throw at it through your wifi. Quality would suffer due to the bandwidth limitations of the modern wifi network, which is why I’ve been neglecting my DLNA implementations, but the potential is still great.
The other week it occurred to me I have everything I need in the hardware department to run a good DLNA implementation:
    •    A DLNA enabled PS3 is already connected to my hi-fi and my TV.
    •    I have been using a powerhouse of a wifi 802.11n router for a year now.
    •    Source components in the shape of laptops and netbooks have been known to be seen at my house.
Once this realization hit me it did not take long at all for things to work. A quick browse through the Internets revealed this open source PS3 Media Server software is probably the best software for me to use. I quickly installed it on my Mac (and later on my Ubuntu netbooks) and it was all up and running within five minutes: I search for a media server on my PS3, find my Mac there, browse through the laptop’s drives on the PS3’s menus, choose a media file, click play… and sit and watch.
The beauty of this DLNA solution is that it turns every computer in your house into a media server. It also allows you to watch videos of any format on the otherwise limited PS3, as the DLNA process converts the videos on your computers into a PS3 friendly format.
The downside of this whole affair is that you need a PS3 to have an implementation along the lines of mine. However, with Target now selling PS3s for $250, and with the PS3 being a capable Blu-ray player and a media portal by its own rights (iView, SBS on Demand, music videos and more) – not to mention video gaming – one can do much worse than put one’s hands on one.
I love it.

Image: PS3 Media Server

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Massive News

In response to severe fan criticism, BioWare, the development company behind the Mass Effect trilogy, announced yesterday of the upcoming release of a new extended ending to their Mass Effect 3 game. It would come in the shape of a free downlad (DLC). We're told the DLC will be made available in the USA this Tuesday 26 June; Europeans will get it on 4 July. Australians? We're the neglected folk.
You can read more about this release at BioWare's release here and listen to what they have to say here.

Me? I'm going to be checking on this download on a regular basis. I'm already working on my armies' readeness scores. Most of all, I can't wait to try this new extended ending with the characters I've developed through many an hour, the sympathetic female Shepard and the nasty male Shepard.
Once the release is made available, I expect sleep to suffer severely. Especially if that release coincides with money time at the Euro 2012.
I mean, someone has to save the galaxy - might as well be me.

You can fight like a Krogan
Or run like a leopard
But you'll never be better than Commander Shepard!
 In my view, there really is nothing better than Commander Shepard in the history of video games.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The End of an Age

The Age, 4 February 2011 

It is clear The Age is dead/dying. It became dead obvious when Fairfax, the company behind The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, announced earlier this week an agenda including thousands of layoffs, the erection of paywalls around its Internet publications, and the move to tabloid style publication. (Personally I see no wrong with smaller paper sizes; The Age’s current format is too toilet unfriendly for comfort.) Beyond the obvious, it has been evident for a while now that the editorial standards of The Age and its siblings have been plunging fast.
Although the phenomenon can be blamed on poor management, the elephant in the room is pretty obvious: the Internet is doing to printed journalism what it did to the music industry and what it is doing to books. The twist is that we got so used to receiving our news for free over the Internet, the prospects of enough people paying to sustain the printed newspaper industry are grim. I don’t think this is necessarily bad, though. Sure, it is bad for the journalists losing their jobs, but it is not the end of journalism; it’s just that journalism needs to shape itself into the new mediums on offer.
The technology sector offers a fine example. Between Delimiter covering Australian IT, The Verge and Ars Technica covering international IT (as in, American dominated IT), and Google Reader converging them all and feeding them to me, I feel no need for an old style newspaper to tell me what’s what. Another example came today when the results of the school chaplains high court challenge were announced at 10:30. I got the score and some analysis immediately on Twitter, some half an hour before The Age or ABC offered their reports. Not only that, I also engaged in active discussion with others. I learned from my Pirates contacts what my atheist contacts took their time to realize, that religion wasn't chucked out of our state schools but rather lost due to an easily correctable technicality. Given this interactive experience, do we really need the likes of The Age anymore?
I think we do. I can identify two main fronts where The Age is thus far irreplaceable. The first is to do with Victorian/Melbourne news: while there are a couple of more reputable Australia wide news sources (e.g., the ABC, Crikey), there are none with people on the ground in Melbourne. Who is going to hold our state government accountable? Certainly not News "Limited".
The second role The Age has been fulfilling is the role of the aggregator. Someone up there collected all the news deemed relevant to Melbournians and pushed them my way. True, I find/found most of their servings stale, but there was enough there to justify a browse. At this moment in time I can think of no tool that aggregates Melbourne relevant news as well as The Age did; if anything, this shortcoming exposes Twitter’s main weakness in the sense that it is hard to know of things one is not actively interested in through Twitter. Yet how often are items I am not interested in relevant to me? Pretty much all the time. A good newspaper is a bit of a teacher, while Twitter and most other web tools tend to feed you with more of what you already know.
I cannot provide a better example for this problem than point at the role The Age has had in acclimatizing me to Australian culture during the years following my arrival here. I still despise footy, but that doesn’t matter; the point is that were an alternate me to migrate to Australia next year, it would be so much harder for that me to figure out what’s what. Australia is about to lose a lot of its personality with the demise of Fairfax, and it would take too long a while for Internet based replacements to fill that gap.

Image by Gerard's World, Creative Commons license

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Saga of the Bamboo Floor

Bamboo Floors

As part of our home extension project we were thinking of installing bamboo floors on the new parts of our house. There are three main reasons for going with bamboo, and price is not one of them:
  1. Being a wildly growing type of grass, it’s an easily renewable resource (unlike wood, and particularly hard wood).
  2. It’s processing is relatively environmentally friendly without too much toxin involvement.
  3. It’s the hardest type of a “wooden” floor available to commoners like us, so it should outlast us.
As usual, though, we found out that when one is after a relatively innovative product, particularly in the relatively conservative construction industry, one is looking for trouble. Choosing your bamboo flooring supplier is not easy:
  • There are many mavericks out there who sell themselves as bamboo flooring suppliers but lack the credentials.
  • Bamboo flooring suppliers pop in and out of the radar too quickly.
  • There is a lot of ignorance in the field. Most of it is caused by “normal” wooden flooring suppliers suddenly embracing bamboo without truly knowing their product.
  • There are two main techniques for laying bamboo floors. One is called tongue & groove, and it has the tiles glued down; the other is called click, and it has the tiles click-locked to one another and floating over the subfloor without gluing. We found suppliers of either installation type would tell us that the method they’re using is great while the other one is disastrous. Often they would use the exact same arguments their counters used against them. Confusion!
  • Potential issues with bamboo flooring can arise as a result of varying moisture levels, when the tiles expand and contract. The installer needs to take appropriate measures, but most of them will not open this matter up for discussion.
  • A bamboo floor installation can involve numerous stakeholders: the tile provider, the underlay provider, the layer himself, and the builder doing the rest of the building work. The problem with that is that if things go wrong you may have a problem getting the responsible party to come and fix them.
Our solution to the above was to go ahead and research the matter. As hinted, there are not that many reliable sources of information out there; one has to rely on the salespeople, and given they’re contradicting one another one is obviously hard pressed. This information booklet (warning: PDF) helped us learn more about the world of bamboo flooring, mostly in the sense that it made it clear the technology (tongue & groove vs. click) does not matter as much as the quality of the installation work.
In order to limit potential liabilities, we filtered our suppliers shortlist to those sourcing all the components and doing all the laying down themselves. We went further by preferring companies that have been there for a while, in the hope they’ll be there when (and if) trouble or a bamboo tile arises. That is, we looked for companies that might actually be able to honor their warranty policies.
Note the choice of underlay can further complicate matters. Being that our bamboo floor will go on our upper story, we were after an acoustic underlay that will dampen sound transfer the way the common carpet does (albeit not as well). We were also after an environmentally friendly underlay. The combination of the two requirements, sound absorption as well as environmentalism, drove us mental. All the suppliers we've engaged made exaggerated claims about the qualifications of their products; all of them repeatedly failed to demonstrate the certifications they claim to have.

Obviously, there is the people factor, too. The guy we’ve engaged at first, on account of him seeming to have the best product around, drove us crazy. He made claims that turned out to be false to the point of me suspecting him of being a pathological liar. (The difference between a salesperson and a liar? The liar makes claims that can be proven wrong.) During the entire few months we’ve been engaging him he failed to give us error free quotes. By far the worst were his communication habits: we would send him an email with questions, and regardless of the time we would receive his reply five minutes later: keyed on his Blackberry and failing to address any of our questions. It felt the guy was doing his best to further confuse us.
Yesterday’s round of questions was answered by him telling us he cannot waste his time answering us anymore. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back: are we to blame when he could not even give us a correct quote, while he was expecting us to pay him a deposit? We told him we’re fed up and cancelled our deposit's payment. He went berserk: any open doors we left him were shut by the manner of his reply (which, amongst others, was spiced up with some racial flavoring). I would say the guy has the streak of the psychopath about him.
The point of the story?
The human factor cannot be dismissed from a home extension/renovation project such as ours. The amount of relief we have been feeling since we got rid of the pest is quite significant. It pointed at how lucky we have been with the builder building our house: he’s running a project much more than an order of magnitude bigger, but he’s running it smoothly. Minor bumps are taken care of in a very down to earth manner, and communication is open and transparent. In contrast, Mr Bamboo Psycho had us worried and wasted much more of our time than our builder or the rest of our renovation did.
Doing your construction project? Be careful not just with what you choose to do but also with who you choose to do it.

Image by factoryjoe, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 17 June 2012

What School?

school road sign

With our son at his last year of kinder before heading off to prep next year, one item at the top of our agenda and the agenda of our peer parents is the question of which school we/they should be sending their kids to next year. I have already touched on what I consider the sad option of private schools, but even ignoring that I still find myself amazed by some of the arguments I hear from other parents. Take these two for example:
“I prefer this school because they separate boys and girls at math and science classes as of year five.”
Girls and boys learn differently, true, but does separating them increase their studying achievements so significantly it is worth the social price of the division? I have been a victim of a “mostly boys” high school myself, and I definitely think it had damaged my social skills; I don’t think it made me any smarter. Besides, in a society that is already too blatantly chauvinistic for its own good, do we want to encourage that further?
“I prefer this school because they emphasize discipline.”
I recognize the importance of discipline; however, I do not want my child to spend his childhood in the military. More than anything, I want him to learn how to think for himself, not how to obey and conform. If thinking for himself means he stumbles here and there then so be it; I’ll be there to help. Besides, I would be very two faced if I was to say I was any different myself, so why should I wish extra discipline on my son?

Looking back at those two criteria, my feeling is best summed up with: Really? Are these the criteria parents use to choose a school for their children?
The combination of the above two arguments makes me think parents don’t really know what they send their kids to school for in the first place. Perhaps it's a mirror of their anxieties. If any systematic thinking is to be identified, it is that which argues sending their kids to school is the first step they take in ensuring their kids’ future financial success. All’s fair in this quest, including doing things they would not want done upon themselves – such as the application of rather grim “educational” practices.
Parents really owe it to themselves to look up and see what factors truly matter in the educational achievements of their children. If they do, they will find their own involvement matters most, as well as the quality of the teachers. Yet these same parents will vote for the party that wouldn’t raise teachers’ pay and tries to reduce the number of permanently positioned teachers, steps that would clearly reduce the quality of teacher talent at hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these parents seek the schools perceived to be of the highest status mainly to clear their conscience as they fail to become involved with their children’s activities: "I can work till late with a clear conscience because I fork out $20,000 a year on my child's private schooling".
None of that represents what I would call worthy education. I prefer to think of schools as tools to help produce decent members of society. A good school is one that does so while helping the kids enjoy the process. Granted, an even more important purpose of schools is to help their parents be productive by providing child minding services, but that is not an objective by which I would like to choose my son’s school.
By definition, decent members of society are rational, educated thinkers. Clearly not what the powers that be want to see too much of! Clearly not what they want us to choose our schools by, either.

Image by, Creative Commons license

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Of Fred and Other Gods and Goddesses

From time to time we tend to refer to god in the course of normal conversations. Nothing religious, but rather invocations along the lines of “oh my god” or “thank god”. Naturally, being the atheist that I am, I resent using godly terms in any manner that might lead others to think I hold this fictitious entity in positive regard, so I try and go around god while still speaking/writing natural language: I say things like “thank goodness”. Lately I started using two variations that do refer specifically to god, so I though I’d explain them here:
  • “Gods and Goddesses”: A.C. Grayling recently told of his daughter, whom he’s raising an atheist. He says he taught her to replace every mentioning of “god” with “gods and goddesses”, which aside of being factually correct – different religions’ gods are, well, different – it serves to make people notice something quite ordinary. People notice that you can replace god with a name like Fred and the sentence works just the same.
  • “Goddess” or “By the Goddess”: That’s my new favorite swear word, actually; goddess is a worthy replacement for “fuck” or “shit” whenever something nasty happens (e.g., I dropped my laptop and the screen broke - "Goddess!"). The source of the phrase is the Mass Effect character Liara (you can tell she is my favorite Mass Effect character just by counting the times I have referred to her on my blogs). Liara is an Asari, an asexual blue skinned humanoid alien race with some reptilian features and amazon like bodies whose home world is the planet Thessia. The Asari are asexual to a degree: in the game they seem to like sex and they multiply sexually, it’s just that all the action takes place between women (I know of a few very real men who would love to pay Thessia a visit). More to the point, the direct result of the Asari being an all female species is that their deity of choice is a goddess. Interestingly for this atheist, the Asari goddess is considered ancient; nowadays (or rather, by the middle of the 22nd century when Mass Effect is taking place), the Asari are the most advanced species in the galaxy and they go for a more Spinoza like belief. Do credit the creators of the Mass Effect world with progressiveness, please!

By the Goddess, this post turned out longer than I expected it to be.

Goddess Athame image from the Mass Effect wiki

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sign of Things to Come

Westfield Old Orchard in Skokie

Getting up was mighty hard this morning. Some of the blame is held by the football teams of France and England, neither of which should expect to have much of a saying against the likes of Spain or Italy. However, I lay the bulk of the blame with the weather: it was 4 degrees as of 19:30 last night, and according to my iPhone the temperature was 2 degrees (“feels like 1 degree”) when the alarm clock woke me up in the morning. The result? I surrendered and stayed in bed longer.
Usually, we’re among the first to drop our child at kinder in the mornings. Due to the above, things were different today: by the time I dropped my four year old at kinder most of his friends were already there. My son went in and never looked back: I had to chase him and then shout in his ear five times before he even acknowledged my presence there; it took even longer for him to reluctantly indicate the terms and conditions for the consumption of his morning yogurt. A goodbye kiss? Forget about it; even a goodbye look was too hard for my son to produce.
I guess that’s to be expected. As my son grows up us parents will play a lesser role in his life until, eventually, we might not play a role at all. By the Goddess, I know how I have been treating my parents over the years. It’s just that I was sort of expecting to first notice the trend at my son’s teen years, not at kinder.

Image by Chicago's North Shore Conventions & Visitors Burea, Creative Commons license

Monday, 11 June 2012

Blog, Interrupted


I would like to apologize to this blog's loyal readers: during the upcoming fortnight or so, posting is going to be rather sparse. The problem is not lack of enthusiasm or drive, but rather the currently running Euro 2012. You see, with the structure of the earth the way it is, with Europe being on one side and Australia on the other, my sleeping during the course of this football tournament is going to be rather sparse. Too sparse for comfort.
Transmissions will resume as per natural order upon the conclusion of this tournament or upon the demise of all the interesting teams.

"We Don't Want Euro 2012" image by FEMEN Women's Movement, Creative Commons license 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Little PC that Could

Asus Eee PC 701

Today I said goodbye to my Asus Eee PC 701, my very first netbook, the world’s very first netbook. I got it at the very beginning of 2008; during its time, this device that I now sold on eBay was responsible for quite a revolution in my computing life:
  1. It gave me my first hands on experience with Linux. Quickly enough this led me to abandon Windows for much greener pastures. In effect, it was also my first foray into the open source culture.
  2. It was the first time I was able to take a computer with me wherever I went. At its time the little Eee PC handled videos and my Internet surfing very well despite its meager hardware.
  3. It ushered in the era of cheaper, affordable computing. It is no coincidence this was the very first laptop computer I had bought with my own money.
Still, time did its thing and by now even Ubuntu is much too demanding for the little Eee to deal with. While it is time to let go, I won’t forget the little PC that could’s many favors.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Better Alterntive to Moanrchy

ABC’s 7.30 had an interview with British PM David Cameron the other day (see here for a full transcript and a video). Among other question in this quite non invasive interview, Cameron was asked what he would “say to those [Australian] people that say it's [the monarchy] an outdated, unwanted institution”. Cameron’s recited reply was:
I ask myself, "Would I rather have some elected political president when you've got this institution that brings the country and the Commonwealth together, that's above politics, that symbolises nationhood and unity of the Commonwealth?" Isn't that far better, with all the links back into history and greatness that it has, rather than some here today, gone tomorrow president?
That reply made me laugh. It really is funny to see how far people would go in order to enshrine an idea the general public would obviously resent against under normal circumstances. The psychological trick here is to present the bad things while claiming so openly they are good things to such an extent that most people wouldn’t even think about the glaring problem in the argument and accept it at face value. So let me counteract:
  1. Above politics: The monarchy is knee deep in politics. News of the royal family intervening in this and that is all too common. And when Prince Charles has his way with homeopathic hospitals and such, we know the monarchy's political clout is costing lives.
  2. Symbol for unity: As the head of one religion that, by now, is far from dominant and is just one of many (not to mention the rising portion of non believers), how can the monarchy stand for unity?
  3. Link back to history: Yes, a link back to a history of people killing one another for power. A link back to a history of one family dominating the kingdoms of most Europe and leading to Europe's greatest blood baths. By the way, should I mention the would be Nazi sympathizing king that was only accidentally put to the side through falling for a divorcee? The monarchy can only act as a link to history if one suffers from a terrible short memory syndrome.
I can continue, but instead I’ll give my answer to David Cameron’s question. I suspect that in the least, some 300 million Americans would agree with me when I say I would prefer an elected president over someone who enshrines the class divide simply by virtue of the fact you have to be born the correct way to be eligible. I would prefer the elected president every time.
I might even spin things the way Cameron does: “Would you rather see the King of the USA or some elected president?” Somehow, mixing “king” with “USA” doesn’t sound right at all. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And very rightly so!

For further reading on this matter, I recommend The Monarchy by Christopher Hitchens (whose image it is up there).

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Dispute Management

Molly on the Monkey Bars

Our four year old got all worked up this weekend. His best friend D’s birthday was coming, and apparently in one of those “who is my truly best friend” kinder moments D told our son that only children that can make it to the third monkey bar in the kinder’s backyard will be invited to his birthday party.
The tragedy is that my son only makes the second bar. (I would blame it on the genes he got from me; aside of a short period in my army life where I did lots of push-ups to keep me awake at night, I was and I am totally useless with any upper body exercises.) The tragedy was enhanced by the cold we’re all in the middle of at the moment (how I hate Melbourne winters!). The result? For a few times during the weekend, our boy burst into tears and went into unintelligible mumble mode over his rejection from his best friend’s party.
Reason doesn’t really matter in such crisis: facts like D not having a birthday party in the first place did not get us too far down to the resolution stage. Nor, to be picky, pointing at the feasibility of measuring monkey bar performances against the issuing of birthday invitations.
We received a repeat burst of crying from our son on the morning of D’s birthday. We were actually contemplating whether he was sick enough to stay at home that day, but he insisted on going to kinder and seeing his best friend’s birthday through. We complied.
This is what took place upon our arrival to kinder that day. D was dropped off some ten minutes prior to our arrival:
Our four year old’s first words upon entering the kinder room: “Not inviting your friends to your party because they don’t get to the third monkey bar is rude!”
D: “It was just a joke.”
And they went on to play as usual.
Bring on the Arab-Israeli dispute to our kinder. We know how to solve these things.

Image by connorwa, Creative Commons license

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Action Figures, Fan Abuse

Mass Effect figures 
From left to right: Miranda, Garrus, male Shepard, Mordin and Legion the Geth.
Front: Normandy SR2 in Alliance colors. 

Since coming into my life a few months ago, the world of Mass Effect has been occupying a significant portion of my leisure time as well as time that used to have been allocated for sleep. By now I spent more money around the game, on books and figures, than I have spent on the games themselves. It is therefore a pity to see the way I, like most other fans of the Mass Effect world, are being mistreated.
The above photo shows my collection of Mass Effect 3 figures, which includes five out of the eight generally available Mass Effect 3 action figures. At least that's the way they were labelled, because upon inspection it is clear these are mostly Mass Effect 2 figures that went through some form of relabeling. Miranda and Mordin play only a minor role in Mass Effect 3, while Garrus is dressed in the full glory of his Mass Effect 2 injuries. Indeed, it is only the Geth who is a proper Mass Effect 3 exclusive character in this bunch.
Notable in their absence are my two favorite Mass Effect characters, the female Shepard and Liara. Both are missing not due to shortness of funds (although it has to be emphasized these figures are quite expensive, normally selling for $40 each) but rather due to their unavailability. Being that Liara is probably the most notable character of the Mass Effect 3 game other than Shepard himself/herself (that's character you play), the point about the available figures actually being leftovers from the previous game is further emphasized.
Fan abuse by EA (Electronic Arts, the video game juggernaut behind Mass Effect) continues through the recent release of a babe like Liara figure that's actually quite shameful (see here for a brief discussion). My point? Mass Effect 3 is being remembered as a great game with a disappointing ending issued by a greedy company that wants to charge extra money for features that should come for free with the purchase of a game. It seems as if that approach of making the most of gullible fans continues into the world of merchandising. For some odd reason I was hoping the world of video gaming would be immune to such behavior.