Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Oh My God, They Killed BassHunter!

You bastards!

For those who didn't pick up the welcome pack when joining the Interwebs, Basshunter is a Swedish Eurodance DJ named Jonas Erik Altberg. He is famous round these parts for two songs more than any: Boten Anna and DotA...

Boten Anna


The first is about an IRC bot that monitors a channel he frequents, and the second is about the Warcraft 3 USM game Defence of the Ancients. He is, for all that matters, one of us - a gamer and a geek - and the presence of geek culture in his music promised to be a great thing for helping bring geekdom to the masses. Basshunter making it big meant that every time he answers the questions "What is Boten Anna about?" or "What is DotA about?", he would be giving geekdom prime time coverage.

Apparently, the world isn't ready yet.

Today I was channel flipping while doing some uni assignment work when I happened across TMF. A familiar sound came forth... holy shit, Boten Anna. I was half right. It was Basshunter, but it was a corrupted, dumbed-down for the club-going 'is this skirt short enough' tarts, version:

Now You're Gone

Was it too much that the original contained geek-culture references? Was it that the lyrics weren't English? Did that confuse the club-goers? Did the lack of references to a broken heart made the song devoid of club-worthiness? This typifies why I stopped going to clubs - a room full of empty people dancing to empty music.

Fuck this noise.


Sunday, 23 March 2008

Twitter - Creating Care Where There Was None

I've heard the name 'Twitter' banded around in discussions about Web 2.0, people listing the social networking sites they use, and so forth, but I had no idea what it was. So, after hearing Kevin Rose mention it on a recent DiggNation, I decided to go and see exactly what the deal was.

I had three questions going in...
  • What function does it have?
  • What can it do that I will find useful?
  • Why was it made?
Having used it for a day, I think I have the answer to the first two, and half an answer to the last question.

Twitter's function is to provide a means for you to care about the minutiae of all your friends, co-workers, and family members' day, and for them to care about the minutiae of your day. Eating soup? Put "eating soup" on your Twitter. Watching Lost? Going for a walk? Going out on the rob? Climbing a mountain? Get that shit on your Twitter. Apparently, this is among the most exciting things on the Interwebs.

Twitter's use for me looks like it will be unifold: something to do in the ten minute break in the middle of a two-hour lecture. Today, I applied the statuses in the picture to the left. They included me eating an easter egg, me working, and comments. I'm not entirely sure on what gain there is from this service. It's interesting, sure, but not nearly as interesting as the fact that people actually use this site - that it's actually popular.

So, why was Twitter created? I couldn't get a direct answer to that question that wasn't distinctly uninformative, but, from my impression, it seems that Twitter was created because, in the dawning ages of Web2.0, we needed a tech demonstration. Twitter seems to be that tech demonstration, so I can't help but feel that, while this is nice and all, it would be much more useful if it was extended into a application that isn't just a 21st Century means of saying "look what I'm doing, and care about it".

I'm not sure if I'll be keeping this Twitter thing up. I have it wired into my GoogleTalk on my PC, and a widget for updating it on my Mac, so I certainly have the opportunity to keep updating it. I'm just not sure I'll remember. To start thinking about one's daily activities as worthy of what is essentially a one-line blog is an odd paradigm to attempt to step into. Blogging about thoughts, findings, and general shit is good. Blogging about the fact that you're watching Lost... I can't see that retaining my interest.


Friday, 21 March 2008

The Continuing Employment of Mr M. Fenix

Steam popped up today to inform me about the Unreal Tournament pack they're offering. While looking at this, and clicking various links, I ended up on the Unreal Tournament website, where I noticed a remarkably familiar face. Some illustration (click for full-size):

At some point, Epic probably decided that Marcus 'Gravel Voice' Fenix is the manliest man dude fella they ever thought up, and thus decided that he would make an appearance in all their future games. After all, games are great for modular programming... why make new characters when you've got all the models from the ones you already made?


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

They Don't Make Films Like This Anymore

The other night, Demolition Man was showing on ITV. A mate and I were watching the film and discussing it over MSN, and we came to an agreement: they just don't make films like this anymore. The recent Hollywood trend of resurrecting every successful franchise since sliced bread has blurred the line, but given the difference in body counts between John Rambo and the first Rambo film, and the sucky high-life aspect of Rocky Balboa, contrasted against the underdog aspect of the original, show that this new formula misses the mark by a long way.

I'm not sure what it is about Demolition Man, and similar old-school movies, that is too brilliant to make it into the attributes of modern movies. I don't think it's mere nostalgia, as that is usually shattered immediately upon revisiting the bygone remnant. Those of us who have dug out the NES or Spectrum et al to play the games of our childhood will attest to this - we swiftly realise that the game we loved were only good for their time, with a few exceptions. The exceptions tend to stand the test of time anyway, and we look at Zelda and Mario for examples of these. They provide us with modern variants, and do a great job of it, so we don't need to dig out the NES to play Super Mario Bros. - it's all still going.

So, is there a modern variant of Demolition Man? Has it simply evolved into newer films? Is Will Smith the new Sly Stallone? Is "*sneeze*, oh I'm sorry, I'm allergic to bullshit" the new "Hasta la vista, Baby"? Surely not. There's a gulf of semantics and context to these moments that could be better be described in an essay, and by someone who knows what they're talking about, but the macho, CGI-less action-movie has been supplanted by a set of plastic modular disaster movies and the foresight to retain international merchandising rights.

One question remains. What movies make up the subset of cinematic history that is the "they don't make films like this anymore" list? So far, we've got two:
  • Demolition Man;
  • Lethal Weapon.
Tonight the Rock was on the Beeb, and we discussed briefly whether or not it belongs on the list, but I asserted that it does not. I'll reserve that for a place on the "remember when Nicholas Cage was in good movies" list.


Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Starcraft II, WoW Addicts, and Deadly Torches

Starcraft II, First Look at the Zerg

The original Starcraft was perhaps one of the most influential RTS of all time. I'm not a huge RTS fan, but Starcraft had my attention for hours comparable to Civilization, Championship Manager, and CounterStrike. If my Interwebs are truthful, South Korea still has gamer television channels showing Starcraft matches. Either Koreans are nuts or Starcraft really was a bloody good game, and considering the following it still has outside of the land of chien cuisine, I'm going to go with the latter. To this day, the phrase "Just curious, why am I so good?" sees regular use in my HashMap of victory lines.

So, with that in mind, you can imagine the tempest of joy that exuded from gamers all over the world when news of Starcraft: Ghost started to circulate. We waited a long time for that game, only to hear the project got canned a few years back. No matter, said Blizzard, 'cause we're working on Starcraft II. Starcraft motherfucking II.

Shit yes, the cries came forth, this is going to be epic. Well, here's a first-look at the game:

The Zerg look awesome. I was always a Terran man myself, for the Seige Tanks, Ghosts, and Wraiths, but I'm looking forward at slamming the glorious-looking Zerg good and proper when this game hits the shelves. Fuck yo' rush, nyuggah!

WoW Addiction: How a desperate father fought demons

Massively Multiplayer Online Games get a lot of good press. More than any other game, since they tend not to draw the ire of the shit-eating body of pure hate that is anti-gaming evangelist, lawyer-wannabe Jack Thompson. One MMO that does receive negative press every now and then is World of Warcraft, because, in the wrong hands, it can destroy lives. I should clarify that by saying that it isn't WoW that destroys these lives, it's all good MMOs, and by "good" MMOs I mean those that can keep you coming back for more. Warcraft gets the bulk of the heat because it has, by far and away, the most subscribers: ten million people play the game.

I play EVE-Online, which I consider to be the best MMO out there at the moment, by virtue of the fact that it is a challenge. For the benefit of WoW-players, I have linked that word to the Wiktionary definition. I'll not go into the details of why I consider EVE to be a better MMO than WoW -- it's a blogpost in itself -- but it's essentially a question of risk vs. reward. I am addicted to EVE-Online not just because it's a great game, but because I have people who depend on me in the game, and projects and goals to achieve that can't be described in level numbers and static raid locations. For some people, however, level grind and static raiding is addictive to the point of tragedy.

The linked article does not focus on the morbid life-sucking aspects of games, and does a good job of contrasting the commonly-accepted image of online gamers with how it really is. Gamers don't spend all their life playing games without any social interaction. Some may not have any good friends outside of their online worlds, but it is hardly common enough to make it stereotypical. Myself, I feel you'd have to be a serious recluse, or someone affected by circumstance, to have your entire social network exist only within the realm of your online gaming, but friends online are not just relations of bits of bytes.

During the course of my time playing online games, I have met people who have become some of my closest friends outside of the game, despite being huge distances apart. These huge online games can function like background networking exercises. I'm not foolish enough to say that everyone who plays MMOs becomes brilliant social interactors - that's simply not the case - but the vast networks of contacts I've developed in EVE-Online help me to realise ways of maintaining these networks. These are real people, and they function in the same way.

So let this be a lesson to all those who believe that MMOs are always soul-destroying, life-sucking succubi. Try it sometime, you'll find it's simply another avenue of the same social suburb.

A Torch With Some Stopping Power

I saw this gadget earlier last week, and it made me smile. It's nothing but a concept unit, not intended for sale at all, but it's a neat idea even if no one's going to have a practical use for it besides covert robbery. It's a torch, that unfolds into a submachine-gun that uses a Glock upper receiver and takes Glock magazines. Very swish, very... excessive.

"Gits nasty? Git dahn'er biznis."

That's all for now.


Project Status and a Note on Idiocy

Ain't nothing like a good bit of problem solving.

The project is moving along, but I've got a lot to implement before I'll be happy with it, and I need to be happy with it in the next few days. Spend a good deal of time these last two nights bugfixing, implementing new features, and redistributing said features among my scheduled prototypes. Today I need to finish this major prototype and then three small incremental prototypes. It will still be a shadow of the application I had decided to build, but I gave myself a nondefinite feature set to implement specifically because I didn't want to give myself too much to do in what I knew would be a hectic year.

That's all on the project though.

Today I saw a rather disturbing article highlighting the true idiocy of religious nuttiness. Forty-eight people have lost their vision through what became blind faith. Having heard that an image of the Virgin Mary had appeared on the fucking sun, pilgrims descended on what has been christened 'Rosa Mystica Mountain' to stare right at the thing to try and catch a glimpse of the image. The result? Burned out retinas. There are a number of disturbing things about this...
  1. I don't care if the damn Blu-Ray encryption key is emblazoned upon the solar surface, you don't fucking sit there staring at that motherfucker.
  2. You can see the Sun from anywhere... why go to this specific place to stare like idiots at the Sun?
  3. It took health officials to confront the clergy before local churches would tell their congregations not to go and look at the Sun.
I don't know if it was a lack of general education, ridiculous faith in the Lord, or what, but let's hope people learn the valuable lesson here: if someone tells you to jump off a cliff because the Virgin Mary's at the bottom, think about the consequences before you take that leap of faith.


Monday, 10 March 2008

Procrastination is a Bitch

I created this blog a couple of nights ago when perusing widgets for my Dashboard. I think that was it. I ran into a Wordpress widget for updating a blog from the Dashboard, and thought, "I forgot about my last two blogs... third time lucky?" Wordpress didn't seem to be what I wanted, though, so I headed over to Blogger and whacked this blog up. Filling it with content has been something of an afterthought.

I'm a bit disappointed to see that Blogger hasn't updated the themes, or added any level of variability -- at least this seems to be the case at first glance -- though I do recall seeing something about being able to significantly modify the theme, so I'll have a go at that once the pressing workload of leaving everything to the last minute is lifted from my shoulder by either rousing success or disappointing failure.

And that's what this post is about. The dangers of procrastination. I'm a third-year Software Engineering student at Manchester University, these past two weeks have been devoted to demonstrating the fruits of our labours: working project applications. I'll not go into the details of my project, but suffice to say that I spent far too much time thinking about the project and not enough time actually doing it. So when T-minus-Two Weeks rolled around and the only coding I'd actually done was a prototype that didn't work, a bowel-shaking thought struck me: Shit, I'd better fucking do something.

See, failing these demonstrations means failing not just the year, but the degree. There's no do-over like in the first two years. Failure here costs three years of tuition fees, and puts you in a dire position: either quit and get a job and get those fees paid off, or start the degree again, more-than tripling the fees (in the U.K. we now have 'top-up' fees which means Universities charge ~£3k/year rather than the £1225/year I'm paying for my degree) to try and get into a very good position afterwards for paying those fees off.

It's difficult to complete a project you don't give a shit about. It's even harder when the guy they've assigned you as your supervisor doesn't give a shit about you. He moved my weekly appointment with him so he could see somebody else in that time, and then didn't show up for the rescheduled appointment. He told me he "doesn't do e-mail", and that his inbox is full of spam due to having the address for so long, only to then tell his other, more Computer Sciencey students that he got their e-mails and so on and so forth.

Manchester University is a mess, administratively and politically. I spent the first two years of my degree at the School of Informatics; a perfect school for my heavily human degree. Software Engineering is not about Computer Science. It's a brilliant hybrid of technological competence, business skills, and the ability to not just straddle the line between the two, but to make them work together. So when, last year, we found out that the administrators of the University had decided to sell the land the School of Informatics was on, and to move all those students over to the Business School and the School of Computer Science, I was appalled. Having a friend in the student representatives body, I asked him what was going on. "It's all a political mess", he told me.

See, Manchester University has been under new administration for a number of years. This administration has tasked itself with the lofty goal of being one of the top five universities in the world, and they want to achieve this by 2015. Selling off the old UMIST campus was, apparently, a good way to move forward in that direction. Moving hundreds of Software Engineering students to a school that had neither the capacity nor empathy to handle them was, apparently, a good way to move forward in that direction. And this is why we're having such trouble at the School of Computer Science. Computer Scientists don't give a shit about our degree. They consider it a soft degree, said with the same tone that a Briton of the 1940s might refer to the Germans. Maybe it's that most of my fellow Software Engineers don't know how to recompile a *nix kernel. Maybe it's that most of my fellow Software Engineers don't know where to start solving a complex differential equation. I don't know. All I know is, if there's a red-headed stepchild at Manchester University, the Software Engineers are that stepchild.

The good news is, it's not looking too bad for my project. I just need to make my project report hella-convincing. So remember, people, don't leave things 'til the last minute. That wall of text I just posted, while true, is me rationalising my position, when my position is mostly my fault for spending many months working on my own projects instead of the one that mattered. You can't always expect a do-over, so never take it as a given.

"I'm a programmer and it's okay, I work all night and I sleep all day."