Tuesday 28 May 2013

Always connected! Always Listening!

After a conversation with one of my handful of readers, I discovered that there is something about the Xbox One that I knew, but didn't realise not everyone knew. This thing that I knew is integral to the drawing of the whole Nineteen Eighty-Four analogy. The Xbox One is always connected. The console needs an internet connection. All the time. It uses it for digital rights management. All the time. Which makes sense when you remember that it has a camera and a microphone built into it that are on all the time.

The folks at Microsoft have offered the one consolation of not having the console kick you out of a single player game if your internet drops out mid-game. I imagine that in their heads is actually fairly generous, considering the totally unreasonable liberties to which they opine their entitlement.

This nightmare is Dickian, being similar to a great many paranoid fantasies entypulated by Philip K. in his time at the typewriter (entypulator). We're not only inviting the scanner into our homes, but we're expected to pay for the privilege.

I am usually the last person to complain about these invasions. These ones where they come into our lives with their devices, and know the things that we know, and know the things that we do. I want my GPS coordinates in the hands of telecommunications providers and the government. The first could use the information to improve the wireless communications network, and the second could use it to better understand traffic and transportation patterns. This is a thing that I can understand and support. I can't understand the need to have the electronic eye, and it's disgusting little ears in my home.

I have no alcove.

Friday 24 May 2013

Xbox One-Nine-Eight-Four

The next Xbox is called the Xbox One, and like the current Xbox, which is three hundred and fifty-nine more better than the new one, it has it a Kinect. These are things that I knew going in to the reading of this article. What I didn't know, and what is decidedly different, is that the Kinect is mandatory, and cannot be turned off or disconnected, and it listens to you ever when the console is off. There is no disKinect, so to speak. If you buy the Xbox One, you are making Microsoft one of the family. The creepy one that watches you silently while you do stuff, and listens to you when you think he's asleep.

I don't know if you have all read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but this is the shit he was on to. In his book he has a television with a video camera, just like the one in the Kinect, that cannot be turned off. I loved this book, because it resonated with a paranoia that, for me, was pre-existing by the time that I read it, and I take solace that there are people who share my fears. They seem less ridiculous. To say that Nineteen Eighty-Four depicts a nightmare state, is in no way hyperbole. Those of you who have known me for longer than some of the others, may remember a period in which lenses and monitors were not a thing I welcomed easily into my day to day. This is a fear that I have literally been carrying around with me since early childhood.

I don't care who collects data on me. That's like getting to know me based solely on the way in which I interact with the world. In this I am happy to be a statistic. Nearly every part of our intelligent decision making is based on statistics, or a bastardised form thereof. Statistics are good, and the more information we gather the better the statistics. This I understand, and am happy with. Other people's cameras in my house is a whole other type of invasion of privacy. This is wrong. Children will badger their parents and there will be little cameras in our living rooms. The person who makes a little flip-down cap to cover the lense should win an award. The first person to hack this thing should get a medal. On the other hand, don't buy it. In the end people will though. As a species, we're sick like that.

You could just put a towel over it.

The 800th Doctor for Christmas

The Doctor Who season finale was pretty big, and big things happened. Revelations were made, and now a lot of people are focussed on the 50th anniversary special, which is an understandable thing. What seems to have gone under the radar a little bit is the Christmas Special, which will air just under a month later. I know that the 50th is a big thing that happens far less frequently than the Christmas Specials, but the Christmas Special on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who happens to be the 800th episode of the show. This is also a big thing, and no one is talking about it.

We've just had a season cross over two years for the first time in the history of the revived series, which included a Christmas special in the middle of the season. This slow release of season seven and the 50th anniversary special are both responsible for making the Christmas special the 800th episode.

The fan inside, not like I repress it or anything, likes to think that something special is happening in the Christmas special. He, Panda and I all like to imagine that Moffat is deliberately distracting us with the anniversary special, so that we don't ask questions about the 800th.

I'm just saying is all.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Martian Time-Slip

It is assignment season, which means that sleep is the enemy and caffeine is a food group. The
misnomer becomes increasingly absurd with each new flat white that I order. They are the colour of a David Fincher movie. For the most part I am tired with a capital 'W'.

Panda and I go through phases, just generally. We're like the moon in that regard. When we keep beat with the regular circadian rhythm these phases can take hours and days, sometimes weeks. No. Weeks don't generally happen. When deprived of sleep though, it's like we are chasing PBs. What this does to us can be described as a kind distillation of what might already be wrong. The two of us descend to a point where our conversations become increasingly disjointed and time becomes that place that is the habitat of other, alien lifeforms who aren't wearing bathrobes and luchador masks.

In this state we do assignments, and we do them well. We build a little fort in our pocket-universe  and we must reinforce it against the non-euclidian circus. It's non-euclidian as f*** in there. This structural plussening is done with music, 'cause it's a sonic thing. There are some standouts that perform this task well, but nothing braces the walls like Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds.

For hours Earth is invaded and reinvaded, and the red weed spreads and then it is gone only to return, AND the walls hold. I love the book, but Jeff Wayne's Musical Version boils down the key elements of the story into a hearty paste that you can consume while you are doing other things, while at the same time still being strong enough to be the kind of rewarding meal for which you can take a couple of hours out. There is also something in the depths of Richard Burton's voice that really pulls you back from the ramparts, and keeps you safe within the walls.

Also, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness, and it is a big action movie that is full of the splosions.

The title, 'Martian Time-Slip', is taken from a book that I love called Martian Time-Slip.

Saturday 18 May 2013

A $3 Pohl dance

I bought this. It is a copy of the unrevised Gladiator-at-Law by Pohl and Kornbluth from the mid sixties. I bought it before I started uni, back in a time when I actually had the time to engage with things and take in new information that one might argue isn't directly necessary for passing one subject or another.

I bought it with every intention of reading it. I have at times been quite partial to the works of Frederik Pohl. He is a prolific flesh factory of those older-school ages of the genre, those precious metal eras that people talk about. Both gold and silver. I've always had a great appreciation for authors who consistently produce material for decades on end, and he has done that. His first published work was in the late thirties and I'm pretty sure he is still out there doing it.

I still haven't read this book though. I see it a lot, and I wonder what is in it as I do other things. I've been dancing around this book for months now, promising that I will get my three dollars worth.

I imagine that my three dollars worth is in there, because not only is Pohl a pen to be reckoned with, but Kornbluth is the kind of person you read stories about. This guy, the one listed up there on the cover  next to Pohl, read a multi-volume encyclopaedia. In alphabetical order. For educational purposes. Anybody who's brain comes to these kinds of conclusions has more than likely got at least three dollars worth happening on the page.

I'm not so worried about the three dollars really. I am more concerned that I might have gotten more out of wondering what is inside than I will ever get from actually reading it. LOOK AT THAT TITLE! and that cover! I hope that is the eponymous legal pit fighter. He figures prominently in what I imagine might be inside. He appears to be a cyborg who has gone down the office-chair model of cybernetic prosthesis route.
As Thadius scooted smoothly to the desk at the opposite wall he thought briefly about the last time he had had to make use of the various arena combat techniques described in Carter's Guide to Contract Law, 17th Ed. The years had changed him, but not as much as that trident had. 
It had been seven years since Thadius Faulkirk, gladiator-at-law, had been impaled with a trident and lost the use of his legs, back, neck and the back of his head during Stone v NorTex, represented by Faulkirk v Simon. At the time he had opted not for the standard humanoid cybernetic components, but instead elected to go with an experimental prototype based on the office-chair. Many had said that he was mad. For Thadius the novelty was yet to wear off.
Considering his client's position, Thadius would need something unconventional to win this case. But as it turned out, the man with the office-chair legs was well versed in unconventional.
In my head there is also this whole backstory in which he was never good at office-chair jousting when he was at law school, so after the accident he goes to find his law school's office-chair jousting champion and learns to fight and cross examine anew. 

Friday 17 May 2013

Goaty air? Got yay!

I put that recentish Gotye album, Making Mirrors, on my iPod a while ago, which gets a lot of use during what is often a two hour commute to the institution that is currently facilitating my betterment of mind and employability. It is that album with 'Somebody that I used to know' on it, which has more than a few covers and remixes lurking in the halls of the interbutts. This one track took off big time, but the rest of the album is a treasure trove of other good stuff packed away in the bytes. It's digital.

I've been really enjoying his variety of style, which he still cohesively presents in a tasty pop shell. It is kind of like a box of chocolates, where you don't always know what you are going to get, but you do. You are going to get chocolate. Unless you are buying something that isn't chocolate, but the box still says chocolate. Find a new chocolate shop. In the case of Making Mirrors you don't always know what's coming, but it is always pop, in a kind of Peter Gabriel kind of way.

'Better' could've been sung by the Four Tops, and is just about the most uplifting song about friendship in or out of a relationship out there at the moment.. 'State of the Art' will remind you of a whole host of nineties and early twenty-first century electronica and synth pop. There is also a great a Peter Gabrielesque thing called 'In Your Light'. Then there is a pile of other catchy upbeat things that fill out the album.

Then there is a song right at the end of some versions of the the album (as there is with most albums) called 'Bronte' (which is far less common). There is something really sweet about it, and a little bit sad. I think after the upbeat tracks that make up most of the rest of the album I just never gave it the attention it deserved. I think you should watch the clip.

If you are the kind of person who reads the e-mails, but doesn't visit the site (and for some reason your e-mail client doesn't show the videos), you can click here for a link.

It's a fun album.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Why you should own System Shock 2

There might be a whole thing to be said here about the impact that this game had on my life back during a time when I was meant to be focussing on those things that "determine your future", but that isn't really important to what this game actually represents.

The game acts as the spiritual ancestor to nearly all current generation survival shooter games. It set the rules and shaped the arena in which later titles have been making their home. If you have ever enjoyed Fallout 3 or Bioshock, then you owe this game some gratitude. These games took a lot from System Shock 2, and then focusing on different aspects moved towards something else. It is still the purer form of these experiences. It is a balance between the limitations of Bioshock and the freedom of Fallout.

There are experiences in your game that will be uniquely yours. Tales that you will recount that will make your friends play through again to find the things that you found. At the same time there will be experiences that all players will share. The experiences, shared or otherwise, will thrive on tension. This is the game's stock and trade. As good as the story is, you will be driven forward by survival. System Shock 2 will at times be unforgiving. You are fragile and (very frequently) poorly equipped, while your enemies are not.

You will be pushed to conserve resources, and avoid conflicts for which you are not prepared. You will hide, and you will run. You will retreat to the defensive positions you have established, and lurk in the darkness to make your plans. You will stalk the enemy until the advantage is yours, and the derelict Von Braun will become your home. It can be harrowing.

This game is now available on Steam for the paltry sum of $10 (only $7 until the 18th of May). Be warned, System Shock 2 is more than a decade old, and it shows its age. While it was never a game that relied on its graphics, you might want to pickup SHTUP, which upgrades the textures, and Rebirth, which improves the models.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Doctor Who Finale Leaked

So, there was some kind of production error in the US that resulted in the early shipment of the Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two BluRay boxset.

So early is this release that the season finale that appears on the boxset has not yet been aired.

Both the Beebs and Beebs Yanklandia have implored the public not to spread information on the finale over the internet. This may seem like the kind of request that just doesn't have any impact on the way events will unfold, but this isn't without precedent. Asylum of the Daleks, episode one of this current season, was also seen early by about a thousand people. That time Steven Moffat also requested that spoilers be kept off the internet until the episode had aired, and was successful.

This time around Steven Moffat has offered up a tasty bribe if secrets can be kept until the official premiere on BBC One this coming Saturday. What might tempt fans of the Doctor? How about a brand new clip of David Tennant and Matt Smith? Well that is what is on offer here.

If secrets can be kept for a week, we will be rewarded with a short clip of the 10th and 11th Doctors together.

I will also offer this small warning for those who are want to run out to their local torrent shop and grab the goods for an early viewing. There is a high likelihood that you will not get the episode of Doctor Who, nor in fact any episode of Doctor Who. What you are likely to get is graphic racist homosexual pornography. A film by the name of Gay N*****s From Outer Space to be specific. So, have fun with that.

Monday 13 May 2013


For those of you who are confused by the title, a coverbot is like a covergirl, but with more hydraulics. There have been a number of covers for Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun, but this one, which looks like it is by Chris Foss, is my favourite:

The robot depicted is clearly very proud of the way his creator(s) chose to equip him. The way that his eye-boxes cast shadows from sun cast across his metallic 'face', his 'hands' in close proximity to his hips, the firm stability of his more than shoulder width stance and the strategic positioning of a spaceship all come together to say, "I may not be able to hurt the punie humans, but they ride in the glory of my robo-manhood."

It's subtle, but it's there.

Writers' rights

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has been taking up real estate in my dominant conscious thought processes of late, and the fun-ride that I always spend time on when this thing loops back around is a discussion on the versions that Douglas Adams has released into the wild. There are three truly distinct versions of the story. The radio plays (and the television show which uses the same script), the novels (which were written later) and the film that came out in 2005 all follow varying plots. The key players are the same, but the shenanigans tend to go in different directions at times.

The release of the film version in 2005 prompted a lot of questions that can all more or less be paraphrased to, "Why did they change Douglas Adams' story?" and sometimes, 'Those arseholes changed the story', which is more of a statement. 'Those arseholes' being, in this case, Douglas Adams (the writer). He (the writer) not only approved of, but also co-wrote the altered storyline that appeared in the film.

This kind of behaviour isn't without precedent, as the novels vary from the original radio plays far more significantly than the film does. I first encountered The Guide through the books while in Germany, and for the longest time believed them to be the original version of the story, despite the blurb on the back stating otherwise. Perhaps I never read it. It wasn't until after I saw the film that I found out that the radio plays, with which by that stage was the version with which I was most familiar, was the original version.

Most commonly people cite the altered plot of the film as their reason for not liking it, which isn't really a real reason. Well, it might be, but it doesn't make it a bad film, in the same way that the books aren't bad because they deviate from the radio plays. In fact with all of the multiple universes that appear in the later phases of the storyline, it makes more sense to have multiple versions of events than it does to have a single rigidly enforced plot.

My question, which I have taken the scenic route to, is:

How much right does a writer have to alter stories that they have already 'finished'? 

Other recent players in this discussion are Game of Thrones, the television series based on A Song of Ice and Fire, which has made a number of author approved changes to the storyline to better suit the television format, Star Wars, where the original creator carried out some arguably minor retcons, and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, whose creator, Leiji Matsumoto, has opted to work with a clean slate on nearly every outing with the character.

It is also interesting to note that both Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and Life, the Universe and Everything were originally written as scripts for Doctor Who. Though the latter was never produced, the former was produced twice (with rewrites) as a television story starring the 4th Doctor (later released in its incomplete form on DVD) and as an audio story starring the 8th Doctor.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Hey, Microsoft! 'Pavlovian' is so a word!

I am working on a proposal for an online complementary informal learning platform as part of an assignment for Principles of Professional Communication (PoPComm), and Microsoft Word 2011, keeps insisting on red-squiggling 'Pavlovian'.

Seeing as Pavlovian conditioning is what is most commonly thought to be responsible for computer game addiction, I would have thought that this would have been a clearcut inclusion for the dictionary.

Gmail is all over it.

Monday 6 May 2013

Mastering Windows 8 and the Hitchhiker's Playlist

I have been up to my unkempt little tufts in assignments lately (which among other things has distracted me from cutting my hair, hence the tufts), so I haven't really had much time to think about anything that isn't directly related to a subject I am doing at uni. Despite this situation, I thought I might share a story and a wondrous discovery.

The story goes like this: Friends of mine had a computer that had started returning harddrive errors (that's brain damage for your computer). I recommended that they pick up a little Dell desktop sporting the often mocked Windows 8 nearly solely on Dell's high level of customer service and technical support. I was a little concerned about 'The New Windows' (which was the only OS available for that model), because one of these friends had only recently referred to having two documents open side by side on the same screen as 'a trick that [I] should teach [him]'. In the end I thought, 'They keep regular hours. They can just call me if they need to.' Anyway, I have just this morning been regaled with a tale of discovery and confident navigation of Microsoft's, supposedly unfriendly, Windows 8.

And my wondrous discovery is this:

I didn't even know this much of it was out there. The 38 second radio edit that later ended up on TV has been circling my brain for years. This discovery had nothing to do with the looming Towel Day, but while we're here in the vicinity I thought I might mention the worlds oldest web translating service and a far less serious user written free online encyclopaedia that predates Wikipedia.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

100th Episode for the revived Doctor Who

I know that I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but here it is again. "The Crimson Horror" is scheduled to air this weekend, and it will be the 100th episode of the revived series of Doctor Who. It's a little bit exciting.

It was written by Mark Gatiss, writer for both Sherlock and The League of Gentlemen, and features Madame Vastra, the Victorian, samurai sword wielding, Silurian detective, her similarly armed, human wife and their angry, little, clone-warrior, space-potato butler. This is also exciting. The Doctor and Clara will also be present and accounted for, but they're always there.

Anyway, 100. Get into it.