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Friday, October 31, 2003

9:21 PM - Riiight

The US Senate threatened to withdraw financial aid to Malaysia. The amount? US$1.2 million. That's a piddling sum, really. I think that's the same amount of money Ted Kennedy spends on lunch every week.

MeFi user cell divide sums it up best:

To wrap the whole thing up in a confused but ironic way, I find it vaguely hilarious that the Senate, which gives billions of dollars per year away to an already wealthy country which wants to require non-Jews to obtain permits to live in their own homes wants to take away 1.5 million dollars to a country whose outgoing leader made some offensive comments in a speech.

Link  | 

9:13 PM - Toys for adults

Taipei Times reports:

Adults are becoming an important market for Japanese toy makers, whose traditional market -- children -- is shrinking as Japan's society ages.

"[The number of] purely child-oriented toys is on the decline," Keita Satoh, president of Takara, said. "But I am not pessimistic about the future. Toys aimed at adults are becoming popular."

I wrote about this in an earlier entry but this is a more serious look. You generally don't see that many articles about toys that discuss the fertility rate of Japanese women.

Link  | 

8:53 PM - Poser

Another digi-doodle of Sagara Sanosuke from Rurouni Kenshin. I know it's not terribly faithful but I like it. I need to have a talk with my subconscious, though. I've got dozens of highly-articulated action figures to use as models and I keep coming up with the same damned poses.

By the way, Isao Maruoka has released the latest English version of Pixia, the freeware graphics program I use. The new version, 3.0b, includes Bezier curves and lots of bug-fixes.

Link  | 

6:34 PM - Caught in a Faiz grip

Aside from football-related programmes, I haven't been watching much TV of late. It's remarkable considering how many channels I have access to right now and considering how much television I watched over the past two decades. There simply isn't a series out there I care enough about to sit down and watch week after week.

On TV anyway.

I have been avidly following Kamen Rider 555 via fansubs, though. 555 -- which thankfully has nothing to do with the cancer stick brand -- is the latest series in a Japanese kiddie-oriented live-action franchise that dates back to 1971. The Kamen Rider franchise isn't as big as the Ultraman franchise but it's close from what I gather.

The 555 series may be ostensibly kiddie-oriented but there are enough elements in the series to keep older viewers sticking around.

Oh sure, at the end of the day, it's still going to come down to stunt people in rubber suits kicking and punching each other on a regular basis but there's more to it than that.

But let's not take anything away from the action, which is highly enjoyable with plenty of quick cuts, over-the-top action and outrageous posturing. Some of the action set-pieces were so cool they left me uttering obscenities in admiration. I can think of no higher praise than that.

Most episodes I've seen -- and I've only seen 10 -- end in a cliffhanger. In the grand tradition of action adventure serials, these are sometimes resolved with exasperating cheats but let's face it, the main purpose of these cliffhangers is to leave you anxiously waiting for the next episode.

The main reasons I'm eagerly looking forward to every new episode, though, are the characters. This was quite amazing since the series seemingly exists mainly as a platform to push the toys. But the characters are being developed in an intriguing and satisfying fashion and I'm genuinely fond of the main characters.

You want one minor indication of the amount of thought the creators put into the storyline and the characters? Take the name "Kamen Rider Faiz." The Japanese do love their pun-ny names and Kamen Rider Faiz is a triple pun (at least). First, the wielder of the Faiz Gear has to punch in the code "555" (that's three fives) before transforming into Faiz. Second, Faiz's symbol is based on the Greek character Phi (for some reason) and you can see the Phi influence on the helmet design. Third, the phrase "the end justifies the means" (which happens to be the last line of the opening theme) is a factor as well.

If you're looking for a blend of action and comedy with a dash of romantic soap opera thrown in for good measure, you could do a whole lot worse than Kamen Rider 555.

555 links:

  • Both TV-Asahi and Toei have official 555 pages.

  • The industrious and generous folks over at TV-Nihon have the latest fansubbed episodes. You'll need a broadband connection because the episodes are between 150MB to 290MB in size as well as a BitTorrent client (I'm using TheSHAD0W's) to download the episodes. You'll also need the Xvid codec to play the episodes.

  • Jillun has got some background information on the characters and a write-up of the first episode.

  • Good news: Torpong has brief reviews and pix of almost every episode. Bad news: The reviews are in Thai. Not-so-bad news: He's also got an English page. Not-so-good news: It's woefully out of date.

  • HLJ's stock of Kamen Rider 555 merchandise includes everything from trading cards to chess pieces. The most appealing of the lot to me are the S-RHF series of highly-articulated action figures. Fans of transforming robots might want to check out the S-RHF01 set in particular since it includes Autovajin, the robot which transforms into Faiz's ride.

Link  | 

Thursday, October 30, 2003

7:17 PM - The Redguard Knight

A digi-doodle of my Morrowind player character.

Link  | 

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

8:44 PM - Dr M steps down

After 22 years at the helm, Dr M's letting someone else take charge because his Jewish overlords told him to.

Kidding!

(About the Jewish overlords bit. The part about him stepping down is actually true.)

There's a good AFP article about Dr M that takes a look at his career and achievements. It's surprisingly balanced and acknowledges both his flaws and strengths. I say surprisingly because articles about him generally tend to be (if written by foreigners) hypercritical or (if written by the local mainstream press) embarrassingly effusive.

The opening paragraph sums it up nicely I think:

Loved and loathed but rarely ignored, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad leaves a complex legacy when he retires on Friday.

So what would be Dr M's greatest achievement? He's got quite a list to choose from but he himself has cited maintaining racial harmony as the most important.

You wouldn't think racial harmony was that noteworthy an achievement until you consider events elsewhere. I suspect you'd understand why Dr M chose to highlight racial unity after reading Luke Harding's chilling account of sectarian violence in India.

Link  | 

7:53 PM - Tomb Raider

Whoa, a second successive hour-long problem-free Morrowind session. Gosh, if things stay like this, I might start thinking my PC isn't demon-possessed after all.

That's a screenshot of my player character striking a pose in Scyda Neen. He's named Gobi. Fantastic coincidence or what?

I know I was slightly unimpressed by the game's free-form nature when I started playing it but I think the game works best if you lower your expectations in terms of storyline and characterisation, and concentrate instead on exploration and discovering new facets of the virtual world Bethesda created.

Link  | 

7:28 PM - Eagles is coming! Eagles is coming!

I caught United's League Cup match against Leeds early this morning. United deservedly ran out 3-2 winners despite fielding what can only be described as a second-string side.

Gary Neville partnered O'Shea in central defence and I'm wondering if Ferguson was trying the combo with a view to make this partnership permanent if Ferdinand gets hit with a lengthy ban.

The first half was rather tepid but the match came to life after Leeds got their first goal after the break.

Remember the name Chris Eagles. The kid did very well when he came on in the second half and looks like he might be able to fill that problematic spot on the right side of midfield. Eagles certainly impressed me more than Ronaldo. The latter is great to watch but he isn't particularly effective with his passes and crosses.

Fletcher, who wasn't terribly brilliant when playing on the right, did very well in a more central position and it was fitting the second United goal came about when Eagles and Fletcher combined to set up Forlan. Considering Scholes is groin, groin, gone for up to four weeks, perhaps Ferguson should try Fletcher in the hole behind van Nistelrooy. United badly need to beef up their offense and the young Scotsman might be up to the task.

Link  | 

1:18 AM - Crash-free!

I'm delighted to report I had a trouble-free Morrowind session just now. It's nice to be able to play a game without my PC doing its utmost to drive me nuts.

I've been playing the game as a Knight mainly because I don't really fancy playing a magic-user. Playing a melee fighter isn't much fun -- too much clicking in combat -- but it's much less complicated than being a magic user. There are simply too many magic paths and spells, and I'm not really in the mood to study them all to find out which one suits me.

Incidentally, there are about a zillion Morrowind-related FAQs and guides available on GameFAQs covering numerous aspects of the game. It's an indication of the wealth of options available in this RPG.

I thought I'd put up some screenshots as I play through the game. Here's the first:

That's the town of Balmora. "Balmora", of course, is a Dunmer word meaning "place where your frame-rates get shot to hell." I exaggerate but not by much. It's amazing how Morrowind can bring even the most capable gaming machine to its knees. Is there a rig out there capable of consistently achieving at least 30 frames per second with every setting set to the max?

Link  | 

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

6:25 PM - Optimus ver. Armada

A coloured version of a previous digi-doodle. I'm not too happy with the way it turned out. I was trying to figure out a new way of representing the Star Saber because I didn't care for the anime version and didn't want to do an exact repro of the toy. I wanted an energy sword look based on the outline of the toy but wasn't satisfied with my attempts to pull off a glowing energy field effect.

The above was the result of my giving up and going, "Ah, screw it ... ."

Link  | 

12:39 AM - More Morrowind

I've just finished another hour-long Morrowind session. I had one crash-to-desktop after about 40 minutes of play but that could've been due to the fact I kept reloading a save game after repeatedly dying at the same spot. Damned magic-wielding smuggler and his great balls of fire.

It didn't help matters my just-purchased silver sword was in a fragile condition and kept breaking after one swing. I had been wondering why the trader had sold it to me for such a low price but I didn't think to check its condition.

Live and learn.

Or in my case, die, reload and learn.

Link  | 

Sunday, October 26, 2003

9:55 PM - Hot

So much for the services tweaking.

I played Morrowind earlier and was nonplussed when the PC spontaneously rebooted itself after 15 minutes.

Some gamers have apparently solved the same problem by removing the cover of the system casing and I figured it was worth a shot. Remarkably, I managed a trouble-free hour-plus session with Morrowind after doing this. It's much too early to do the Meposian Dance of Joy but I'm reasonably optimistic.

Link  | 

12:01 AM - The curse

United were deservedly beaten by Fulham 1-3 at Old Trafford. Rational people are going to attribute the win to Fulham's resolve, tenacity and ability to capitalize on their opponent's mistakes.

Me, I blame the commentators.

John Dykes highlighted the fact United haven't conceded a goal at home this season during the pre-match show and it took Fulham all of three minutes to get their first goal.

Silvestre slipped and gave the ball away then contrived to deflect the ball into the path of Clark. The nature of the goal set the tone for the rest of the match.

Steve Banyard, the commentator for the match, noted colour television hadn't been introduced the last time Fulham beat United at Old Trafford and also noted United haven't lost a Premiership match at home for 20+ matches. The Fulham win was guaranteed at that point.

It didn't help matters the United defence were very shaky when put to the test in the first half. Fulham should've gone two- or three-up but United rode their luck and drew level just before half-time when Forlan sweetly finished a well-worked goal involving van Nistelrooy and Giggs.

(And in keeping with the commentator's curse theme, John Beresford had noted pre-match Forlan was a great player but not good enough for United.)

United replaced Silvestre in the second half with Fortune and you just knew it would turn out to be one of those days when Fortune was carded because he had failed to inform the fourth official he was coming on.

United did have several opportunities to take the lead but didn't really test van der Sar. It seemed at times United's players were far too eager to try the spectacular goal-of-the-week shot instead of a simple lay-off to a colleague in a better position. Fulham demonstrated how it ought to be done when first Malbranque and then Inamoto punished United's profligacy in front of goal.

David Bellion, who replaced Djemba-Djemba towards the end of the match, had a volley superbly saved by van der Sar but I don't think United deserved a point. Once again, they looked far from convincing in the last third of the field.

It will be interesting to see Ferguson's reaction to this match. He looked very unhappy even after United had equalised and I'll wager some hair will be well and truly dried after the match.

Link  | 

Saturday, October 25, 2003

8:48 PM - Morrowind and Windows sorrow

I've had a lot of trouble getting Morrowind stable under Windows XP. The game would frequently crash to the Windows desktop after playing for 15 minutes or so. It's especially annoying considering it ran pretty well on Windows 98SE.

I tried tweaking the morrowind.ini settings as per Kouroush Ghazi's Morrowind tweak guide but it didn't solve the problem.

There are some related threads (1, 2) on the official forum but there was nothing in them that proved useful to me.

I finally decided to tweak my Windows XP settings. I hadn't done anything to tune up the OS (aside from the occasional defrag) since I installed it last month and that's mainly because I haven't been gaming much of late. (If you read previous entries, you'll know I've had some difficulties with my PC.)

I started with the services settings. Like Windows 2000, Windows XP has all sorts of processes running around in the background. In addition to the services that are bundled with Windows XP, there are services which are installed by other applications. For instance, if you've installed Nvidia's graphics drivers, you'll probably have the Nvidia Driver Helper Service, nvsvc32.exe, running right now.

Some services are necessary but a number of them are launched automatically even if they aren't needed or even relevant. But which ones are necessary? To complicate things further, some services are dependant on others to correctly function and thus, disabling services willy-nilly is a sure-fire invitation for a muck-up.

Thankfully, Blackviper has got some wonderful guides for services tweaking that helped me immensely.

I first read the Services 411 guide to get a rough idea of what each service does. (There's also a Strange Services guide for services that are bundled with applications and utilities.)

Next, I read the Windows XP Hardware Profiles guide. This allows you to set separate services profiles at boot-up so you could have one default profile with all the services and another services profile that's lean and mean and tailored for gaming. (Blackviper has additional profiles but two were all I needed.)

Finally, I tweaked my gaming services profile according to the Windows Services Configuring guide.

I need to do some additional testing to make sure my Morrowind woes are a thing of the past but so far it looks like the services thing might have done the trick.

Here's hoping, anyway ...

Link  | 

8:45 PM - Star-struck

Link  | 

Friday, October 24, 2003

8:10 PM - Microman 2004

Microforce fans, rejoice! It looks as if Microman will return in 2004. The Microforce lead designer, Abiko Kazutami, revealed this in an interview for the Takara Hobby site and says he's already working on preliminary designs. Is it my imagination or are the designs in the lower picture done in the same colours as the M10x Microman Barefoot figures?

He also talks about Material Force Microman, the sub-line specifically geared towards toy customisers. I found it very interesting Takara chose to highlight M11x-style Microforce customs (1, 2).

Will Microman 2004 include an homage to classic designs?

(More pix: 1, 2, 3, 4)

(Link obtained from the Micropolis Embassy.)

Link  | 

Thursday, October 23, 2003

7:03 PM - Elite

Remember Elite? Boy, I can't tell you how much time I wasted on that game. Mainly because I never played it. We did have BBC Micro B computers in school back in '85 but the only games we had access to were bog-standards ones like "Chuckie Egg" which was every bit as exciting as the name might suggest.

The Guardian has an extract from a book detailing Elite's development and it's a terrific look at game development as it was back in the days of tape drives and limited main memory. In those days, two-man game development teams were considered too large.

The article doesn't mention the fact the developers, Ian Bell and David Braben, are now estranged. Bell's got the low-down on his personal page.

Be sure to check out Bell's FAQ which includes this chuckle-licious observation about the latest Star Trek series:

"ST:Enterprise" has only two good points, both to be found on the chest of the science officer.

On the downside, Bell says his favourite game ever was Chuckie Egg. Jeez.

(Link obtained from Slashdot.)

Link  | 

4:46 AM - Battle of Britain

United beat Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox thanks to a goal by -- are you sitting down? -- Phil Neville in the fifth minute.

United's utility man, who played on the right of midfield in this match, intercepted the ball near the halfway line, exchanged passes with van Nistelrooy, darted into the box and put the ball in the back of the net.

United dominated the midfield for long spells in the match but didn't look too convincing in the final third of the field. Most of their attacks petered out in and around the box.

The Scottish champions put up a good fight, though, and made more than a few chances. They're definitely good enough for the Premiership.

Link  | 

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

6:13 PM - Saint naysayer

The Catholic Church beatified Mother Teresa recently. It's the final step before sainthood. Christopher Hitchens is vewwy, vewwy upset about this because he considers Mother Teresa "a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud."

Hitchens does raise one good point -- we are perhaps too uncritical when it comes to our heroes -- but I found most of his hypercriticism unwarranted.

Among the points he makes:

Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been -- she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself -- and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order.

You'll note Hitchens didn't answer his own question. It's much easier and much more convenient for his purposes to cast doubt without ascertaining the truth. Ironic considering what he said about her saintliness:

It's unexamined journalistically - no one really takes a look at what she does.

He also points out:

And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan.

But as her BBC profile points out:

Mother Teresa's view was that if someone offers charity for the poor it should be accepted for their sake regardless of the merits or otherwise of the giver.

Personally, I think it's miraculous that someone would devote herself unflinchingly and unwaveringly to others in a day and age when self-interest takes precedence over everything else.

Maybe I am being "soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring" (as Hitchens put it) in believing Mother Teresa deserves her imminent sainthood and maybe the arguments in favour for her sainthood do rely a great deal on argumentum ad populum.

But I just don't see how her flaws negate the tremendous good she accomplished in her lifetime.

However, this does raise a question: We have so few heroes to believe in and inspire us so why do we insist on tearing down the ones we do have?

I think Kurt Busiek nails it in Marvels. J. Jonah Jameson, when asked why he was ever-quick to condemn Spider-Man, replies:

... If he was a hero -- if your "Marvels" were truly the noble, selfless crusaders they claim -- how could the rest of us measure up? How could we meet that standard?

Further reading:

Link  | 

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

10:36 PM - "Souchaku!"

I caught a fansub of the first episode of Chouseishin Gransazer yesterday. Chou-what? The live-action toy-based series is Konami's foray into the realm of sentai. Think Power Rangers.

And if you're a frothing at the mouth sentai fan eager to rant about Haim Saban's bastardisation of sentai, please take a moment to stick it where the sun don't shine. (Hint: Not the Antartic during the winter months.) I don't give a hoot.

Anyway, Gransazer. In Konami's own words:

"The Choshinsei Gransazers" is a much anticipated TV program developed by Toho, which is scheduled to be aired through TV Tokyo and its affiliates every Saturday morning from 9:00 starting October 3, 2003. We will launch the first product of this series on October 2, 2003 together with the TV program. The promotional event held at Shinjuku Takashimaya on September 28, 2003 was very successful with a lot of audience.

The first episode wasn't particularly good but on the plus side, it didn't make me cringe and whimper. (Which, incidentally, was what happened when I heard the dialogue for the final episode of Transformers Armada.)

I'm going to keep watching the series if only to keep an eye on the character and mecha designs. The characters have a passing resemblance to Takara's Cybercop designs and the inclusion of transforming mecha made me wonder if the toys were designed by Takara for Konami.

Konami, of course, is the largest shareholder in Takara after providing a cash injection for the latter in 2000 and the two companies have collaborated before. None of the Gransazer articles I've read mention the involvement of Takara, though.

The toy line look rather nice and I'm particularly keen on the 1800 yen Action Great Model Series figures. These are action figures with 18 points of articulation for plenty of Kung Fu Posing goodness.

From what I can tell, each figure is also bundled with an accessory for one of the transforming robots in the Change Great Mecha Series. Sazer Tarious comes with a bow and helmet that combine to become the Tarious Mode helmet for the 3480 yen Garuda transforming figure while the upcoming Sazer Lion comes with another helmet and a pair of swords that combine to become the Lion Mode helmet for Garuda.

Sazer Links:

Link  | 

9:58 PM - All that Jazz

A work-in-progress of Jazz. He's one of my favourite characters from the original Transformers series and that's mainly due to Sherman "Scatman" Crothers, the voice actor who brought him to life. The Scatman had a distinctive voice and managed to stand out even among the stellar voice cast assembled for the series. The man really deserves major kudos for making lines like "It's a flurry...in a hurry" less cringe-worthy. (Steve Stonebraker has made available excerpts from Scatman's bio on his TF site.)

The digi-doodle is neither toy-accurate nor 'toon-accurate but it's not too bad.

Link  | 

Monday, October 20, 2003

11:27 PM - Space case

China sent a man to space recently. It turns out he wasn't a member of Falun Gong being sent into exile but was actually that country's first astronaut.

I think most Asians would have been impressed and inspired by that feat but let's put things in proper perspective: how can that possibly compare with Malaysia's amazing, jawdropping feat of airdropping a Proton Saga on the North Pole? You're probably asking, "But ... but ... why would someone actually want to airdrop a bloody car on the North Pole?" See, that's the kind of attitude that prevents you from reaching true greatness the Malaysia Boleh way.

(This page notes that Proton Saga was the first Asian car to be airdropped at the North Pole. Does that mean there were non-Asian cars dropped at the North Pole before that? Has this airdropping-cars-on-the-North-Pole gone on for some time now? What happens to the cars afterwards? Are they still there? Inquiring minds with far too much free time want to know.)

Link  | 

Saturday, October 18, 2003

9:51 PM - Keane to the fore

United beat Leeds 1-0 at Elland Road thanks to a late goal by Captain Keane. Some thoughts:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo is having difficulty in acclimatising himself to English gravity which is apparently much greater than he's used to. The poor boy kept falling down constantly. The situation is so bad that even legitimate appeals for free-kicks are being waved away because he's getting a reputation as a diver. Someone needs to tell Ronaldo in no uncertain terms that sort of thing isn't appreciated at United.

  • David Batty didn't deserve to be on the losing side. The guy just played his heart out and stymied most of United's offensive attempts. Keane -- who had a terrific match -- ended up second-best in most of their one-on-one encounters.

  • Fletcher, who got the headlines last week after scoring for Scotland, had a match to forget as little went right for him. United still have a problem down that right flank.

  • Poor ol' unfortunate Fortune ended up injured again after a clumsy challenge by Pennant. It's a good thing United have an able replacement in O'Shea.

Link  | 

9:21 PM - Speed record

CBC News reports:

Researchers have more than doubled the world speed record for internet data transfer.

Scientists at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland sent the equivalent of a full-length DVD movie in about seven seconds.

Oddly, the report didn't give the title of the DVD movie the scientists used for the record-breaking feat. Was it something risque? "Quarks Gone Wild"? "Electron Gangbang XXII"? "Big Bosons"? "Raging Hadrons"?

Let's hope TM Net doesn't get its hands on the technology because the ISP has a knack of taking super-fast Net tech and reducing it to dial-up speed.

(Link obtained from Drudge Report.)

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Friday, October 17, 2003

6:43 PM - Flasher

I flashed the BIOS of my Abit NF7-S motherboard two days ago despite my nervousness over the procedure. I used Abit's FlashMenu for the task and it was a breeze.

You first need to install the Windows-based utility then get the latest BIOS. Please take note Abit has produced two different versions of the NF7-S motherboard -- I've got version 2.0 -- and you need to get the right BIOS because Bad Things Will Happen when you flash the motherboard with the incorrect BIOS.

You can either get the latest BIOS from the Abit site through the FlashMenu utility or download the BIOS directly yourself and point FlashMenu to the file. I did the latter and after backing up my existing BIOS (FlashMenu does this as well), I updated to the latest BIOS. I'm glad to report everything went smoothly and I was prompted to reboot the PC after the process was completed.

I then cleared the CMOS data to ensure the old BIOS settings weren't retained. To do this, I had to remove and set a jumper on the motherboard and I was grateful Abit provided a jumper that was easy to remove and set even without long nails or tweezers. It's thoughtful touches like this that make me glad I got this board instead of something cheaper.

Finally, I set the BIOS settings using the BIOS optimal settings as a guide and tweaked them according to my personal preferences. And I was good to go.

I immediately noticed one improvement. The motherboard's DualDDR memory channel ability was now correctly enabled. (The motherboard's original BIOS -- version 10, fact fans -- couldn't auto-detect it.)

Kudos to Abit for making what was potentially a harrowing experience a simple enough process.

Link  | 

5:28 PM - Juxtapose and go, "Hmm..."

Today's Malay Mail headline:

Jailed for tarnishing nation's image

That was for an article about Irene Fernandez, a 57-year-old human rights activist who was sentenced to a year's jail because she had tarnished the image of the country by publishing a memorandum entitled "Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Treatment of Migrant Workers at the Detention Camps" without actually verifying the charges she had made.

Meanwhile ...

Dr. M does his anti-Semitism shtick at the OIC conference. A sample:

The 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.

...

We are actually very strong – 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today, the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.

The Jews rule this world by proxy? I wonder if Dr. M verified that charge before making it.

Just so you know, our fearless leader may have anti-Semitic tendencies -- he once insinuated the Jews were to blame for Malaysia's economic meltdown in 1997 before backpedalling -- but not all Malaysians do.

It's a crying shame most folks are going to miss the good points in the Prime Minister's speech -- and he made plenty -- because of a few ill-judged comments.

Link  | 

Thursday, October 16, 2003

7:58 PM - In Japan

Seth Stevenson is writing about his travels in Japan in a series of entertaining articles in Slate. He's had a whale of a time, been grossed out, and been intimidated by the societal protocol.

It's a shame Stevenson opts for flippancy instead of answering the interesting questions he raises about Japanese society but then these are supposed to be light reads.

Link  | 

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

6:10 PM - "Antares!"

A work-in-progress of Gold Saint Scorpio Milo from the Saint Seiya franchise.

Okay, like the other Gold Saints, Scorpio Milo looks a bit like a girly-boy. Perhaps you'd laugh at him, his long blue 80s rock band hair and his ornate golden armour.

But the laughter stops when the excruciating pain from his first Scarlet Needle attack hits you.

You look in disbelief at the pin-sized hole in your chest, and watch as the blood -- your blood -- first trickles then spurts out. You grit your teeth and listen as he tells you the pain you're feeling now is akin to the debilitating venom of a scorpion's sting.

You scream as he strikes again and again and again ...

Perhaps you'd still be able to make out his voice through the pain as he explains matter-of-factly the strikes on your body are made in the pattern of the Scorpio constellation.

You're probably on your knees now, your life bleeding out of you as he shimmers with golden light and draws back his arm again for his 15th and final strike, Antares. Perhaps you'd still be lucid enough to realise he's aiming directly at your weakly-beating heart. Perhaps you'd even be relieved that it would soon be all over.

Maybe laughing at the girly-boy wasn't such a good move after all ...

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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

7:02 AM - Yo ho ho!

Ah, me 'earrrties, you'll be needing this 'ere keyboarrrd if you'll be wantin' to type like a rrreal pirrrate. You'll be notin' that it be suitable forrr those pirrrates with a 'ook in place of a lost 'and.

Okay, so I'm one month late for Talk Like A Pirate Day. Sue me. Arrr.

(Link obtained from the Quarter to Three forum.)

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3:17 AM - Alternators packaging

The 2005 Boards has pix of the Alternators packaging for Smokescreen. He looks pretty good even without the metallic paint and at US$20, I'm betting he's going to fly off the shelves.

But "Age: 5+"? Is that in dog years? There's no way a five-year-old kid is going to manage to transform this figure without breaking stuff.

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1:46 AM - Lamboru

I'm not getting the second Binaltech figure, BT-02 Lamboru. The more I see of him, the less impressed I am.

Cosmic Rust reports transformers_alternators has pix of an all-plastic test shot of Lamboru including comparisons with BT-01 Smokescreen and other TF figures.

The vehicle mode (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), based on a 2003 Dodge Viper RT/10 Convertible, is splendid but the robot mode (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) is disappointing.

I'll give the designers some credit for coming up with an original transformation -- it's so original we've seen some hilarious attempts at reproducing the robot mode on eBay -- but I'd rather have something derivative and good (e.g. the Diaclone-inspired BT-01 Smokescreen) than something original but disappointing.

I'm particularly disappointed the articulation for Lamboru doesn't appear to be all that great particularly at the hips. It's a shame and I wonder if the articulation was downplayed to keep the costs down.

Remember, unlike most Transformers figures, these are produced in two different flavours: the 4980 yen Binaltech versions with die-cast metal and the all-plastic US$20 Alternators versions. The lowest common denominator will have to be the cheaper Alternators versions and it's possible some things (including additional posability) had to be sacrificed to keep costs down.

But to be fair, Alternators/Binaltech aren't bricks. They are articulated but just not as much as I would have hoped for. After the incredible Microforce line, I thought Takara would have gone wild with articulation for Binaltech/Alternators and I'm disappointed that hasn't been the case.

Ah well, perhaps BT-03 will be an improvement.

(Link obtained from the Allspark boards.)

Link  | 

Sunday, October 12, 2003

11:37 AM - Attention! This is not a drill!

You've got less than two months to save up 18 million yen because I want this custom bike for my birthday. Thank you.

Link  | 

6:53 AM - And I quote

From the BBC's rating of England's players in their match against Turkey:

Emile Heskey: Has discovered a new role - the striker not required to score.

Link  | 

Saturday, October 11, 2003

8:42 AM - And I quote

From the bio card for Cobra Coils:

COBRA COILS are guys with primitive central nervous systems and high pain threshholds who ride motorcycles and other fast-assault vehicles.

...

Their training objective is to function as a single entity with their vehicle. This has led to several cases where COBRA COILS have been heard to make revving noises in their throats when they walk faster.

That has got to be a Larry Hama-written bio.

Link  | 

Thursday, October 09, 2003

10:27 PM - "Starlight Extinction!"

Gold Saint Aries Mu from the Saint Seiya franchise.

Link  | 

1:36 AM - Smokescreen: The Transfixatron

More thoughts on Binaltech BT-01 Smokescreen:

  • There are two Smokescreen variants out and I've got the number 8 variant, the one based on the ride for the Flying Finns, Tommi Mäkinen and Kaj Lindstrom. I don't know if Takara and Hasbro were contractually obligated to produce the two variants as part of the licensing deal but I have a feeling it will result in additional sales to collectors who are obsessed with getting every possible variant. It doesn't make much of a difference to me since I don't pay attention to the World Rally Championship scene.

    (Incidentally, there was an attempt to boost the sales of the number 7 variant when it was claimed Takara wouldn't be producing that variant for the second batch but it's an unproven claim at best.)

  • The line drawings used in the instructions are adequate but I would have much preferred photo references. Pay particular attention to the position of the arms and the legs in vehicle mode before you transform the figure for the first time because ...

  • ... the reverse transformation (i.e. robot to car) is a female dog. The two major pains in the, ah, exhaust pipe are the arms and the legs. You need to fold the arms under the bonnet while that annoying strut that's attached to each front wheel constantly gets in the way of things and you need to fold the legs just so when transforming Smokescreen to vehicle mode.

  • The head sculpt is simple but effective. I'm glad to see it's obviously inspired by the sculpt for the original Smokescreen. If you're going to reuse a character, it makes sense that you'd keep the head sculpt as it's a big part of a Transformer's visual identity.

  • The metallic paint for the die-cast parts is indeed beautiful and it enhances the this-is-a-robot appeal. The downside is I've already managed to scratch that beautiful paint job. It doesn't bother me that much since my figures tend to be handled a lot and usually end up with wear and tear anyway.

  • Contrary to my earlier entry, turning the steering wheel doesn't accomplish anything since it isn't designed to be turned. (I spent about two minutes trying to turn it before discovering this.) (You can stop chortling now.) The steering column does hinge down as part of the transformation but that's about it.

Link  | 

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

6:29 PM - "Scarlet Needle!"

Gold Saint Scorpio Milo from the Saint Seiya franchise.

Link  | 

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

10:25 PM - Cosmic Call

As you may or may not be aware, we -- that's we as in "the human race" -- have been sending messages out to space. These messages, unlike our television and radio signals which have been heading to the outer reaches of space for some time now, are specifically targeted at the ET demographic.

These messages are pretty much spam.

Not only are we clogging up alien Inboxes with what is in all probability an unwanted invitation, we're lying as well. Apparently, we're claiming to be an altruistic race in these messages.

(Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Israel bombs a terrorist camp in Syria after a Palestinian woman blows herself up -- along with 19 Israelis -- because two of her family members were killed by the Israelis.)

If that's not bad enough, the messages include low-rez diagrams of humans in the nude.

That's right, we're not only sending aliens spam but we're sending them pr0n spam.

How long before we get our collective asses fried by alien Death Rays?

Link  | 

Monday, October 06, 2003

5:55 PM - Draw

Another digi-doodle of CommanderMicroman from the Microman Microforce line. The main reason he's not sporting his chest symbol and bicep insignia is because the ones on the figure itself have rubbed off completely.

Link  | 

Sunday, October 05, 2003

8:46 PM - Up to speed

Streamyx speeds are back to normal now.

Link  | 

8:36 PM - Commander

Digi-doodle of CommanderMicroman from the Microman Microforce line.

Link  | 

7:23 PM - And I quote

Google's CTO Craig Silverstein envisions the search engine industry's future:

When search grows up, it will look like Star Trek: you talk into the air ("Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?") and the computer processes your question, figures out its context, figures out what response you're looking for, searches a giant database in who-knows-how-many languages, translates/analyses/summarises all the results, and presents them back to you in a pleasant voice.

Slashdot user MoxCamel envisions a more likely scenario:

Captain: Tea, hot, Earl grey.

Computer: Did you mean Hot Teen URL's

(From Slashdot.)

Link  | 

7:14 AM - Microcustom fodder

Takara will release Material Force Microman (pix: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) in Japanese TRUs on October 15.

The sub-line isn't the next wave of Microforce so much as a store-exclusive geared towards a specific market niche. It's clear these cheaper figures (499yen compared to the 980yen for Microforce) are aimed at Japanese toy customisers, a number of whom were using the original Microforce line to create superb customs e.g. K-No's NinjaMicroman-based Kamen Rider Faiz.

(Link obtained from Toybox BBS.)

Link  | 

4:23 AM - Customer service

The Courier reports a concerned mother called up a customer service number found on the bottom of a toy bulldozer only to discover it led to a phone sex service.

It turns out the original manufacturer of the toy had gone out of business and the retailer, KB Toys, forgot to change the customer service number. KB Toys now plans to cover up the old number with a sticker.

For some inexplicable reason, the article completely failed to note the mother's name, "April Flowers," would make an excellent porn actress name.

Link  | 

3:28 AM - Smokescreen: Second impression

BT Smokescreen isn't as fragile as I made him out to be in a previous entry. The way I went on earlier, you'd be forgiven for thinking Smokescreen would crumble to pieces if you were to so much as stare hard in his general direction. The only real pieces to be concerned about are the rear windowscreens. Aside from that, he does feel sturdy enough.

Another criticism worth clarifying: He isn't a Brickmaster. Smokescreen is articulated; it's just that he isn't as articulated as this articulation aficionado would like him to be. The only major joints he's lacking are swivels for his upper arms and upper legs.

The major posable joints include:

  • Ball joint for his head

  • He's got three different joints -- two hinged joints and a swivel -- at each shoulder but they're unfortunately impeded by pieces attached to his front wheels. You have to rotate those pieces out of the way for some poses. This is another classic case of robot mode articulation being compromised by a gimmick since those pieces are part of the front-wheels-turn-in-unison vehicle mode gimmick.

  • Double hinged joint for each elbow.

  • Ball joint for each wrist.

  • The thumb isn't articulated but the index finger and the other three fingers (which are moulded as a single piece) have a hinge joint at the first knuckle. This allows Smokescreen to make a fist or grasp his rifle with his trigger finger extended slightly. No rude gestures for you, though.

  • Swivel joint for the waist.

  • Ball joint for each hip. They're unfortunately limited in the sideways direction so no kung fu side kick for you. Even more unfortunately, there are pieces just behind the hip joints that limit forward hip movement to about 45°.

  • Hinge joint for each knee. For what it's worth, it's possible to bend the knees in both directions.

  • Hinge joint in each ankle. Unfortunately, the fragile-looking rear windscreen pieces are attached to the ankle piece and I wouldn't recommend manipulating the joint unless you're being vewwy, vewwy careful.

In addition, he's got a double hinge joint for each uni-toe/rear fender. I would've preferred a racheting joint to ensure the feet are more likely to hold a position. He's got an additional hinged piece behind that unitoe that swings out to further improve stability but I'm not too confident about Smokescreen's ability to stand tall after a slight surface tremor. I wouldn't advise putting him on the edge of a high shelf.

Link  | 

2:52 AM - 3-0

United returned to winning ways after beating Birmingham 3-0.

The turning point in the match came in the 34th minute when Scholes made a darting run into the box to get on the end of a van Nistelrooy pass. The England midfielder managed to flick the ball away from the advancing Birmingham keeper just before he was brought down and Taylor was sent off for that. It was less a bad refereeing decision and more of an unfortunate one. The replays made it clear the Birmingham keeper had little malicious intent and was clearly fooled by Scholes' flick. But the ref had little choice but to follow the letter of the law and Birmingham were down to 10. The United victory was inevitable at that point.

Van Nistelrooy stepped up and planted the resulting penalty into the Birmingham net. The most remarkable thing about this is he finally decided to plant one to the keeper's left.

Scholes got the second with a goal that can be described as "pure Scholes." He got the ball from Phil Neville, had two touches and launched a rocket from outside the box into the back of the Birmingham goal.

Giggs, playing on the left mainly, deservedly got the third after Forlan provided an excellent pass. It was great to see the Welsh Wizard at his best and he caused all sorts of problems for the Birmingham defence. One wonders if he had his hair dried by Ferguson after the previous match. He hasn't looked this hungry in awhile and it was almost as if he was justifying his selection in the starting eleven.

Fletcher, playing on the right of midfield, was another player who impressed. He isn't as flashy as Ronaldo -- no double step-overs to ooh-aah over -- but he's probably the more effective of the two despite his simpler approach to the game.

Birmingham had a couple of chances but Howard was up to the task if the United defence -- which was much less porous this time around -- wasn't.

Link  | 

Saturday, October 04, 2003

1:27 AM - Smokescreen: First impressions

I removed Smokescreen from his packaging a few hours earlier and I thought I'd give my initial impressions now. I'll put up something a little more detailed after I've put in serious play time.

First of all, the vehicle mode is incredible. There's so much detail to appreciate and the toy is practically indistinguishable from the real thing.

The transformation is essentially inspired by that for the Diaclone-generation version of the character. But there are so many added details that transforming BT Smokescreen can be a bit time-consuming.

Now, I do usually enjoy complex transformation sequences but in BT Smokescreen's case, it can be a bit frustrating not to mention nerve-wracking due to the potential "ker-snap!" factor. I've read enough reviews and comments mentioning the figure's fragility to know I needed to be careful. I still had a heart-stopping moment while I was transforming the figure for the first time, though. I somehow managed to pop off the left door but fortunately, fixing it was simply a matter of popping the door back into the hinge joint and I duly did this after the old ticker eventually started pumping again.

The robot mode?

A little disappointing. I was hoping for a superbly articulated action figure and BT Smokescreen isn't one. To be fair, it's possible I was expecting too much from Takara and Hasbro. Oh sure, BT Smokescreen will make his Diaclone-generation G1 counterpart look like the 20-year-old toy design the latter is. But compared to other robot action figures today, BT Smokescreen is somewhat lacking in playability in robot mode. He's got loads of joints but they're either limited in some way or impeded by vehicle mode parts.

Perhaps I've been spoiled but you'd think the designers would have been a bit more generous with the articulation especially since this is a 4980yen figure targeted at adult toy fans.

It doesn't help matters the robot mode feels somewhat fragile in my hands. I don't think the Hasbro version is going to be superior in this respect. I'm mainly worried about the plastic pieces rather than the die-cast parts. The biggest causes for concern by far are the rear windshield pieces. These double as robot mode shin-guards (or something). Please exercise caution when you're manipulating them especially when you're transforming the figure for the first time.

As it stands right now, BT Smokescreen is a spectacular figure to behold and there's plenty to admire. As a playable action figure, though, I feel he could have ... should have been better.

I'm much less enthusiastic about BT-02 Lamboru right now. I'm not even sure I can summon the enthusiasm to buy the cheaper Hasbro Alternators versions.

But who knows? Maybe BT-01 will grow on me after awhile.

Link  | 

Friday, October 03, 2003

7:01 PM - Slowdown

It appears as if the Streamyx slo-o-owdown isn't due to anything on TM Net's end after all. The company says the problem was caused by an underwater line being cut near Taiwan and judging from the fact Jaring's having problems as well, it must be true.

Link  | 

6:42 PM - Streamyx slowdown

Streamyx has been screwy for the past 24 hours now. I've been experiencing dial-up speeds (or slower!) and I'm not the only one.

I can't wait to hear the excuse for this one. One can fault TM Net for a lot of things but you really have to credit the company for their creativity when making up excuses to absolve themselves from blame.

A previous muck-up was first attributed to denial-of-service attacks before being quickly amended to "the international link is down."

Who will TM Net blame for this problem? Godzilla? SecuROM? Malicious fruits?

Ah, the suspense.

Link  | 

6:30 PM - Minor colours

A coloured version of a previous digi-doodle.

Link  | 

Thursday, October 02, 2003

11:08 PM - "Can you get there by 8 p.m.?"

Obsession.

It drives some to do things they ordinarily wouldn't conceive of doing.

It drives some to do foolhardy, laughable things.

It drove somebody to scramble to make a six hour round trip to get a Binaltech BT-01 Smokescreen from the last known Malaysian store to have stocks of the figure.

(Incidentally, if the producer of "When Obsessive Fanpersons Attack" calls, tell him I'm not in, 'kay?)

Yep, after being badly let down by HLJ, I had to hunt frantically to find a Smokescreen to call my own but I finally got one from XL-Shop just before the store closed for the night. There are a few Smokescreens left in the store so go and get one.

Unless you happen to be a scalper who's out to create a shortage in order to cash in. In which case you can go to hell. But only after you contort your body in such a way that you are effectively having carnal relations with yourself.

It's bad enough Takara badly underestimated the demand for the figure but the situation is being exacerbated and exploited by hoarders who are buying 6 Smokescreens each.

If you don't manage to get one immediately, don't give up. At least one company, Ultimate Toys Malaysia, is bringing a second batch in and you can reserve one after paying a deposit.

If worse comes to worst, you can always opt for the Hasbro Alternators version of the figure.

Link  | 

5:14 AM - Devils downed

United got a deserved kick up the backside after an embarrassingly poor performance against Stuttgart in a Champions League Group E match. The hardworking German side beat the Red Devils 2-1 (pix) and I don't think anyone can argue about the result.

If anything, Stuttgart deserved a bigger margin of victory after a good second half performance which saw them embarrass the United defence time and time again.

It didn't help matters that United kept hurting themselves by needlessly giving away the ball cheaply in dangerous positions with stray passes and blatantly obvious pass attempts that were easily intercepted.

Stuttgart were two up by the 52nd minute and it could have been 3-0 if Scholes had not been fortuitously positioned on the goalline to head the ball away after Howard misjudged a corner.

United got a penalty in the 67th minute after an Oscar-worthy piece of playacting by young Ronaldo, and it took some courage for van Nistelrooy to step up to take it. The Dutchman missed his three previous penalty attempts and there was so much riding on this one but he put it away convincingly.

Stuttgart could have added to their tally with a penalty of their own in the 79th minute but Howard had other ideas and saved brilliantly if illegally. (The American was well off the goalline when Meira took the kick.)

Ferguson needs to cut loose with the hairdryer treatment, I think.

Link  | 

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

9:36 PM - PSU FU

"On tonight's episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, we journey into the very heart of mystery: Gobi's PC."

Yep, another entry about Bizarre Computer Behaviour.

It's NWN/SoU-related this time. The game sometimes freezes on me. That's no big deal. The big deal is a reboot following a NWN play session is guaranteed to result in the heart-stopping "boot disk not found" error message. That happens every single time I play NWN. To fix it, I have to remove the power cables and wait for a while.

I first thought it was occurring because the system was overheating but a check with the BIOS revealed temperatures of around 66°C and 48°C for the CPU and system respectively.

The weird thing is the problem doesn't occur unless I'm playing NWN. I can play GalCiv for an hour or two without anything untoward happening but 15 minutes of NWN and it's "boot disk not found."

It looks like NWN is taxing the graphics card, a MSI GeForce4 Ti4200, which in turn is stressing my generic-brand PSU.

Dirk Hufnagel noted on the Silent PC Yahoo! group:

I think with all modern motherboards, especially boards for higher speed athlons, a *good* PSU is a must. Wattage doesn't matter as much as quality, a quality 300W (like Zalman, Nexus or Seasonic) will beat a crappy 350W or 400W PSU any day.

I know it's tempting to save on the PSU (well, if I spend 10$ on the PSU instead of 50$, I can buy a 200MHz faster CPU, after all, 350W is 350W, isn't it ?), but PSU problems are such a nightmare to debug that it really isn't worth it.

I suppose I better add a better-quality PSU to the shopping list now. The problem is there's no guarantee a better-quality PSU is going to solve the problem.

*thump, thump, thump*

Oh, don't mind me; I'm just testing the density of the wood on my desk.

Yes, with my head.

Link  | 

5:45 PM - Uh ...

Q: "What is a cobbler?"

A: "A type of snake."

The kids are having their final exams next week. They usually do all right but answers like the above always make me anxious.

Link  | 

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