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Sunday, November 30, 2003

9:40 PM - 50% off

Just another digi-doodle of a guy. I think this is quite possibly my laziest attempt at a digi-doodle yet. I have an excuse, though. My left-mouse button has gone wonky from all that click-and-dragging in Pixia resulting in every left-click being translated as a double-click. Time to add to a new USB optical mouse to the shopping list.

Song to seek out: Yumi Matsuzawa - Chikyuugi. It's the opening theme for the stirring Saint Seiya Hades OVA. It starts out subdued but builds to a mid-tempo number.

But I think this is a case where the edited version of the song used for the anime is superior to the full version. I cringe whenever I hear the "La La La La" a.k.a "oh crud, we've run out of lyrics" portion of the full version.

Link  | 

Saturday, November 29, 2003

7:11 PM - And I quote

Warren Ellis on the music business:

... look at the "alternative" choices the machine offers up. Travis and Coldplay. Stubbly weaklings who wear socks as hats and would die of fright if someone played them something as rude and vulgar as a melody. Formless, sensitive strumming, riff-free and invisible to memory, and a belief that their vaunted "songwriting" requires nought but muttering lots and lots of words without actually saying anything at all. These people would vaporise if subjected to an honest thought. When did we stop wanting our music and our bands to be vivid?

I've read that paragraph several times and it still elicits a hearty laugh from me every single time. Brilliant.

Song to seek out: Chobits - Katakoto No Koi (instrumental version). I'm almost positive it's the type of song that would give Ellis apoplectic fits but considering his apoplectic fits make entertaining reading material, this is actually a good thing. Anyway, if you're looking for a catchy song with lyrics composed entirely of "Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa" and "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo" -- and let's face it, in these troubled, uncertain times, who isn't? -- this would do nicely.

Link  | 

7:09 PM - The drama

You can always count on bloggers to come up with the most gripping, dramatic spin on the most ordinary of events. You want a "for instance"?

If you read blogs regularly, you'll eventually come across an entry like this:

Yes, I'm still alive. I couldn't update for two weeks because ...

Question: Is that affirmation necessary?

Do people who come across a neglected blog actually think, "Omigawd, she hasn't updated in two weeks! She must be dead!" Has any coroner ever listed "failed to update blog" as cause of death?

Me, I'm guessing "No."

Link  | 

Friday, November 28, 2003

7:25 PM - Roses are red, Scousers are blue

Pity poor Liverpool fans.

With memories of winning the poor man's version of the Treble (i.e. the League Cup, FA Cup and The Hapless Sides Who Just Weren't Good Enough For the Champions League Cup) fading, they've got little to hold on to.

It's a good thing Liverpool have got a "never say die" spirit as demonstrated by captain Steven Gerrard who inspired every Scouser when he heroically proclaimed:

We are ninth in the Premiership and we are not happy with that position, but I am very confident we can get up the table and make that fourth spot very soon.

Fourth place! Far out!

Yes, it's sad, sad times at Anfield. How does a Liverpool fan cope? Well, there's always poetry ...

(All kidding aside, I did enjoy Sharon Marshall's poem about Gandhi's visit to Lancashire.)

(Link obtained from SportsFilter.)

Link  | 

Thursday, November 27, 2003

10:37 PM - Forlan hope

Diego Forlan's 85th minute goal against Panathinaikos ensured United qualified for the Champions League quarterfinals yet again. But it was the worst United display I've seen this season.

Fletcher played in the central midfield position but had a terrible match. His passes either went astray or were easily intercepted. He was substituted in the 74th minute and I'm only surprised Ferguson didn't do it earlier.

Kleberson fared better and I was astonished to see the Brazilian was capable of tackling after all. He seems to be going from strength to strength. I'm especially impressed by his quick-thinking which he displayed with a number of excellent one-twos with the players around him.

Forlan, as is usually the case, made a lot of attempts on goal but either missed narrowly -- I swear, if regulation goalposts were two feet further apart, the Uruguayan would the most prolific scorer around -- or was unable to trouble the opposing 'keeper. But you have to admire him for his hard work and perseverance. He just never gives up.

Link  | 

10:26 PM - ZoneAlarm updates

Zone Labs flip-flopped again and removed the Manual Update option for the new version of its firewall software. ZoneAlarm 4.5.530 automatically seeks updates daily and while you can specify whether it should get your permission before going online, it's still an exasperating feature.

I can see why they did it, though.There must be loads of users out there who don't bother to check for updates on a regular basis and these twits will likely blame the software rather than themselves when problems occur.

Link  | 

10:23 PM - In the pale moonlight

Link  | 

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

8:35 PM - Optimus for President

G. Xavier Robillard wonders what sort of inaugural speeches our favourite action heroes would deliver. From Optimus Prime's inauguration speech:

Are we going to be ruled by a bunch of foreign-made Transformers?

Ah, wait till Matt Drudge reveals Optimus Prime's dirty little secret: He's actually a foreigner himself!

And while you're at McSweeney's, be sure to read Keith Pile's "Journal of a New Cobra Recruit" as well. It's equally funny.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

Link  | 

7:16 PM - Requiem for D&D

If you're an 80s kid, you probably know Hank, Eric, Presto, Diana, Bobby, Sheila and Uni. They were the gang from the Dungeons & Dragons animated show, one of the better cartoons from the 80s. It had enough action and comedy to satisfy the younger set. Er, at least until it was cancelled after 27 episodes because of falling ratings.

Lesley Hickman has a fan page with an informative FAQ and an episode guide if you need a refresher course and Mark Evanier, who had a hand in the show's development, provides the low-down on its origins.

If you recall, most D&D episodes would see the kids trying to escape the Realm of Dungeons and Dragons and failing. As it happens, there was a final episode for the series that was scripted but never produced. Read the script for "Requiem." It puts a whole new spin on two major characters.

Link  | 

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

11:54 PM - Bitchin' Betty

Pilots of F-16 jets and Apache helicopters might not know the face but they'd instantly recognise her voice and pay strict attention to her.

Read Maggie Heeger's article about Erica Lane, the person behind Bitchin' Betty, the cockpit command voice for the F-16 fighter jet and the Apache helicopter. An excerpt:

"The pilots hear my voice whenever there's a problem," says Lane. "My voice has been digitized so that it's a computer-generated sound. I've recorded messages that say things like, "warning," "MIG at 12 O'Clock high," "engine fire," "Bogie," and "I.F.F," which means, "Identify, friend or foe." When my voice comes on, it communicates the problem and the pilot reacts accordingly."

To be selected for this job, Lane auditioned along with a half dozen other women. NASA had conducted studies on pilots, most of whom are men. The results showed that men respond more quickly to a female voice.

One wonders why that is the case. These are military men who are used to following orders from their superiors who are usually men as well. Why do they respond more quickly to a female voice?

Was this the result of all that nagging men have received from women throughout human history?

Link  | 

11:19 PM - Read

Just another digi-doodle.

Link  | 

Monday, November 24, 2003

5:39 PM - A subtle slam

What do you make of this comic strip? (It was published locally in The Star today.) Perfectly innocuous and not particularly funny? Or a subtle, cowardly slam against a major religion during its holiest month?

From a Washington Post article:

"It's highly, overwhelmingly, incontrovertibly suspicious," said Berkeley Breathed, creator of "Bloom County" and the new Sunday-only strip "Opus." "There's no explanation for that gag without Islam. It's meaningless."

On the other hand, Garry Trudeau says:

"We cartoonists are simple folk. We don't write on that cryptic a level. Leave Johnny alone."

Yet, as the article points out, Hart has been known to use religious symbols in a subtle way. Check out this example. Is the use of a seven-branched candelabrum, a menorah, in that strip a mere coincidence as well?

See this related MeFi thread for a whole slew of opinions and make up your mind as to whether people are overreacting or whether it's an unfair and inappropriate insult.

And after that, consider this. I'm sure it was entirely coincidental. Yah, I'm sure Captain America's shield would make that sound effect when it happens to hit someone. Coincidence, I tell you.

Then again ...

(Links obtained from MeFi and The Comics Journal.)

Link  | 

Sunday, November 23, 2003

11:59 PM - Soothe the savage breast

I've been listening to a lot of anime themes, j-pop and j-rock over the past two years. I think I've gravitated to them mainly because it's fun discovering groove-a-licious songs that haven't been played to death on local airwaves.

Plus, most English song lyrics annoy me -- as if I really need to hear how bad life is from a twentysomething millionaire with groupies hanging off his arm -- so the fact the lyrics are in mostly-indecipherable Japanese is actually a good thing. (I tend to stay away from the translated lyrics because I usually find them just as indecipherable.)

These are just a couple of my current favourites:

  • Weiß Kreuz - Aya's Theme

  • Glay - Itsuka

  • The Pillows - Blues Drive Monster

  • Kimura Yuki - Love and Joy

  • The Pink Hops - Koi no Target Boy

  • Great Mazinger theme - Ore wa Great Mazinger

  • Hitomi - Samurai Drive

  • Vivian or Kazuma - Hoshi ni Onegai O

  • Nakajima Mika - Find the Way

  • Hironobu Kageyama - Sen-nen no Soldier

Hunt them down and give them a listen.

Link  | 

11:42 PM - Fortune smiles

United were lucky to beat Blackburn 2-1 (pix) at home yesterday.

Fortune did very well and he provided delightful touches that led to both United goals. Van Nistelrooy, the recipient of Fortune's first assist, got United's first goal and Kleberson stroked the ball in for the second after a sweeping move which saw van Nistelrooy rampaging down the right wing. The Red Devils finished the first half with a swagger and it looked like a big win was in store for another record crowd at Old Trafford.

But Blackburn, energised by their young substitute Gallagher, did very well in the second half to put themselves in a position for a shock result. They had one goal unfortunately disallowed and had one big offside decision go against them before Emerton got one back. It looked as if an unlikely draw was on the cards at that point.

Thankfully United managed to get the win in the end but Ferguson needs to work on the defence a bit. It may be one of the tightest around statistically yet United looked almost panicky when put to the test.

Link  | 

5:38 PM - Hound

Hasbro has pictures of the third Alternators figure, a 2003 Jeep Wrangler named Hound. Both the vehicle mode and the robot mode look rather good and I'm delighted to see they're inspired by G1 Hound (toy, bio). Being a fussy bastard, I have to say the feet bother me a little but all things considered, Hound impresses me much more than Sideswipe.

Strangely, it looks as if the third Binaltech figure is going to be a repaint of Smokescreen dubbed Streak. I'm puzzled why Takara is releasing a repaint so soon when there are new moulds being worked on.

The only reason I can think of is Takara wants to cash in on the demand for the die-cast versions of these figures. (Takara badly underestimated the demand for BT-01 Smokescreen and had to produce a second run.) Streak (a.k.a Bluestreak) is an obvious repaint candidate and one suspects Takara won't be able to resist releasing a Prowl-inspired repaint/remould down the line as well.

Link  | 

Saturday, November 22, 2003

6:41 PM - Knoppix

Curious about Linux but not so curious about it that you'd want to mess with your existing Windows installation? Try Knoppix, a live-CD Linux distribution. It allows you to run the Linux OS and applications directly off a CD-ROM -- and this is the neat trick -- without installing anything to your hard disk.

Just boot up with the CD-ROM and give Linux a whirl. Want to revert to your existing Windows setup? Just remove the Knoppix CD-ROM and reboot. No fuss, no muss.

(As an added bonus, Knoppix can double as a recovery disk as well.)

The download is a hefty 699MB but fortunately, MIMOS has the ISO image mirrored on a Malaysian server so it shouldn't take you long to snag it if you've got a Streamyx connection.

But what if you're stuck on a 56K dial-up connection and paying for it by the second? Fret not. MIMOS is willing to post CD-ROMs to anywhere in Malaysia for free. The offer may be withdrawn in the future, though, so take advantage of it while you can. Priority is given to folks outside KL and Selangor.

I had problems burning the 699MB image for Knoppix 3.3 on a 700MB CD-RW because my CD-burning software, Ahead Nero 5.5, kept insisting there wasn't sufficient space. It turns out the problem was due to a bug in Nero 5.5. There's a 1.97MB patch available and once I installed it, I had no further problems creating a boot-up CD-ROM. (There are instructions online if you've never created a bootable CD-ROM before.)

I changed the BIOS setting to enable the "boot from CD-ROM drive" function, rebooted with the Knoppix CD-RW in the drive and I was ready to sample Linux.

Boot-up was slow (possibly slower than Windows XP) but that's understandable since Knoppix has to autodetect your hardware and "install" the OS from scratch.

I was amazed Knoppix managed to detect the hardware on the test system, a Pentium IV 1.7GHz with 256RAM. It was equipped with an ECS P4VMM2 motherboard that had built-in graphics and sound and Knoppix configured everything by itself. The only piece of hardware that wasn't automatically configured was the printer, a Canon S100SP, but configuring the printer manually was a breeze and I managed to print out a test page without any problems.

Amazingly, the disc contains 2GB of OS and apps and the package even includes games. How did they manage to cram all that on a single CD-ROM? Well, everything's compressed and Knoppix decompresses them on the fly. The decompression does result in a hit in performance but it's worth it considering the benefits.

Drawbacks? I can't think of anything major. The hardware autodetection routines did impress me but I suppose there might be hardware out there that might stump it. I gather Knoppix has problems with nforce2 motherboards, for instance.

While I'm reasonably confident Knoppix can coexist peacefully with most systems, I'm just not willing to use it on my personal rig. (I used the family PC to test it out.) Call me paranoid but I've had so many problems with my PC I'm unwilling to tinker with it now that it's stable.

But I am keen on setting up a Linux box and I figure my old Celeron 900 would work nicely. The old rig's lacking a CD-ROM drive and a monitor, though.

There's no hurry. I don't expect to switch to a Linux-only environment anytime soon.

Link  | 

Friday, November 21, 2003

6:39 PM - Wuh oh

From The Toque's tongue-in-cheek article "What should I do if the Internet goes down?":

In emergency situations, installing a single-player computer game can occupy your down-time. While it won't replace the adrenaline rush of intense networked multiplayer action provided by the Internet, a quick game of Sim City or Flight Simulator may distract you long enough for your connection to return.

Yeah, that ought to help pass the time.

At least until the game crashes from the inevitable bugs and you realise you have to get online to grab the latest patch.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

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Thursday, November 20, 2003

11:54 PM - Accents will happen

Local6.com reports:

A University of Central Florida speech expert has diagnosed an extremely rare disorder in a Sarasota, Fla., woman that caused her to speak with a British accent after she suffered a stroke.

The case of foreign-accent syndrome is one of fewer than 20 reported worldwide since 1919, according to Jack Ryalls, professor of communicative disorders at UCF.

Extremely rare, my ass. This happens frequently here in Malaysia. Malaysians who were born and lived here for twenty years will mysteriously develop lifelong American or British accents after spending a mere four years or so abroad. Often as not, these folks end up reading the English news on local television stations.

(Link obtained from Dave Barry's blog.)

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9:00 PM - Whoa

Check out this artist's Pixia creations. I especially love the Green Dragon and the Yellow Dragon. They're downright stunning.

(Link obtained from the Pixia forum.)

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8:31 PM - Angle

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

6:36 PM - A cakewalk ... for them

Through the ages, our galaxy has been the home of extraordinary events, but none as odd as the untimely extinction of the Terran Alliance civilization. Wiped out before they could even crawl, the Terran Alliance have become one of the first unfortunate victims of the race for Universal Supremacy. Perhaps it would have been wise for their leader, Emperor Gobi, to have consulted www.galciv.com for hints and tips on its forum. But we shall never know, for the Terran Alliance has met its abrupt end.

Human civilization was wiped out because I didn't check out a web site.

Damn.

The latest GalCiv patch, 1.12, was released this week and aside from the usual fixes, it also boosts the AI routines at the higher difficulty levels. Considering the AI routines were rather challenging for me pre-1.12, this meant I got humbled quickly when playing on a Small-sized map on the Challenging difficulty level.

It's incredible just how adept the AI factions are at optimising their tech research and economy. I had to pit my Battle Axes against alien Battleships and Death Knights. That's like Sopwith Camels engaging F-16s. That's like Panzer Mk. IVs confronting M1A2s. That's like Leader-1 taking on Optimus Prime.

It was horribly one-sided is what I'm saying.

I suppose I better head on over to www.galciv.com for the hints and tips. After all, human civilization is counting on me.

Link  | 

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

6:19 PM - Micropost

A digi-doodle of a M11x series Microman that's not particularly accurate.

HLJ still hasn't received my payment for the figures I ordered. I sent the payment via a registered airmail letter on November 6 and Pos Malaysia's online tracking feature shows the letter was dispatched to the US. However, the tracker doesn't list the mailbag number or the exchange office code as is usually the case.

It is the holiday season right now with Hari Raya coming up and the local postal offices are no doubt inundated with packages and greeting cards. I just hope my letter doesn't get lost in the flood.

Ah well. It's only been 12 days and since airmail letters to the US generally take between 12 and 21 days to arrive, I suppose I shouldn't push the big red Emergency button just yet.

Link  | 

6:15 PM - Wha-? Oh.

Aftenposten reports:

Dutch fighter pilots taking part in military exercises over Norway accidentally dropped a bomb close to an observation cabin housing three persons Thursday. Luckily, the bomb didn't detonate when it hit the ground.

...

"I don't have any advance opinions about what happened, but the two pilots in the F16 jet are experienced with lots of theory and flying hours in their baggage," said military spokesperson Grethe Skundberg.

Why were the two pilots assigned an F-16 if they were mainly experienced flying in their baggage?

Oh, wait.

(Link obtained from Dave Barry's Blog.)

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Monday, November 17, 2003

10:50 PM - Spurious realities

Confession: I don't pay as much attention to world events as I should.

Case in point: I'm embarrassed to say I only discovered the astonishing events surrounding the 2002 Venezuelan coup after reading an Ebert review of a documentary about it.

What's particularly striking about the event was the way public perception was manipulated by the media not just in Venezuela but outside the country as well.

And this spinning, prevarication and censoring is still occuring to this day. Having read more than a dozen articles, I'm still not sure what exactly went on there.

Of this, at least, there is no doubt:

  • April 11 More than 10 are killed during demonstrations. The military demands President Hugo Chávez resign.

  • April 12 Chávez is held under military custody.

  • April 14 Chávez is reinstated.

But beyond that, things get obscure.

There are a number of MeFi pages (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) devoted to the story with loads of links to sift through and I'm fully confident you'll be just as befuddled as I am after digesting them all.

As BBC correspondent Nick Higham noted:

... there is nowhere ordinary Venezuelans (or visiting foreign journalists, for that matter) can turn for reliable, impartial coverage of affairs.

That reminds me of a Philip K. Dick quote :

... today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. We are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.

I suppose it's only fitting that I got that quote from a faux-interview done posthumously.

Link  | 

Sunday, November 16, 2003

8:51 PM - "Master of many voices"

There's a fascinating interview with Frank Welker on Animation World Magazine. Welker, for the uninformed, was the voice of Megatron and Soundwave on the original Transformers show but the man's probably better known for his ability to mimic animal noises.

See, that's the difference talent makes. You make animal noises and you're labelled an idiot. He makes animal noises and he's paid well and hailed as a legend.

But even talented legends get stumped:

When Frank Welker was asked to mimic sheep for the movie Mafia!, he thought there would be no difficulty. After all, for the past three decades, he's made a living out of mimicking cats, dogs, monkeys, ducks, parrots, cows, pigs -- even gremlins and dinosaurs. So sheep noises? No problem.

Except the producers of Mafia! had a peculiar twist in mind: "They're like mad dogs -- but they're sheep."

Puzzled, Welker asked, "They're mad sheep dogs?"

"No, no. They're mad sheep that are like dogs. Why don't we try having a sheep growl, like mad dogs?"

Welker thought, "OK," and proceeded to record his "dialogue."

Welker also provides this interesting anecdote: Fred Flintstone's famous "Yabba-Dabba-Doo," one of the most memorable phrases in animation, was actually an ad-lib by the voice actor, Alan Reed.

Link  | 

Saturday, November 15, 2003

5:06 PM - Eye say

Kids, listen to Mama when she tells you not to run with scissors.

Link  | 

11:51 AM - The difference

Want to check out just how complex the transformation for the 20th anniversary Optimus Prime (a.k.a Masterpiece Convoy) is going to be? The Allspark has links to 22 pictures from a Hong Kong toy fan who has the Hasbro version.

Note that the Takara version won't have the "battle damage" paint job. However, at 9800 yen, the Takara version costs US$30 more than the Hasbro version and that's excluding freight and/or dealer mark-up.

Aside from the paint job, the two seem largely identical. The Hasbro version was supposed to have shorter smokestacks -- this picture shows a Hasbro version in robot mode and a Takara version in vehicle mode -- but a recent Hasbro FAQ stated this may be changed.

I cancelled my Masterpiece Convoy pre-order with HLJ after the BT Smokescreen snafu and I don't think I'll be getting a Masterpiece Convoy until I've read some reviews. This is a dream figure for me but it's much too expensive to take a chance on. I'd like some assurances the figure's free of any QC issues before paying crazy money for it.

(Links obtained from Transfandom.com and the Allspark.)

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11:44 AM - Names

The BBC reports:

Americans are increasingly turning to the world of popular culture to name their children, a study has found.

Children have been named after big brands as diverse as beauty company L'Oreal, car firm Chevrolet and designer clothes company Armani.

There are even two little boys, one in Michigan and one in Texas, called ESPN after the sports channel.

"ESPN"? Jeez. But it could have been worse, I guess. For instance:

  • Animal Planet s/o Muthusamy

  • Wah Lah Toi bin Abdullah

  • Nickelodeon Wong

  • SuperSport Singh

  • National Geographic Poopalasingam

It's one thing for someone to name themselves after something in pop culture -- Hello, Mr. Optimus Prime -- but I don't think it's appropriate for parents to force a pop cultural reference upon their kids by naming them after one.

Think of the hell the kids are going to go through in school when their classmates start name-calling.

Disclosure: I did once attempt to convince a classmate that "Ammonia" would make an excellent name for his future daughter but I wasn't being serious.

(Link obtained from Die Puny Humans.)

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Friday, November 14, 2003

8:40 PM - Again with the silhouettes

Takara has removed the pictures of the upcoming Microman Master Force figures for some reason and replaced them with silhouettes. I don't get it. What's with Takara and silhouettes anyway? They want to show the figure but they don't want to show the figure.

Fortunately, Paul Lorphanpaibul has the pictures on his site.

Link  | 

Thursday, November 13, 2003

7:01 AM - Ohno Kojin

I managed to locate another interview with a Transformers designer. Kelvin Chan has a translation of an interview with Transformers designer Ohno Kojin which was originally published in the Transformers Generations book.

Some interesting bits:

  • Ohno was personally attached to the Diaclone Car Robot line and was initially reluctant to see it give way to Transformers in 1985. He changed his mind when he saw the first Transformers images sent over from the US.

  • The title for the Japanese version of Transformers was tentatively "Henshin Sentai Transformers" and later amended to "Tatakai! Chou Robotto Seimeitai Transformer!"

  • He considers Blitzwing and Astrotrain his favourite creations.

  • The Headmasters were apparently an attempt to answer the question, "What if Koutetsu Jeeg could be adapted as a Transformer?" This makes little sense to me. The Headmasters were interchangeable in the sense the heads (a.k.a. Nebulans in Hasbro-speak) could be used for the any of the robots but this came nowhere near the levels of interchangeability possible with Jeeg and Panzeroid.

  • The Pretenders were conceived by Hasbro and Takara's engineers were initially stumped as to how to turn the humans-transform-into-robots concept into toys.

Link  | 

6:58 AM - Microforced

Newsflash: Microforce NinjaMicroman suffered serious injuries during one of his dangerous missions to save his owner from boredom. Tragically, his right leg was severed at the hip and despite their best attempts, surgeons had no success in reattaching the limb.

Yes, I broke my NinjaMicroman figure yesterday. This was pretty heartbreaking since he's one of my favourite action figures.

Big tip for you Microforce owners out there: Be very careful when manipulating the hip joints especially when putting the figure in extreme poses. The posts that attach to those hip ball joints aren't terribly sturdy.

I'll probably get another Microforce figure (or a Material Force figure) for parts and perform some hip surgery to get NinjaMicroman back in action.

Let's hope the upcoming Master Force figures are hardier.

I hate it when my action figures break.

Link  | 

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

11:57 PM - Master Force pix up

Pix (1, 2) for the upcoming Microforce figures are up on Takara's e-Hobby site. The good news is the assortment will include Acroyear figures but personally, the best of the lot look to be Skymaster and Automaster and those are the ones I'm going to pre-order.

(Link obtained from the Micropolis Embassy.)

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10:11 PM - Tetsuya Aoki

"There will be robot toys as long as there are children."

I managed to find two articles about another Transformers designer, Tetsuya Aoki. Sequential Tart and A Fan's View talked to him and discuss his work as a toy designer.

Some interesting bits:

  • Aoki had no interest in toys and didn't even realise there were toy designers until he got the job.

  • As toy cum character designer, Aoki comes up with the style, gimmicks and powers.

  • Aoki didn't work for Takara directly. Rather, he worked for a design firm that was hired by Takara to work on Transformers.

  • Designing a transforming robot toy is akin to solving a puzzle.

  • He says it typically takes two months to make a workable toy. (I think that's just the toy design phase, though. According to a 1998 interview with former Beast Wars design manager George Boznos, the production process for an average figure typically takes a year. A recent interview with Hasbro marketing director Michelle Fields reveals they've managed to cut the design-to-production time by as much as 50 per cent.)

  • Like Akitaka Mika, Aoki points out only a few of his designs were ever produced as toys. Hasbro designer Aaron Archer, on the other hand, says the kill ratio for Hasbro is 0 per cent with the only exception being the Transtech line.

  • Aoki's favourite Transformer was none other than Convoy (a.k.a Optimus Prime).

  • Another article notes he reserved the colour purple for the evil faction leaders because "it's not seen as a heroic color."

  • He also designed all the heroes and villains for Kamen Rider Kuuga.

Link  | 

Monday, November 10, 2003

10:50 PM - Ureshii

From the Japan Times:

For Gopalakrishnan Venkataraman, his work is his passion. Newly appointed as regional director, East Asia, of Indiatourism, he could hardly be a happier man.

Take a long hard look at the man's picture then consider the sentence "he could hardly be a happier man."

Link  | 

10:45 PM - Microman Master Force

HLJ has a listing for Microman Master Force in its computer. There are 8 figures, each retailing for 1280 yen, and they are expected out in March 2004.

There were also eight silhouettes in the teaser picture in that Microman 2004 interview and I don't think it's that much of a stretch to say these are the same figures.

Hopefully, Takara will release some pictures and HLJ will accept pre-orders soon.

Link  | 

12:29 AM - Devils get lucky

United were fortunate to run out 2-1 winners at Anfield earlier. And I was unfortunate enough to miss 30 minutes of the match after I lost the satellite signal because of rain.

What I did manage to see didn't impress me too much. I was especially alarmed by the way United were reeling after Kewell got the Liverpool goal in the 76th minute. United were still 2-1 up at that point thanks to a brace of fortunate goals by Giggs but Liverpool could have easily taken three points.

The Reds were only foiled because of a wrong refereeing decision, Silvestre's last-ditch tackle and Heskey slipping at a crucial moment. The young Liverpool sub, Sinama-Pongolle, caused the United defence a lot of problems and you just have to wonder what would've happened had Houllier played him from the start.

Still, United got the three points and one suspects Ferguson won't mind the nature of the victory because he seems to take special pleasure in beating Liverpool.

After all, when asked what his greatest achievement was, the Scotsman is said to have replied:

My biggest challenge was knocking Liverpool off their f***ing perch.

Link  | 

Saturday, November 08, 2003

10:29 PM - The Morrowind Journals

On my way to Vas, north of Vvardenfell, I came across a beast of the likes I had not seen before. A deadly struggle ensued and I have no shame in admitting I feared I had not the skills to best it. But the gods smiled down upon me and I persevered and its body eventually lay broken before me.

I know not why the beast assailed me. Was it protecting its territory? Or did it perhaps seek to make a meal of me? Perhaps it had a brood of young in a nest somewhere which it sought to feed. Perhaps its young still wait wailing for their lost parent to return.

My pride in vanquishing the creature gave way to sadness as I looked upon the body. Its large, fleshy body ...

Hmm, I wonder what it tastes like.

Later whilst on the same journey, I spied this wondrous creature off the east coast. It floated in the air with no visible means to support its impressive mass and it moved with an ethereal grace that belied its size. It was truly a beautiful, moving sight ...

I bet it tastes really good.

I'm starting to really get into Morrowind now. I had an absolute blast exploring the island as I made my way to Vas to do a job for my guild. I was supposed to aid someone as she took out a necromancer. No problem.

Unfortunately, the directions given to me were sorely lacking. I was told I could get to Vas by taking a ship from Tel Mora to Dagon Fell, the island next to Vas. I was thankful my contact at the guild was kind enough to mark the location of Vas on my map. However, he did not mark the location of Tel Mora and while my handy Guide to Vvardenfell did mention the wizard tower, I had little clue as to how I should get to it.

In the end, I opted to use the silt strider services all the way to Maar Gaan and then walked and swam the rest of the way. It was an arduous journey but one filled with some amazing sights.

Link  | 

Friday, November 07, 2003

10:29 PM - Shake those heads

The powers that be are once again attempting to make Malaysians look like idiots who are incapable of differentiating fact from fantasy and are easily influenced by everything they read and see.

The Star reports:

The Government will no longer approve applications to import and publish reading material that contains elements “calculated to entertain by frightening.”

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung said the books that would fall within the definitions of mystery, mysticism, fantasy (khayalan), occultism (khurafat) and superstition (tahyul) were those which were “ghostly” and “touched on the supernatural.”

“These materials will create an unhealthy picture on the minds of the readers, and influence them by such far-fetched ghostly stories,” he said.

What's amazing is that this was coming from the same Cabinet member who earlier said:

The current generation of Malaysians should not be underestimated as not being able to tell the difference between comedy and serious issues ...

So, apparently Malaysians are capable of differentiating between comedy and serious issues but apparently not capable of telling the difference between horror fiction and reality.

But it gets better when the Deputy Home Minister attempts to clarify the decision. From another report:

Horror books which have educational value and those which “do not give children nightmares” will not be barred from being imported and published.

This means that books by horror guru Stephen King and Anne Rice as well as children’s favourites such as the Goosebumps series and Harry Potter would not be affected by the decision.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung said, however, applications to import and publish reading materials which “entertain by frightening” would be vetted on a case-by-case basis at the ministry’s discretion.

So, according to the Deputy Home Minister, horror books written by authors like Stephen King, who aren't banned, have some sort of educational value.

Which is true when I think about it.

What I've learned from Stephen King:

  • If you're going to get a dog, get a chihuahua. That way, if it turns rabid, you can always just kick its ass.

  • Before getting a used car, check for demonic possession. That sort of thing can cause complications.

  • Stay away from clowns.

  • Stay away from Maine.

  • Stay away from fangirls.

  • Don't upset classmates with telekinetic powers.

The really scary part about all this is that you just know the authorities are going to come up with another ban in the near future that's going to be even more ludicrous.

Link  | 

Thursday, November 06, 2003

8:07 PM - A Warrant reference

If I ever end up dirty rotten filthy stinking rich, remind me to never deposit the money in Public Bank.

I went to said bank today because I wanted to remit funds to the US in the form an international bank draft.

I had taken advantage of HLJ's sales and ordered a Microman M114 figure (marked down 30%) and a Hyper Police Robo set (marked down 70%). I saved 2260 yen and that savings will now go into my Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich Investment Fund which currently stands at, let me see, 2260 yen.

Anyway, I headed over to Public Bank, stood in line to get a bank draft form, filled it out and then waited. When my number was called, I went over to the counter, handed over the form and after a consultation involving four bank personnel, I was told Public Bank no longer makes out international bank drafts for less than US$50.

Wonderful. Simply wonderful.

Fortunately, Maybank has no such policy and I managed to make out the bank draft without any hassle. Maybank gets my business in the future.

If all goes well, I should get a package from HLJ in the second week of December at the latest.

Link  | 

8:03 PM - Spidey

Let's say you're an artist slash character designer. When you look at a character like Spider-Man, what would you say he was lacking? I mean, he's got the proportionate strength of a spider, has spider sense to warn him of impending danger, can spin a web and has a colourful costume with a spider motif he sewed himself.

But what's lacking? What could you do to take Spider-Man to the next level?

McNabb Studios thought they knew the answer and I laughed my ass off when I saw it.

(Incidentally, if you know where I can get a prosthetic ass, please let me know. Sitting down is very uncomfortable for me at the moment.)

Link  | 

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

8:24 PM - Grr

This was inspired by my frustration with Morrowind's instability.

The game's much more stable now, though. I've had a couple of crash-to-desktops but I'm reasonably certain they were due to my repeatedly reloading a save game.

I can't believe the solution to my Morrowind woes was as simple as removing the side cover of the computer casing but it really seems to have made the biggest difference. I now remove the side cover every time I start a gaming session.

That's not to say the game isn't frustrating now. But the frustration now is due to gameplay rather than technical issues.

Remember how I said the game rewards exploration? Well, it does. You'll end up frustrated if you tear about helter-skelter trying to complete quests as soon as possible because you'll miss out on stuff. Take your foot off the accelerator and you'll find yourself rewarded with new areas and new solutions to problems.

Link  | 

7:06 PM - Their finest hour

United embarrassed Glasgow Rangers at Old Trafford and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners (pix) in their fourth Champions League Group E match.

Forlan scored with a stunning volley in the 6th minute to set United on their way. Expect to see that goal -- his fourth goal in as many matches -- in the "best goals of the Champions League" review.

Van Nistelrooy got the second just before the break thanks to a fortuitous rebound after Forlan hit the crossbar with another difficult volley.

If there was an element of luck about van Nistelrooy's first goal, there was none about the second which was all about the Dutch Master's predatory instinct. He darted in and turned in a Giggs freekick to effectively end the match as a contest. The Battle of Britain had only gone on for 60 minutes.

Ferguson was effusive in his praise for Keane in a post-match interview and one can understand why. The United captain was everywhere and provided support to Giggs and Ronaldo who were absolutely rampant.

But Keane was only able to get forward because he could be confident Phil Neville would be there behind him to save the situation should offence turn into defence quickly.

United have had to ride their luck to eke out some unconvincing victories when they weren't playing well this season but it looks like the team is starting to rediscover its form. It's a good thing, too. United play a resurgent Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday and losing is never an option when playing against the auld enemy.

Let's see if Keane can show that young upstart Gerrard who's boss in the centre of the field.

Link  | 

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

6:03 PM - Akitaka Mika

I managed to find this nifty interview with Akitaka Mika on EX magazine. Akitaka is a designer who's worked on numerous anime series. He's also the creator of Galaxy Fraulein Yuna.

Whatever that happens to be.

As far as I'm concerned the main point of interest in the interview was the fact Akitaka once worked as a Transformers designer.

The relevant quotes:

A lot of fans may not know this, and I am not credited for it, but I did a lot of designs for TRANSFORMER toys. I was a toy designer at Takara and Bandai.

...

I did a lot of designs that were never implemented. One of the ones I did that got used was Predaking.

...

You know how there's a lion head on his chest? Well, in Japan at the same time as Predaking came out, there was a robot toy called Dartanius with a lion head on its chest that was manufactured by Bandai. When Predaking came out, Bandai said, "You stole our idea" and Takara got sued. So Bandai was looking for the designer and after they found me, they took me into their offices and offered me a job. I worked at Bandai for about a year.

I got the job at Bandai because the sales of Predaking, especially in America, were very high. As a result of these phenomenal sales, Bandai was looking for the designer. While at Bandai, I worked on some other robot toys, including Machine Robo.

As for Transformers, Predaking was the only one I did that made it to an actual product. When the movie was being worked on and even after, I kept submitting designs, but none were ever acted upon. I came up with this one idea that was a skyscraper that transformed into a battle platform and then into a robot. They actually made a prototype of that one and it was this large (he gestures to the size of the table we were sitting at). So not surprisingly, they didn't make it because of cost concerns.

In the toy industry, you draw about a hundred designs, and out of those only one or two ever get picked to be used. It's a very rough business. So when comparing that kind of work to working on YUNA, where I can decide everything, working on my own is fun and easy.

I apologise for the extensive quoting I've done but this stuff needs to be archived because I have a feeling the EX magazine site will go down in the not-too-distant future since it hasn't been updated in ages. It would be a shame if this gets lost because there's far too little known about Japanese Transformers designers.

Link  | 

Sunday, November 02, 2003

9:03 PM - Pompey buried

United beat Portsmouth 3-0 at Old Trafford. Some thoughts:

  • Giggs had a great match and was at the heart of most of United's attacking moves.

  • Van Nistelrooy drew a blank once more. He hit the crossbar after manufacturing an opportunity out of nothing then uncharacteristically squandered a golden opportunity after being put in a one-on-one situation thanks to a superb through ball by Giggs. But it must be pointed out he isn't getting the supply he's used to.

  • Forlan scored for the third successive match. There was an element of good fortune about it since Portsmouth's defenders were slow to react -- perhaps they were expecting the Uruguayan to miss narrowly yet again -- but hey, they all count regardless of how they went in.

  • Wonderboy Ronaldo got his first goal for United when he whipped in a freekick from a seemingly innocuous position. The kid's got a lot of talent but it remains to be seen if he will develop into one of the true greats of the game. It also remains to be seen if United can hold on to him because I fully expect Real Madrid to come calling in the next few years. Figo's not getting any younger, you know.

  • Keane got a great goal with a superb finish after leaving his marker behind with a delightful turn in the box. That's his third goal this season and he really looks as if he's enjoying his football.

  • Fletcher played in a more central role towards the end of the game and was once again rather impressive. I'd like to see him play in that position for a full 90 minutes. But not in United's next two matches which are against Rangers and Liverpool.

Link  | 

8:14 PM - Microman 2004

More Microman 2004 news. There's another interview with designer Abiko Kazutami on Takara Hobby with more tidbits about the next Microman line.

It's pretty much at the preliminary design stage but there are some teaser pix. The best of the lot shows silhouettes of a sleek futuristic bike, figures decked out with some wild accessories and intriguing-looking wing packs. One of them looks inspired by a Micronauts Galactic Defender (or perhaps a Hoodman).

From all indications, the Microman designers are working closely together with the marketing team to produce something worthy of Microman's 30th anniversary next year.

There's also an interim release dubbed version 1.5. (I wonder if these are the ones in the Microman Master Force pictures?) There's some ambiguity in the translation:

Since the entire new hero towards the 30th anniversary of what [untranslated] micro man birth is aimed at Public presentation should still show [untranslated] and the planning file of a version 1.5 which are not made ...!! (A file is extended on a desk)

Does that mean the version 1.5 figures were cancelled to let the designers concentrate on the 30th anniversary line or does "which are not made" refer to the fact the 1.5 figures are still being designed and haven't been released yet?

If the translation is right, upcoming figures will include stands that are compatible with older Microman figures. I'm not too clear about what the designer means by older, though. The classic Microman figures had 5mm ports on their feet whereas the new Microforce figures have 2.5mm ports (as do the LED Powers figures produced in 2000). Will Microman 2004 feature re-designed feet which incorporate 5mm ports? I hope so.

The 5mm peg/port system is one of the niftiest aspects of Takara action figures and I'm mystified why the company hasn't promoted it well. The interchangeability with other Takara lines just increases the play value.

Since the next Transfomers line, Transformers Energon, will also feature 5mm pegs and ports, why not emphasise the interchangeability between the two lines?

Diamond importing

In related news, Felix Lu has some interesting insights about Diamond's importing of Japanese toys:

Diamond is able to get low, low prices from the manufacturer because they normally buy overstock. That's why there is no concurrent release in the US. Diamond does not get the goods until much later than the Japanese release date.This allows the manufacturer to dump whatever unsold product they have through Diamond. Nothing kills a business like unsold merchandise. This is why so many import toys solicited through Diamond in the past never made it to the US...they had already sold out in Japan.

The MicroForce figures were solicited through Diamond and then sold 2 months after the Japanese release date. That's an uncommonly small window and suggests that Takara did not sell overstock (as they had with previous Diamond releases of their Microman reissues and Henshin Cyborg line). It appears they set aside Diamond's order since MicroForce sold out in Japan. Only time will tell if this happens with future releases. If it does, it's great news for US collectors.

He should know what he's talking about since he helped Diamond set up their importing business.

Link  | 

4:34 AM - Wha-? Oh.

Recent Guardian headline:

Doctors turn on each other as MMR debate rages again

It turns out the story wasn't about physicians getting aroused while arguing about Mighty Morphin' Rangers.

How terribly disappointing.

Link  | 

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