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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

10:43 PM - "WTF"

A superstar.

Two fans.

A quirky sign.

A movie? No, just a blog entry that brought a smile to my face. I was especially impressed by the fact the man took time out to speak to the two women and reward their faith and determination. It was a nice gesture.

Link  | 

5:06 PM - Kick

Kamen Rider 555 episodes are out on VCD locally. I spotted a VCD containing episodes 37 through 40 selling for less than RM15.

The episodes are apparently in the original Japanese language with subtitles in English and Chinese. Since the VCD format doesn't allow subtitles to be switched on or off, I'm assuming the subtitles for both languages will be displayed onscreen simultaneously. Bleagh.

I'm sticking with TV-Nihon fansubs for the time being -- episode 37 has just been released -- but I intend to get the DVD boxset when the series is complete.

Link  | 

Monday, December 29, 2003

5:43 PM - MRM out

Yone has a review of the first three Machine Robo Mugenbine sets and it's a favourable one. Some notes:

  • The core robots, which have decent articulation, are identical except for the head sculpt and colours. They transform into large blocks which bristle with pegs and ports. The MRM gattai possibilities are much better compared to MRR.

  • MRM has an alphabet motif going on. AirLeon's core robot has an "A" on the side of his helmet, BuildGiraffe's core robot has a "B" and CarryEagle's core robot has a "C". (The upcoming Dig Kong and Evolinos will be "D" and "E.")

  • I hadn't realised the MRM series combined to form a gestalt and judging from that gestalt robot head piece, it's gattai by design and not a fan-made creation.

Looking at MRM, I can't help thinking it's time for Takara to dust off the vastly underrated Blockman line and reissue the figures.

Replace the die-cast chest pieces with plastic to lower the cost, sell the Blockman figures in 300 to 500 yen booster packs (bundled with randomised accessories), promote the interchangeability with Microman Masterforce and Transformers Super Link in the hobby magazines and Takara will most likely have a hit.

Well, a toy fan can dream, can't he?

Link  | 

5:35 PM - Dull but it's three

United beat Middlesbrough 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium.

Ferguson restored most of the big guns to the starting eleven but the match was pretty tedious to sit through. There weren't that many chances and very few shots on target.

United got the solitary goal of the match when Fortune's shot took a massive deflection off Danny Mills's hip.

United could have doubled their lead in the second half when Scholes slammed goalward a shot that had goal-of-the-week written all over it but Schwarzer made an improbable save.

I think the most notable thing about the match was the inconsistency of the referee. Fletcher was sent off after earning two yellow cards for really soft fouls while there were tougher challenges in the match that went unpunished.

United can take heart from the way they defended stoutly with only 10 men for almost 30 minutes but it must be said Middlesbrough never really looked like scoring.

Link  | 

Sunday, December 28, 2003

6:08 PM - King's cup

Don King jazzes up the FA Cup:

I overheard some English folk talkin' about this FA Cup you have.

I'll be straight with you people now - it didn't sound like much.

I mean, where's the capacity for dollaricity? The psychology of monopoly? The philosophy of champology?

What's needed is a little bit of the King magic, 'cos this is showbiz baby!

"Capacity for dollaricity." That's it. My next NWN player character is going to talk like that. And I shall name him ... Gniknod. Yes, Gniknod the Half-Orc Fighter Promoter. He shall promote and make famous fighters of the realm.

For a substantial fee, of course.

Link  | 

6:03 PM - Turning Japanese

"If it's Japanese, the world wants it. Japan is hot."

From a Washington Post article by Anthony Faiola:

Even as this country of 127 million has lost its status as a global economic superpower and the national confidence has been sapped by a 13-year economic slump, Japan is reinventing itself -- this time as the coolest nation on Earth.

This has important economic ramifications:

Revenue from royalties and sales of music, video games, anime, art, films and fashion soared to $12.5 billion in 2002, up 300 percent from 1992. During the same period, Japanese exports overall increased by only 15 percent. Its cultural exports are now worth three and a half times the value of all the televisions this nation exported in 2002, according to a report by the research arm of the trade conglomerate Marubeni.

You might think the Japanese language would be a barrier but not necessarily so. There's always subbing and dubbing but more interestingly, the article notes:

A record 3 million people around the world are now studying the Japanese language, compared with only 127,000 in 1997, according to the Japan Foundation and Tokyo's Marubeni Research Institute.

Link  | 

Saturday, December 27, 2003

9:54 PM - Ah, NPCs

I had another good session on the Internode NWN server earlier. I had a scare when the PC spontaneously rebooted itself after five minutes of play but that was only because I had neglected to remove the side cover of the overheating systems unit. It was otherwise a smooth session.

The module the Internode server runs includes an option to hire NPCs for the party. One of our party decided to bring one along and this was a schizophrenic but chuckle-licious excerpt of the NPC's dialogue during a battle with Fire Beetles:

Abigail: Do you even know what you face?

Abigail: You have chosen pain!

Abigail: , look kindly upon your servant!

Abigail: Help! I can't heal myself!

Abigail: By the name of God, you shall perish!

Abigail: Help! I can't heal myself!

Abigail: It does not please me to crush you like this.

Abigail: Help! I can't heal myself!

One strange note: the Internode's ping rates have almost doubled on me and they're now in the 280 to 380 range. Was it due to TM Net's upgrading exercise? The flip side of that is the Palladium server is now less than 500 whereas it was above 1000 previously. I'll monitor Palladium and give it a whirl if the ping rates remain favourable.

Link  | 

9:45 PM - Guessing game

From a previous entry:

Obtaining licenses was tough. Takara tried to obtain permission from an unnamed German sports car manufacturer -- was it BMW? -- as well as an American company but failed after producing prototypes.

Someone pointed out that unnamed German manufacturer might have been Porsche and I think that's more likely. Jazz was a Porsche 935 Turbo and it's possible Takara wanted to use a current model Porsche as a basis for Jazz's Binaltech alt form.

Would Takara be betraying any NDAs or confidentiality agreements by publishing the blueprints for the prototype? I certainly would like to see what sort of robot design Takara would have come up with.

Link  | 

9:43 PM - Quirky Japan

Ed Jacob and Doug Breath put a Japanese spin on a popular movie:

As the evil power of the dark lord Sauron looms over Middle-Earth, it is discovered that in a land called Japan, a ring has been discovered whose destruction would allow the forces of good to defeat the evil necromancer. The wizard Gandalf rushes to the isolated land, and urges the Japanese hobbits to leave their homeland and help him destroy the ring. The hobbits, however, just decide to ignore the problem and hope that it will go away, as they do not trust the outsider Gandalf.

Be sure to check out the rest of the Quirky Japan site.

Link  | 

9:32 PM - Still numero uno

United beat Everton 3-2 at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

(Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is celebrated in England by watching -- as you might have surmised from the name -- football.)

Ferguson, mindful of the fact United would be playing again two days later, made wholesale changes to the side. Both the forward and midfield units had a League Cup look about them.

Forlan started up front with Kleberson playing in the hole behind him. (That sounded dirty but I make no apologies for goofy football terminology.) Ronaldo replaced Giggs on the left flank and Bellion played on the right while Fortune and Butt anchored the midfield.

These players may have rarely played together but United started strongly and were soon stringing together passes and threatening the Everton goal.

It took less than 8 minutes for Nicky Butt to get the first goal which he did with a superb half-volley from just outside the box.

Gary Neville, captain for the day, perhaps stung by the fact Butt had scored a rare goal, decided to get one of his own and put one in the back of the net with a superbly-placed header. Unfortunately, it was an own-goal.

Neville made amends just before half-time with a cross that led to a goal courtesy of Kleberson's head. This was celebrated with a samba dance routine which the Brazilian must have been itching to show off.

Bellion made it three in the second half with a close range effort after some fancy footwork from the Portuguese trickster, Ronaldo.

Duncan Ferguson got a goal with a diving header after some sloppy defending by United but the Red Devils hung on for a Boxing Day victory.

There's some bad news, however. United had to replace O'Shea and Silvestre because of injuries and it looks as if neither will be fit to play on Sunday. Gary Neville deputised for Silvestre at centreback but wasn't particularly convincing.

United are running out of options for the centreback position and to further complicate matters, Ferdinand might not be playing for much longer. Is it time to bring out the chequebook? Or will Ferguson gamble by making do with Wes Brown and resorting to Keane and Gary Neville if required?

I think the latter scenario is more likely. Silvestre should return to the starting line-up soon and he should form a formidable partnership with Brown once Ferdinand starts his ban.

Link  | 

Friday, December 26, 2003

7:04 PM - Social gaming

Excerpts from today's MP NWN session on the Internode Drow Wars server:

Kalynor Imytheren: You're a huge bastard aren't you

Moricho Marrina: That I am.

Moricho Marrina: *grins*

Moricho Marrina: Take after my mamma!

Moricho Marrina: Although she had more hair ...

Kalynor Imytheren: Damn straight she did

*after putting down a Hook Horror*

Moricho Marrina: Ugly bugger.

Kalynor Imytheren: What an ugly creature

Moricho Marrina: *kicks at carcass*

Kalynor Imytheren: Hmmm

Moricho Marrina: Reminds me of me sister.

Kalynor Imytheren: Then I pray you never introduce us

Moricho Marrina: She's not so bad once you get past the beard.

Kalynor Imytheren: Is she as big as you?

Moricho Marrina: No.

Kalynor Imytheren: Bigger?

Moricho Marrina: Still bigger 'n' you.

Kalynor Imytheren: We can't all be overweight

*standing over defeated Zombie*

Moricho Marrina: This one smells like her though.

Kalynor Imytheren: Charming

Shannon Appelcline has an interesting article about social gaming and personally, social gaming is probably the main reason why I enjoy online games.

I don't feel the need to go online to get some competition. The AI in today's games isn't exactly going to pass the Turing test but it's good enough to offer a challenge especially when it's given advantages.

However, with the quality of game writing seemingly at an all-time low -- where have all the memorable NPCs gone? -- you're better off going online and hooking up with fellow gamers if you're looking for a fun time.

Oh sure, online gaming can get pretty bad -- the NWN session above included a player whose PC only spoke in voice emotes and L33t-speak -- but some of my all-time favourite gaming moments occured while I was playing online.

Link  | 

6:55 PM - For God's sake

AFP reports:

The annual International Religious Freedom Report issued by the US State Department listed Malaysia alongside Turkey, Russia, Indonesia, Brunei, Belarus, Eritrea, Moldova and Israel as among nine countries with laws or policies that favoured certain religions and placed others at a disadvantage.

The report, released last week to widespread criticism anger from criticised nations, said such policies curtailed religious freedom, citing for example the difficulty of a Muslim in Malaysia to switch religion.

As can be expected, the report has ruffled a few feathers here in Malaysia. I note, however, nobody here has actually managed to refute or even address the criticism "Muslims who wish to convert from Islam face severe obstacles."

All things considered, though, I feel Malaysians should be thankful if the biggest religious problem Malaysia has is that Muslims find it difficult -- difficult, mind you, not completely impossible -- to switch religions.

Imagine living in a country where you're treated with suspicion or even harassed because of your ethnicity or religion.

Link  | 

6:50 PM - Up to speed

I haven't had to resort to a remote proxy today so I think it's fair to say Streamyx is back to normal now.

Comically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, TM Net personnel are unaware things are back to normal.

This is practically sitcom material.

Link  | 

6:45 PM - Kiseki o okose

For Sanctuary.

For Athena.

For Saori.

Pegasus Saint Seiya.

Link  | 

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

7:20 PM - Synchronicity

Transformers makes the news again. This time it was for an NYT article entitled "Japanese Toy Makers Ride a Wave of Nostalgia." Some excerpts:

Though sales at Bandai, Takara and Tomy grew in the six-month period that ended in September, the companies are pushing into the American market to offset slower growth in Japan, where the number of school-age children continues to decline.

...

About half of all Japanese toy exports go to North America, where 45 percent of all toys worldwide are sold.

...

In the last two decades, Takara has churned out an amazing 800 or so Transformers

...

"In the 1980's, when we first introduced Transformers in America, kids were interested in the toys as a puzzle," said Hideaki Yoke, a general manager in the boys' research division at Takara's headquarters in Tokyo. "But after 20 years, they're not only interested in the puzzles, but the characters, too."

...

In January, Takara will release limited-edition versions of a mainstay product, Optimus Pride, for $79.99 in the United States, $30 more than the largest Transformers from the regular line.

"Optimus Pride"?

Well, that's just "Prime".

Link  | 

6:07 PM - Gransazer

Another entry about the Toho/Konami show, Chouseishin Gransazer. I'm going to discuss specifics so scream shrilly and run away if you fear spoilers. But before that ...

Chicken or the egg

I assumed the Toho show was based on Konami's toy line but it appears the reverse is true. From a Konami press release:

Konami has acquired exclusive toy merchandising rights to the Gransazers, a new superhero TV series by Japanese film company Toho Co. Ltd. that started airing on October 4, 2003.

...

With the release of the Gransazers product line, we will make our full-scale entry into the boys' character toy market, which is said to total 61.5 billion yen, while making it our new business focus.

The background

In a previous age, there existed on Earth a technologically-advanced civilization with incredible powers and creations. It was wiped out in a war with aliens but its legacy still lives on in the Gransazers, guardians of Earth, and their giant transforming robots, the chouseishin.

Now the powers of the Gransazers are awakening in 12 humans and they are only ones standing in the way of humanity's utter destruction at the hands of the returning alien menace.

The four tribes

The 12 Gransazers are divided into tribes of three each with each tribe representing an element. We've seen the Wind, Flame and Earth tribes so far and the Water tribe should be making its debut soon.

The Gransazers are colour-coded making it easier to identify their tribal affiliation. In addition, each tribe has its own animal motif. The Flame tribe is bird-based, the Wind tribe is insect-based, the Earth tribe is mammal-based and the upcoming Water tribe will undoubtedly be fish-based.

Chouseishin

Each tribe has a giant transforming robot, a chouseishin, at its disposal. However, the chouseishin can only be activated and called to battle when all three members of a tribe are present.

One of the tribe members (typically the tribe leader) enters the chouseishin but only after posing and spouting the catchphrase. The massive war machines may be further enhanced with the pilot's Sazer Gear (a fancy description for helmet and weaponry) and unsurprisingly, this requires another pose and catchphrase.

(There's a lot of posing and catchphrase-spouting in the show. Fortunately, I love that sort of thing.)

Hail Sazers

Rather than describe the characters individually, I'll just direct you to TV-Nihon's Gransazer page.

Toho/Konami were quite creative with the names and symbols. I don't pay much attention to astrology so I was surprised to discover the glyphs for the individual Sazers were in fact signs of the Zodiac. Each Gransazer is based on a constellation of the Zodiac and additionally, has an animal totem which is usually reflected in the helmet design and special attacks. For instance, Sazer Tarious is the Sagittarius warrior and has a falcon totem with his special attack being "Burning Falcon." As befitting a warrior based on the Archer, Tarious wields a bow.

I'm not going to get into details but there are a lot of nifty references to discover. Anyone looking up the meanings of Gransazer names and references will learn (among other things) something about astrology, beetles, mythology and Japanese culture. If you're interested in this sort of thing, I urge you to check out Yugande's terrific post about the Gransazer nomenclature. (Be sure to remove the closing bracket at the end of the URLs for the links provided in the post.)

More on Gransazer in future entries.

Link  | 

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

10:04 PM - Hasten Net connection

Streamyx speeds are still subpar right now. There's a workaround, though.

Lowyat.net forum users have suggested using a remote proxy server to reduce load times for overseas sites. I tried it out and was stunned at the difference it made. It took me 30-plus seconds to load the SGcollect forums page without the remote proxy and a mere 3-plus seconds to load it with the remote proxy enabled.

The workaround is nice but it would be nicer if TM Net would get its thumb out and fix the problem. Apparently, the company initially suggested on its support lines the problem was due to viruses but it was claimed the problem was due to -- surprise, surprise -- ineptitude on TM Net's part.

Link  | 

7:49 PM - Just say no to "Yo, yo, yo"

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese people, their abilities and their accomplishments but I feel very strongly that the one thing they should never, never try to do is rap.

Seriously, no more J-pop and anime theme songs with rapping, please.

An example? "The people with no name," an energetic, urgent song, excerpts of which nicely complement the action scenes in the fantastic Kamen Rider 555 series, is almost ruined by the awful rapping section.

Link  | 

7:31 PM - In the news

Masterpiece Convoy made the papers. It was part of an article about presents for "men who just canít seem to grow up."

Granted, the figure was inaccurately named "20th Anniversary Masterpiece Optimus Prime" -- Hasbro's upcoming 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime differs from Takara's Masterpiece Convoy in that it will be cheaper and have some minor mould, paint and packaging differences -- and misleadingly described as "covered in full die-cast metal glory."

Still, it's not every day a Transformer makes the papers.

Link  | 

Monday, December 22, 2003

8:45 PM - Trailer

Wistfully wishing Masterpiece Convoy came with a real trailer instead of a cardboard substitute?

Sakio has a solution.

I just love the way he used Convoy to illustrate how it should be done.

Convoy: leader, warrior, handyman.

Link  | 

8:31 PM - Ho ho h- ... howl

It looks like TM Net is busy spreading its own brand of seasonal cheer around.

Of course, TM Net's brand of seasonal cheer can more accurately be described as "misery."

Streamyx isn't exactly flying right now. It's pretty much dependent on the location of the remote server, though. Some sites are okay while others plod. I tried NWNing on the Aussie server again but was put off by some massive lag hiccups.

Link  | 

8:06 PM - Spurs downed

United beat Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

The good news is unlike previous games, United didn't sit back for the first 20 minutes after the restart.

The bad news is they sat back 20 minutes after the restart.

United played superbly in the first half and got two goals courtesy of O'Shea and van Nistelrooy.

The Red Devils came out sufficiently strongly and confidently in the second half that they had most of the possession for the first 20 minutes. In fact, the players were so confident they were passing the ball around near their own penalty box. You'd have thought they were treating the match like a training session.

But then it got turned around after Kanoute, Konchesky and Dalmat combined to provide Poyet with a goal-scoring chance. Howard did very well to save the Uruguayan's shot but the ball rebounded off the post and into the net.

At this point, United's confident swagger disappeared and they looked less than assured on several occasions. Fortunately, Tottenham couldn't make the most of the momentum they had and United walked out winners.

The result meant United will remain at the top of the Premiership at Christmas. However, if I remember my Premiership trivia correctly, this may not be a good thing. If memory serves, no team that has topped the Premiership at Christmas has gone on to win the title in the same season.

Will United break the pattern?

Link  | 

6:33 PM - Paging Freud

Jeff Ooi:

Thumbs up ladies!

Should there be a comma in there somewhere or did the esteemed Mr. Ooi want to finger someone instead of assigning credit?

(As he would put it, read this for context.)

Link  | 

Sunday, December 21, 2003

5:42 PM - Kobayashi Hironori

Takara Hobby has an interview with Kobayashi Hironori, one of the designers on Takara's Transfomers team. (The Toybox BBS has a translation.)

Some revelations:

  • The sales for the Binaltech and Masterpiece Convoy figures were beyond expectation.

  • Obtaining licenses was tough. Takara tried to obtain permission from an unnamed German sports car manufacturer -- was it BMW? -- as well as an American company but failed after producing prototypes. Apparently, the car manufacturers were uncomfortable with the idea of having their cars being pulled apart during the transformation process. This difficulty might explain why Takara and Hasbro are going to milk the Binaltech licenses with at least two versions. Fortunately, judging from BT-03 Streak/Alternators Bluestreak, the companies aren't averse to making numerous (albeit minor) mould changes for the repaints.

  • Using blueprints of Binaltech Smokescreen, he talks about the design process which begins with designs of the vehicle mode, the robot mode and subsequently, the required parts. Astonishingly, the Transformers team has never had to produce a prototype specifically to test the transformation because it's always worked out in their heads.

  • The Masterpiece Convoy figure took three years to go from prototype to the final product. (In comparison, it typically takes less than a year to develop other Transformers figures.)

  • On a personal note, the 27-year-old Kobayashi has been a Transformers fan since he was 10. He joined Takara four years ago and his first Transformers design was Transformers Car Robot Speedbreaker, which he describes as a painful learning process for him.

We've seen a couple of interviews with Microman designers before but this is the first time Takara has put the spotlight on the Transformers designers.

More please!

Link  | 

Saturday, December 20, 2003

6:56 PM - Yes, that dull

The Star reports:

TV1 programmes will be available throughout Asia, Australia, Russia, the Middle East and most parts of Europe by early next year as the Cabinet has approved the lease of a satellite from a Chinese company at RM1.2mil per year, said Deputy Information Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai.

In other news, insomniacs throughout Asia, Australia, Russia, the Middle East and most parts of Europe were told a sure-fire cure would be made available by early next year.

Link  | 

Friday, December 19, 2003

8:32 PM - Sl-o-o-w

TM Net may not have bandwidth caps in place but the ISP doesn't need to resort to that to inconvenience its users. Streamyx performance has been shot to hell once again.

So much for multiplayer NWN.

Link  | 

5:18 PM - Exceed charge

There's an interesting thread on Slashdot about ISP bandwidth restrictions that place a cap on the amount of data users upload or download. To give one example, Australia's largest ISP, Telstra, has a 3GB per month cap (or 100MB per day) for its users.

Now 100MB per day might seem more than most folks would need but I can easily burn through that. An Xvid-encoded TV episode that's 23 minutes long is generally between 170MB to 230MB in size. I'm following five different weekly series through the 'Net at the moment so I'm pretty damned sure my monthly downloads exceed 3GB. And that's just fansubs.

Thankfully, TM Net, my ISP, has no bandwidth cap policy (that I'm aware of). Far from placing shackles on its users, the company is busy trying to get folks to switch to its ADSL service, Streamyx, and it's even offering incentives for Streamyx users to try a faster version of it.

But how long before the company decides to emulate ISPs in other countries in instituting upload/download amount caps?

I would hate to have to constantly keep an eye on the amount of data being downloaded/uploaded. Imagine having to spend time debating whether a particularly large file is worth downloading.

Link  | 

Thursday, December 18, 2003

10:20 PM - KORrection

I did some additional work on my last digi-doodle. I used Gonta's Water filter to create the background and did some additional work on the face and torso. It looks better now, I think.

Song to seek out: "Natsu no Miraaju" by Wada Kanako. It's the first ending theme to Kimagure Orange Road and one of my favourite anime themes.

Link  | 

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

8:21 PM - Chiisana kyojin

A digi-doodle of a Microman M114 Blacky. I got a repro of the figure along with a Machine Robo Rescue Hyper Police Robo set on Monday, some 17 days after HLJ posted them. I'll put up some reviews later but in brief, I'm delighted with the Microman and underwhelmed by the Hyper Police Robo.

Link  | 

7:12 PM - Going down

I've been thinking about getting the second NWN expansion, Hordes of the Underdark. Gamers.com.my has it for RM89 and that's a good deal considering the sheer amount of content included.

I'm putting off buying the expansion until one or two more patches stabilise it, though. This, of course, is assuming the upcoming patches won't produce new problems.

It takes a special effort -- almost a preternatural ability actually -- to produce the type of screw ups Atari and Bioware have with this series. The QA departments for these two companies must surely be every slacker's dream workplace.

I'm not even going to address the fact there's a show-stopping bug. What really gets me is that, in a mind-boggling oversight, owners of the HotU expansion were unable to play with other NWN players until the 1.60 patch was released. And when the 1.60 patch was released, NWN Gold owners discovered they were unable to play the game.

Like I said, it's almost a preternatural ability.

Anyway, while waiting for the patch(es), I've been playing the multiplayer game on a new Australian server entitled Internode NWN Drow Wars. The server's running the Nordock module. (Or as I like to call it, the Module of Frequent Death.) There does seem to be a faction-based storyline -- something about humans versus the Drow -- but I think it's possible to do your own thing without getting involved in the war.

The server ping rates, which are less than 200ms for me, are the lowest I've experienced while playing multiplayer NWN and aside from the occasional lag hiccup, I had no technical issues.

The playerbase is a bit of a mixed bag. (Bear in mind, though, I've only played two sessions on the server.) There were a couple of awful moments -- if I hear another in-character "lol" I swear l'll put my Barbarian in Rage mode -- but overall, I did enjoy my time on the server.

Hopefully, I'll meet up with some like-minded players and form a regular playing group.

Link  | 

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

7:03 PM - And I quote

Gary Neville:

We seem to have a problem winning games at Old Trafford. We get 2-0 up and then switch off in the first 20 minutes of the second-half. We have done it constantly over the years. I don't know what it is. Maybe we can be accused of becoming complacent. The manager thinks it's because we like to make him suffer.

Link  | 

7:01 PM - And I quote

Saddam Hussein:

If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?

Upon reading it, my first reaction: Eh?

Upon thinking it through, my reaction: Eh?

(Kids, this is why you shouldn't spend too much time hiding in holes in the ground.)

(Link obtained from Talking Points Memo.)

Link  | 

Monday, December 15, 2003

6:41 PM - "He scores goals ..."

Quick thinking with the deftest of deft touches.

An unsurpassed ability to get into goal-scoring positions.

A thunderous shot that makes him one of the deadliest players in and around the box.

Watch out, Paul Scholes is back.

The Ginger Prince announced his return to United's starting eleven with a brace in United's 3-1 victory over Manchester City (pix).

Link  | 

6:36 PM - Gotcha

Slashdot reader Munra:

It's official... Osama Bin Laden has been declared World Hide and Seek champion

Yep, US forces finally captured the would-be romance novelist. I'm glad the Ace of Spades is one ousted despot that won't be allowed to comfortably see out the end of his days.

Can someone now do something about Mugabe?

Link  | 

Saturday, December 13, 2003

7:49 PM - Pulp Friction

This year's winner of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award:

She is topping up your engine oil for the cross-country coming up. Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time...

She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing.

(The Guardian has thoughtfully provided the other nominated entries.)

As someone whose sex education came partly from my local library's collection of Eric Van Lustbader books, I'm all for well-written sex even if its educational purposes has been considerably reduced in the Internet Age.

But what would bad sex read like if it were written using an action figure metaphor? Hmm ...

Her joints -- tight, oh so tight! -- will soon loosen under your tender ministrations. You shudder in anticipation of that delicious moment when your launcher fires. But not now. Your fingers lovingly trace the letters of the tattoo on her lower back. M ... a .... d ... e ... i ... n ... C ... h ... i ... n ... a ...

(Link obtained from Arts & Letters Daily.)

Link  | 

Friday, December 12, 2003

6:39 PM - Masterpiece musings

super_convoy has the very first Masterpiece Convoy review (part 1, part 2). An excerpt:

If the BINAL-TECH series breathe an air of new life into the Transformers line, Masterpiece Convoy is perhaps the figure that will forever define the highest quality in a Transformer figure.

Unfortunately, the figure isn't flawless. The problems range from minor (silly typos) to serious.

I'm puzzled why Takara opted for a grey laser rifle instead of a show-accurate black. Considering the amount of effort the designers spent on faithfully reproducing the 'toon robot mode, this seems an odd choice.

More seriously, though, there have been reports of the paint chipping and one unlucky soul even found a piece missing from his Masterpiece Convoy. That's just sad. Someone needs to have a long hard talk with the folks in charge of quality control at the factory.

When something is billed as a masterpiece you generally expect nothing short of excellence and I don't think it's too much to ask for excellence from a 9800 yen Transformer that's billed thusly. I expect better from Takara.

Link  | 

Thursday, December 11, 2003

11:20 PM - Masterpiece theatre

Masterpiece Convoy and Binaltech BT-02 Lambor have been released.

In other news, the upcoming Japanese Transformers series, Transformers Super Link (Transformers Energon in the US), will feature a character named Alpha Q. Try pronouncing the name slo-o-owly to see why it's probably not the best choice for a kiddie show character.

Link  | 

10:49 PM - Shake those heads

Another entertaining letter to the New Straits Times:

The main factor for road accidents is the absurdity of the speed limit on certain roads. Take, for example, the stretch of wide open road from the Bangi interchange to the Sungei Besi toll plaza which has a speed limit of 90kph. The boredom and frustration are enough to turn any driver into a raging demon.

In that moment of irrationality he would throw all rules of road ethics into the drain. He doesn't mind a ticket for speeding.

Most likely the recent express bus crash which claimed 14 innocent lives was the result of boredom due to the unreasonable speed limit. Had the speed limit been 120kph at that stretch probably the accident would not have occurred.

That has got to be the stupidest theory I've read concerning the disturbing number of road accidents on Malaysian roads.

Someone who's prone to bouts of irrationality and bad judgement shouldn't even be behind the wheel let alone driving at a greater speed. The speed limits are fine as they are.

What needs to be changed is the Malaysian tendency to try to get away with as much as possible in order to get on top. It's disturbing to see how we're behaving like greedy bastards at buffets, behaving like complete jackasses at store sales or being reckless while driving.

Once upon a time Malaysians used to chuckle at the perceived kiasu tendencies of Singaporeans. Trust Malaysians to try and one-up their neighbours by taking kiasu-ness to a greater extreme.

Link  | 

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

7:11 PM - Hmm

Stuttgart coach Felix Magath before the match:

Van Nistelrooy doesn't worry me at all. We won't need to give him any extra attention.

Stuttgart coach Felix Magath after the match:

Van Nistelrooy is a complete player. He can do absolutely everything; head, score, control the ball under pressure, create chances for others. He is fantastic and we don't have anyone in our team like that. If you look at people like him and Ryan Giggs, they really make a big difference to Manchester United.

Van Nistelrooy scored one and made one for Giggs in the 2-0 victory over Stuttgart.

Unfortunately, I missed the match after my satellite decoder went on the fritz. It's the first live telecast of a United match I've missed this season. Oh well. I'll catch the replay later.

Link  | 

7:02 PM - Bah

From a previous entry:

What exactly comes to mind when you look at this figure?

Considering the above link doesn't work as intended, "Eh?" is probably what comes to mind.

Take 2.

Link  | 

2:12 AM - Badabing badabang

A coloured version of a previous CommanderMicroman digi-doodle. I really need to get some new poses.

Link  | 

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

10:54 PM - Die Rache

United face a hardworking Stuttgart side at Old Trafford in their final Champions League Group E match. The German side embarrassed the English champions in their first encounter and it's time for some payback. Keane is being rested for the upcoming Manchester derby but Scholes is expected to play. United will want to win this one to get a favourable draw for the next round.

Speaking of which ...

From a previous entry:

I first thought the team was conserving itself for the important mid-week Champions League match against Stuttgart, which United need to win to avoid meeting the likes of Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.

Correction: The next round will see 16 teams taking part in the start of the knockout stage.

Link  | 

7:43 PM - Shutsugeki! Machine Robo Rescue

The Gobots are back. Well, sorta.

Bandai has revived the Machine Robo line for a new generation of kids. And far from sucking, both the Machine Robo Rescue show and the toy line are rather interesting.

Unfortunately, as far as toy designs are concerned, the MRR line is perhaps an unambitious attempt. The designers may have added connectivity and interchangeability to the robots-transform-into-vehicles concept but some of the figures are a little too similar to the original Machine Robo line. Furthermore, there's an amazing amount of repaints and mould variants in the line.

I've ordered a heavily discounted Hyper Police Robo set from HLJ -- it should arrive this week and I'll put up a more detailed review when it does -- but I'm not sure I would have purchased a set at the suggested retail price of 2500 yen.

The figures are available in Malaysia but they retail for RM139. That's a 60 per cent mark-up over the Japanese SRP. Ugh. Fortunately, Bandai will be re-releasing the Machine Robo Rescue leader robots individually so you'll soon have a chance to get just the leader robo for 800 yen each.

Why get it

I'm a big fan of articulation in my action figures and the MRR Gattai Series figures completely fail to impress in this regard. In terms of posability, it's 1984 all over again.

As for looks, the combined mode, the Hyper Robo, looks -- how shall I put this -- well, it looks like the robot equivalent of a pin-headed guy whose pants are hiked up to his chest.

But all is not lost. There's one area where the Hyper Robo series figures shine and that's connectivity and interchangeability. You can freely mix and match limbs of different Hyper Robo sets -- the anime refers to this as X-gattai -- and this gives the line decent play value. The downside is the combinations do tend to look unimpressive.

Mugenbine

Fortunately, it appears the MRR sequel, Machine Robo Mugenbine, is attempting to take interchangeability and connectivity to a whole new impressive level.

I couldn't find the definition of "mugenbine" but apparently, "mugen" means "infinite" in Japanese. Is mugenbine derived from "mugen combine" i.e. infinite combinations?

The first figures in the line include CarryEagle, BuildGiraffe and AirLeon. These have identical core robots with various accessories to convert them into vehicles and mecha beasts. (Toy reviewer Dave Van Domelen would call them reassemblers.) It's very Blockman-like.

Instead of having bulky identical support robo for limbs, the interchangeable components are now smaller, more functional parts. This allows one to mix 'n' match parts to create new vehicles, robots and mecha beasts of one's own design.

It looks very promising. The figures should be released next month and I'll probably get the 1500 yen Airleon set for starters.

Anime

No kiddie toy line can hope to succeed without an anime these days and MRR has an anime of its own to push the toys. The anime may have an outrageous premise -- kids who work as rescue workers because they're the only ones who can bring out the best in the robots -- but it's absolutely terrific.

That's hardly surprising considering it's by Sunrise, the same studio that produced GaoGaiGar. You can definitely see the similarities between the two shows. Both feature a mix of CGI and traditional-looking cel animation. The similarities even extend to the character gimmicks. GGG has Mamoru and his Zonder-sensing hair. MRR has Taiyoh and his danger-sensing hair. GGG has Dividing Driver. MRR has Zone Tenkai. GGG has Final Fusion. MRR's equivalent is Hyper Mode gattai. And so it goes.

The Little Rascals

Unlike most kids in kiddie shows, the MRR ones aren't annoying. Hell, don't be surprised if you end up cheering them on as they earnestly strive to do their jobs while remaining recognisably kids. And the robots are pretty entertaining as well. My favourite of the lot would be Drill Robo, an irrepressible robot who's prone to "excessive displays of personality."

Sunrise has toned the action down a little compared to GGG but compensated nicely with more comedy. This is a genuinely funny show; I can think of no other anime that could successfully pull off an episode featuring four giant robots chasing after a cat.

It doesn't take a genius to see the show and the toy line are going to be monster hits for Bandai when they eventually get ported over to the US. Hasbro is so nervous about the franchise that it has taken the extraordinary step of copyrighting Machine Robot Rescue in an attempt to frustrate Bandai's marketing efforts. I don't think that's a particularly smart move as it's only going to result in some nasty tit-for-tat-ing.

I'll post some additional thoughts on MRR in the future but in the meantime, here are some Rescue Links:

  • Steve Engbert provides a brief overview of the anime while Jasconius has a summary of the first episode.

  • TV Tokyo's MRR site includes pix of the voice actors.

  • TV-Nihon has fansubbed episodes. If you're looking for a funny MRR episode, snag episode 20. If you're looking for something a little more dramatic, get episode 19.

  • HLJ's listing for the MRR toy line and its sequel.

  • Plex International Design, the Bandai design firm which worked on the MRR line, has a web site showcasing the toy designs as well as several gattai combinations.

  • Japanese fan Sakio has gattai combinations which range from interesting to dear-god-what-is-that-thing.

  • Robot-Japan has a write-up of the vintage Tonka Gobots (a.k.a the original Machine Robo).

Link  | 

12:35 AM - Alternators Silverstreak

Hasbro has updated its site with pictures of Alternators Silverstreak's vehicle and robot modes. The figure is expected to be released next summer. Unfortunately (and not unexpectedly) Silverstreak is almost identical to Binaltech Smokescreen with only minor differences here and there. I'm passing on this one.

Bring on Hound.

Link  | 

Monday, December 08, 2003

7:00 PM - Chouseishin Gransazer

More on Gransazer:

  • It's "Chouseishin Gransazer" and not "Choushinsei Gransazer". (I've amended the previous entry accordingly.) That'll teach me to get the romaji from a Konami press release instead of, oh, reading the furigana for the kanji or, I dunno, paying attention to the characters when they actually pronounce it "chouseishin." Sigh.

    And in case you were wondering what substance I was abusing when I was nattering about "Official with an S," I should point out Konami corrected the spelling for the official web site shortly after I published the previous entry.

  • I've just realised "Sazer" in Gransazer refers to "seiza" which is Japanese for "constellation". Each Gransazer is based on a star constellation e.g. Sazer Tarious is the Sagittarius warrior.

  • The Gransazers are divided into four tribes -- Fire, Wind, Earth and Water -- with three in each tribe. That's 12 in total for you mathematically-challenged readers.

    It's a staggering amount of characters to introduce and highlight, and that's not even counting the supporting cast. I don't expect much in the way of character development but that's okay because ...

  • There's a lot of chop-socky action to appreciate. They tend to vary wildly in quality, though. The first episode had good action but subsequent episodes were mostly passable if not tedious.

    However, the latest fansubbed episode I've seen, episode 8, had terrific action. There was a slam-bang battle between Dorcrus and Garuda that left me believing two powerful mecha -- as opposed to two stunt actors in bulky suits -- were going at it. And this was preceeded by an excellent showdown between Mika (Sazer Mithras) and Ryoko (Sazer Velsou). Let's hope they can maintain this level of quality.

More Sazer Links:

  • Torrents for episodes fansubbed by TV-Nihon. If you only want to check out one episode, make sure it's episode 8. It's easily the best so far.

  • Japanese reviews (1, 2) of the Change Mecha Series figures.

  • Rabifee has pix of the cast. This is the first time I've seen the names for the upcoming Water tribe: Sazer Pisces, Sazer Golbion and Sazer Ganz. (I'm not sure about the last two, though.) Their chouseishin mecha is apparently named Leviathan.

  • Japanese Google links.

Link  | 

Sunday, December 07, 2003

7:03 PM - Ah, screw it

A couple of folks have complained about too loose/tight joints for the Microforce figures. The thing is these complaints aren't uniform -- my own Microforce figures don't suffer from loose bicep joints, for instance -- which leads me to believe it's a QC issue rather than one inherent in the design.

If you're having similar problems, consider tightening/loosening the screws on the body and the thighs. It won't help with loose bicep joints but it might fix problems elsewhere.

I had problems turning CommanderMicroman's waist ball-joint to the left -- I had no problems rotating it to the right, oddly -- and I fixed this by loosening the screws above the waist. Similarly, the swivel joints on the figure's thighs were extremely tight and manipulating them required more force than I was comfortable using. Loosening the screws on the thighs helped.

I sure as hell wish I had thought of that when I was attempting to manipulate NinjaMicroman's too-tight thigh swivel joints. I ended up breaking the right hip joint after resorting to excessive force.

The good news is HLJ might be getting a restock of NinjaMicroman in March. I fully intend to get a replacement because Ninja's easily one of my favourite figures.

It's the hair.

Link  | 

6:56 PM - Back in the groove

United got back to winning ways after comfortably defeating a lacklustre Aston Villa side 4-0 at Old Trafford.

The Red Devils were irresistible in the first half with a breathtaking display of attacking football. They might not have troubled Sorensen with too many shots on target but you always felt they would get one eventually.

Kleberson, United's best player in the Carling Cup defeat by WBA, was once again in fine form. His superb interplay with van Nistelrooy led to the simplest of Dutch Master finishes for the first goal. Van Nistelrooy got the second - his 14th of the season -- after a terrific take-down of a Giggs cross just before half-time.

A goal fiesta seemed on the cards but inexplicably United sat back in the second half almost inviting Villa to come at them. I first thought the team was conserving itself for the important mid-week Champions League match against Stuttgart, which United need to win to avoid meeting the likes of Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. But a post-match Ferguson interview indicates the manager hadn't intended to coast and was indeed disappointed by his men's showing in the second half.

Fortunately, Villa couldn't conjure up anything to even hint at an upset. Let me put it this way: I think the best chances they had were from mishit crosses.

But United didn't look like they were about to score themselves for most of the second half so it was a bit of a shock when Forlan, who came on in the 72nd minute, got a brace of his own in injury time. Final score: United 4, Villa 0.

The best thing about the entire match? Seeing Scholes back in action. He may have looked rusty and didn't contribute much but he's going to be crucial in the long run.

Link  | 

Saturday, December 06, 2003

8:42 PM - Wascals

Strange alien lifeforms?

No, just a couple of Betty Chu's English Angora rabbits, some of whom have won competitions.

I would never exhibit my own rabbit in competitions. For one thing, she'd take my foot clean off because she doesn't tolerate tomfoolery of any kind.

(Tomfoolery, by her definition, also includes requesting that she go into her cage for the night before she actually feels like it.)

She's one badass bunny.

(Link obtained from Domo Domo.)

Link  | 

Friday, December 05, 2003

8:11 PM - Sports Illustrated

What exactly comes to mind when you look at this figure?

Would I be horribly mistaken in guessing it wouldn't be volleyball? Because that's what the figure is: A volleyball player. To be specific, it's a Bandai figure based on the "Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball" videogame. I've not played the game so I can only assume the "Xtreme" in the title refers to a severe shortage of material for volleyball uniforms.

Link  | 

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

6:41 PM - Whoopsie

Correction: Zone Labs didn't remove the manual Check for Update option from ZoneAlarm. It's still there but it's been effectively rendered superfluous since ZoneAlarm automatically checks for updates on a daily basis anyway.

Link  | 

6:37 PM - Why I love the web

I got this link off Dave Barry's blog and it led me to do a search for "dog-eating catfish" (Pangasius sanitwongsei) which led to Kuno the dachshund-eating catfish (!) which led to another reason why skinny dipping in the Mekong River is probably a really bad idea.

Link  | 

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

7:18 PM - Mo' Masterforce

There are loads of wonderful pictures of the upcoming Microman Masterforce figures in the latest Takara Hobby updates (1, 2). Groundmaster, Divemaster (1, 2) and my favourites, Skymaster (1, 2) and Automaster (1, 2), look spectacular.

Note that the armour and weapons for the good guys combine to form vehicles and drones. For instance, Groundmaster's armour and weapons become a drill tank drone -- yes, it's Yet Another Takara-designed Drill Tank -- while Automaster's armour pieces combine to become a sleek bike.

I am a little disappointed, though. I can't help feeling more could have been done for the 30th anniversary of Microman. I was hoping the Masterforce designs would be the same impressive improvement over Microforce the way Microforce was an impressive improvement over the LED Powers figures. Sadly, aside from accessories, Masterforce looks identical to Microforce.

If the Amikai-powered translation is accurate, Takara is working on a new rubber-based compound that's a bit harder than usual for the figures (or the accessories). I just hope they strengthen the hip joint.

The company is also putting quite a bit of effort into the packaging. There are storyboards (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) for an upcoming CG comic -- I expect this will be bundled with the figures -- as well as several logo designs.

In other news, there are more Material Force figures in the offing. There's initially going to be a second production run of the first wave but it appears as if new colour variations will be produced eventually. That's great news for customisers who have been using the Material Force figures to produce customs like these vintage-inspired ones.

(Link obtained from the Micropolis Embassy.)

Link  | 

6:36 PM - And I quote

The Insider on United's performance at Stamford Bridge:

A midfield featuring Quinton Fortune and Phil Neville will not create enough chances to allow United to retain their title. They lack a player who can deliver that killer cross or free-kick. Answers via email to Soccernet if anyone can think of a player who can do just that!

Heh. Cute.

Link  | 

6:35 PM - The drama

A shadow government, shady deals, duplicity, betrayal, angst, heartache ... is it the X-Files? No, it's the Sims Online.

Let me just say that the Sims games are "not my thing." To be specific, I'd have to say I would rather have my eyeballs gouged out than play The Sims and I would rather have my naughty bits chopped off than play The Sims Online. In fact, I think castration is actually a recommended systems requirement for a guy to enjoy those games.

But I was throughly entertained by this interview with a player of the online game. I hadn't realised there was so much drama going on over there.

(Link obtained from Terra Nova.)

Link  | 

Monday, December 01, 2003

6:35 PM - Midnight blues

Chelsea beat United 1-0 at Stamford Bridge to top the table. It was billed as the Match of the Season (So Far) and I'll admit I was eagerly looking forward to seeing United take on the team Abramovich bought. Two teams renowned for their attacking flair going head to head.

Unfortunately, Ferguson decided to play cautious and chose a starting eleven that favoured steely resolve over silky skills. It looked as if the manager was content to contain the Chelsea side and earn a draw. As a result, United were completely lacking in the final third of the field and struggled to make chances. It wasn't until Ronaldo replaced Fortune in the second half that United looked like a side capable of taking Chelsea apart. But the Blues, who looked much more dangerous on the offensive, deservedly got the three points.

Cole, put clean through, was adjudged to have been fouled by a desperate Keane. It was one of those decisions that looks absolutely clear-cut from one angle but looks slightly iffy from another. Having seen replays a number of times, I can't say I'm absolutely sure about it being a penalty but I think the ref made the right decision. Despite Keane's vigorous protestations -- why do players even bother trying to change a ref's mind about penalty decisions anyway? -- the penalty was given. Lampard put it away with little fuss and the score remained 1-0 till the end.

Are Chelsea title-contenders? I'd say they're shoo-ins for a top three finish but I have my doubts whether they'll actually go on to win the Premiership this season.

It's one thing to be in the number one spot in November and it's another to lead the Premiership in April with the pack snarling at your heels. I'd like to see how Chelsea handle the pressures of the title run-in. Ranieri, in particular, has looked frazzled once or twice earlier this season when there was question about him keeping his position in the wake of the Abramovich revolution. Will he retain his affable demeanour come May?

Link  | 

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