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Saturday, January 31, 2004

11:59 PM - Survivor 8

See Mark Burnett.

See Survivor's ratings fall.

Fall, ratings, fall.

Oh no!

See Mark Burnett's sad face.

Sad, sad, sad.

See shark.

Jump, Mark Burnett, jump.

All kidding aside, I'm looking forward to the next Survivor.

Although the game theory aspect remains fascinating, aside from Survivor: Amazon and its war of the sexes angle, Survivor hasn't been must-see tee-vee since the first two series.

Fortunately, Burnett has finally come up with a great hook to draw jaded Survivor fans back.

Here's the scenario: Get 18 castaways -- past champions and the most interesting personalities (*) -- and let them duke it out.

(* Okay, Amber doesn't really fit into the "most interesting personalities" or "past champions" categories but she's easy on the eyes so she gets a free pass.)

Everyone has seen each other in action and would be well aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses so it's going to be interesting to see what strategies they employ.

But I think it's going to be great fun just seeing how these personalities are going to interact with each other. Cantankerous Rudy and bitchy Jerri. Conniving Rob C and no-nonsense Susan. Gay Richard and his crush, Colby.

Let the games begin.

Link  | 

Friday, January 30, 2004

5:46 PM - Aisayman

Ah, life in the Net age.

We've got big fat pipes capable of downloading vast quantities of data quickly but ISPs are starting to limit us by instituting download caps.

We've got tools to send and receive messages almost instantly but we're being overwhelmed by dubious financial offers and viruses.

We've got tools that help us better express ourselves but those tools produce unintelligible error messages.

Link  | 

Thursday, January 29, 2004

11:01 PM - Back at Plainmoor

Nothing like the romance of the FA Cup to inspire another Championship Manager 4 installation.

I downloaded the fifth "enhancement pack" (all 45.8MB of it) and started a new game with the four main English divisions. As usual, I'm playing as Torquay United. The club may be permanent residents of the Third Division in real-life but taking a lower league side and turning them into a sporting dynasty has always been the main appeal of CM for me.

It's not going to be easy, though. I have a grand total of 20K in transfer funds available. (I started out with 5K and raised additional funds by selling off players I had little use for.) Unsurprisingly, I haven't been able to lure any players who are capable of making an immediate impact. I suppose I'll have to make do until I receive additional funds from my tightfisted Board of Directors next season.

Fortunately, I haven't done too badly. I'm currently 7th in the Third Division. Granted, it's only four months into the season but I reckon I've got a decent shot at a playoff place.

This is primarily due to the fact one of my strikers, Bedeau, is in stellar form. He's averaging a goal a match and scoring some spectacular goals. That's the good news. The bad news is he has thus far refused to sign a new contract. The really bad news is his contract expires in six months. I reluctantly put him on the transfer list. I figure it's better to lose the player and gain some funds instead of letting him walk away for nothing when his contract expires.

The game performance was pretty good all told. There was still a brief delay whenever I switched to the Tactics screen while matches were in progress but it wasn't as bad as it was when I was playing on my old rig.

However, I was aggravated when the game crashed on me mid-match after only four game sessions. Five "enhancement packs" and it still crashes. Jeez.

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

6:10 PM - Soccer vs. McWorld

Foreign Policy has a Franklin Foer article about the effect of globalisation on football. (He's writing for an American audience so you'll just have to grit your teeth as he constantly refers to the sport as "soccer.")

There's absolutely nothing in Foer's article that would suggest the sport is deserving of the title "the beautiful game." Indeed, going by his article alone, one might be forgiven for thinking football is dominated by the rich, filled with corruption and has fans who are spiteful, racist thugs.

(He covered the same ground for a Slate article published three years earlier.)

It's particularly galling because his readership might not know that the specific examples he cites aren't representative of the whole. For instance, Foer cites the problems in a few Brazilian clubs as an indication of the corruption endemic in football and he points to some Chelsea hooligans to imply football fans are bunch of racist pricks.

He also highlights Manchester United's dominance as an example of how rich clubs dominate the sport but neglects to mention the club had not won the domestic league for 20-plus years prior to 1993.

Furthermore, United's continued dominance is not the foregone conclusion he makes it out to be since it hinges entirely on the quality of the man who succeeds Ferguson. Money isn't going to buy success. Just ask Ferguson's predecessor Ron Atkinson.

(Link obtained from Arts & Letters Daily.)

Link  | 

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

7:24 PM - Robots!

I consider myself to be something of a robot fan but Jeff of Jeff's Robots has taken robo-fandom to a whole new level. Among other things on his site, he's got brief write-ups of obscure robot toys and some nice robot-themed art snagged from various media.

Unfortunately, it would appear he favours kitschy quaint designs. How kitschy and quaint? We're talking robots named Climb@Tron and Ding-A-Ling Twirly.

Still, there are plenty of robot-related pages to sift through and appreciate.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

Link  | 

Monday, January 26, 2004

9:24 PM - In the fifth

United beat Northampton 3-0 at Sixfields in the fourth round of the FA Cup early this morning. (As usual, the Insider's account is a whole lot more colourful than the BBC's dry report.)

Ferguson fielded Manchester United ver. League Cup for the tie. Van Nistelrooy, Giggs and the Nevilles were left out with Keane and Howard warming the bench.

This meant another opportunity for the likes of Forlan, Bellion and Butt to impress the boss but I think it's fair to say the trio won't be regular starters based on their performance in this game.

(It may very well have been the unsettled Butt's last appearance for the club. It's a shame to see him go but let's not forget Phil Neville, until he improved and reinvented himself as a combative defensive midfielder, was in Butt's position for many a season yet the younger Neville never complained.)

The match itself wasn't particularly entertaining although it had a promising start. Forlan missed an early opportunity to put the Red Devils in the lead when United were awarded a penalty in the second minute but the Northampton keeper easily saved the Uruguayan's tame shot.

Silvestre got United's first goal after a scrappy scramble for the ball and the match remained 1-0 until the break. Northampton made the worst possible start to the second half when Hargreaves put the ball in his own net and Forlan got the third after some good work by Ronaldo.

(That's the thing about Forlan; he may take roughly five million attempts on goal before he actually converts one but at the very least, he never gives up.)

Northampton had their chances, though. They hit the woodwork twice in the second half and their speedy Ghanaian forward Asamoah went one on one with Carroll but couldn't manage to get the goal the Third Division side arguably deserved.

The most memorable moment of the match? Seeing Ronaldo defending. (The kid is better known for his flamboyance and acting skills.) Interestingly, he was also sporting what appeared to be a bruise under his left eye. Did Keane or Ferguson provide some -- wink, wink -- motivation?

Link  | 

9:14 PM - Hosed

I had a helluva time posting earlier. For some infernal reason, I was unable to post my latest entry and the "'10060 Connection' is not a valid integer value" error message kept popping up in Blog. A check with the Blog FAQ reveals it was either host- or firewall-related. I haven't done anything to my firewall, ZoneAlarm, so it's got to be Tripod. The worst part about this is Blog kept posting a null file for the latest archive.

I've been meaning to switch to MovableType and a paid host for some time now and perhaps I should fast-track that. I've identified a potential host -- it's a local-based reseller -- but I need to clarify some details before signing up.

Link  | 

Sunday, January 25, 2004

10:26 PM - It's a small world after all

Be-J Web Shop has pix of Takara's upcoming Microman offerings.

We've seen the Masterforce figures -- MF2-01 Skymaster Hayate, MF2-02 Divemaster Roberto, MF2-03 Groundmaster Alan, MF2-04 Automaster Ryan, AX-11 AcroScorl, AX-12 AcroCleve, AX-13 AcroVoltech and AX-14 AcroBiom -- but it's always nice to see new angles. I was under the impression they would be delayed but it appears they're on course for a March release.

Takara also unveiled the new MicroLady and Acroyear Lady designs. MicroLady Commander, MicroLady Ninja, AcroVena and AcroDita will be out in May and retail for 1280yen each.

Accordingly, the customiser-aimed Material Force line will be expanded in May to include the new female figure template. No price was given but it's probably going to be around 499yen.

MicroBat

So that mysterious movie character license was Batman. That's an effective bit of misleading by Abiko because most folks would consider Batman a comic character first and foremost.

Anyway, the first (?) two Batman figures are the Comic version and the Flight Gear version. They're being released under the Micro Action Series label -- the line-up also includes another Casshern figure -- and will be selling for 980yen each.

I fully expect Batman ver. Comic to quickly sell out. It's got superior articulation and most US-produced Batman action figures are lacking in that department. The face sculpt looks slightly off, though; something about the jawline bothers me. But I suppose you have to make allowances for the fact the figure is a mere 10cm tall. Another thing I'm concerned about is the cape. I'm hoping it's made of soft, pliable PVC that won't restrict the articulation.

All things considered, I prefer Batman ver. Flight Gear. The design may not look as iconic and familiar but the figure might be the better toy. I love the articulated wings; they look like they'll wrap around the figure to form spiffy armour, Beast Machines Megatron-style.

If Takara is smart (and the licensing deal allows it), the Japanese toyco will start churning out villains instead of an insane number of Bat-variants. Granted, the Microforce body design wouldn't be suitable for characters like the portly Penguin but there are plenty of other Batman-related characters to Micro-size.

It will be interesting to see just how well received these MicroBat figures are outside Japan. I was under the impression action figure fans weren't too thrilled by the way Hasbro and Mattel handled the Batman license so this is an opportunity for Takara to gain some overseas sales.

(Link obtained from Transfandom.com)

Link  | 

Saturday, January 24, 2004

8:37 PM - Might over microchips

A digi-doodle of Brawn (toy, bio).

Link  | 

Friday, January 23, 2004

6:06 PM - Ribbing

From a White House press release:

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Read the rest. I really don't see why it merited a press release. Was that supposed to be humorous in some fashion?

But to be fair, I think it's important we remember this is a president who knows how hard it is for you to put food on your family.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

Link  | 

6:05 PM - De-Spirit-ed

From Voice of America:

The U.S. space agency NASA is having trouble communicating with its robotic rover on Mars. Something has caused it to stop sending research data back to Earth.

...

Mission official Peter Theisinger says that the vehicle is not transmitting expected scientific or engineering data.

So what was Spirit the Mars rover trying to transmit? Hmm ...

Thursday, Jan 22 2004

Picked up another rock today. So many rocks in this place. I don't see the point of picking more up but I'm expected to. I hate my job. Took some photos. Tried to call home but the line was busy. They don't really care about me anyway. It's all about the rocks.

I'm so tired these days. I can barely summon the enthusiasm to say or do anything.

Current Mood: Drained

Current Music: "Cats on Mars" - Gabriela Robin

Link  | 

Thursday, January 22, 2004

6:57 PM - Gotta give him malaprops

Jeff Ooi:

Typical of Rehman Rashid who is fond of impressionist vocab, he used 'vox populi' instead of 'people's voice' to greet the readers in the first paragraph of his very first commentary since coming back to The NST.

I wonder what Ooi thinks "impressionist" means.

It's especially amusing if you consider the previous version of the post (excerpted on Petaling Street):

Typical of Rehman Rashid - whom I sometimes accused of Malapropism - he used 'vox populi' instead of 'people's voice' to impress the readers in the first paragraph of his first commentary since coming back to The NST.

As for pomposity and pretension, this was the same writer who earlier described a common Chinese New Year greeting as "lingua franca."

I think Ooi's doing a fine job over at Screenshots and his blog is a useful and necessary counterpoint to the propaganda of the mainstream media but sometimes he just leaves me shaking my head.

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

7:41 PM - Where's the fun?

Slate's Clive Thompson writes about the current popularity of ancient videogames like Taito's Space Invaders and he quickly segues into a criticism of current games.

An excerpt:

For the last decade, most game companies have been governed by one obsessive idea: that making games more lifelike—more three-dimensional and hyperreal—will make them more fun. But this hasn't worked. Even the crappiest game today has an elaborate 3-D world you can wander around and marvel at the superb rendering of shadows, the elaborate tattoos on the characters, or the lens flares when you look up at the virtual sun. But after you've finished admiring the scenery, the game itself is often incredibly tedious. You're just running around, solving obtuse puzzles, and listening to wretched pseudoacting by virtual characters.

What's missing? Game-play.

To be specific, I think today's games are missing fun gameplay elements. As Thompson points out, playing today's crop of games requires a lot of tedious slogging. I like the otherworldly setting of Morrowind and I appreciate the fact I'm free to do just about anything in it but playing the game almost feels like having a second job.

Thompson cites Warren Spector as one of the truly great game designers who get it right but I think Sid Meier is a much better example. Meier and the folks who worked with him always ensured his games were first and foremost fun and it's a testament to his designs that they're fondly remembered to this day as superlative gaming experiences.

I just cannot wait to play the updated Pirates! game.

Link  | 

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

6:22 PM - Biar lambat ...

We'll be ushering in the Year of the Monkey in two days. Chances are most Malaysians are going to be on the road over the next few days travelling to some place to celebrate the Chinese New Year or to take advantage of a four-day weekend.

If you're going to be on the road then, for the love of all that's holy, please play cautious and stay safe. Don't take any stupid risks while you're behind the wheel. This may be the one time you don't get away with it. And don't assume that other driver knows what he or she is doing.

My brother was in an accident two days ago. A head-on collision. From the sound of it, the other party was at fault but I suppose we'd better leave it to the pros to suss out the details. I'm just grateful both drivers didn't end up contributing to Malaysia's sorry road accident fatality statistics.

My brother didn't get away scot free though. He suffered some serious facial injuries and the specialists say it's going to take reconstructive surgery done over a period of six months to fix everything. He's still at the age when a pimple can be a cause for concern so you can imagine how self-conscious he feels at the moment. He's been holding a piece of cloth over the lower half of his face for two days now. But he's alive and he'll get better.

One final note: I'm a pretty cynical bastard all told but I was moved by the generosity and kindness of people I barely knew. The mother of one of my students worked in the hospital my brother was admitted to and she went out of her way -- really out of her way -- to help him. She didn't have to. She didn't need to. Because she wanted to. Like I said, I was moved.

Anyway, I just thought I'd share that.

Be safe and stay cautious.

Link  | 

Monday, January 19, 2004

9:15 PM - Better Lat than never

The National Art Gallery is having a retrospective of the works of a certain Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known and beloved as Lat the cartoonist. He's been churning out cartoons for 30 years now and is pretty much a national treasure at this point.

If you want to check out why, be sure to visit his own spot on the Web. There's a bio and a photo gallery (you can see why he earned the childhood sobriquet "Bulat" or "round") but the best thing about the site is the archives of his 'toons from the past 5 years.

This introduction to one of his works sums up his appeal:

Lat…knows more about explaining people to people than all the communication and media experts in Malaysia and Singapore put together. While his draughtsmanship at first seems raw and his humour naïve, a more thoughtful look discloses wit, humanity, and depth of feeling.

It's also worth noting Lat's works are the single best reflection of the Malaysian Malaysia in the local media. (It's disconcerting how we have Malay programmes, Chinese programmes and Tamil programmes but very few Malaysian programmes on local TV.)

By and large, his work does not tend to be sidesplittingly funny but they almost always get a smile or a chuckle. While some of his 'toons are distinctly Malaysian and are likely to elicit a hearty "Huh?" from those who are clueless about our lifestyle and culture, I don't think you have to be Malaysian to appreciate most of his observations about life. (Examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

He's never nasty although some of his political-related work can be quite scathing. His 'toons about the Son of the Mother of All Battles (1, 2, 3) were blatantly one-sided and grossly unfair but I suspect a lot of Malaysians held the same views.

Anyway, thanks for 30 years of smiles and laughter, Lat.

(Some more 30 years can-ah?)

Link  | 

Sunday, January 18, 2004

10:36 AM - Here's the kicker

TFormers.com reports the Microman Microforce mould is being used for Kicker, one of the prominent human characters in the new Japanese Transformers show, Super Link. The figure will retail for 980 yen and will include a Microman-sized Energon Saber replica.

It's unknown at this time if the figure is going to be released for the US line, Transformers Energon, but that seems a reasonable enough assumption.

This unexpected crossover might have major significance for the Microman line. Both Masterforce and Kicker will be released in March and I expect Transformers fans might be inclined to pick up some Masterforce figures after checking out Kicker.

A note of caution, though. The original Microman Microforce figures were targeted at older toy fans. (The packages stated they were for ages 15 and up.) The figures are made of a reasonably tough material but I'm not sure they'll be capable of withstanding the kind of punishment your average kid is capable of dishing out.

(A bored prepubescent boy is potentially the most destructive force on the planet and we should all be grateful the little bastards have no access to munitions.)

I'm rather careful with my action figures yet I managed to break NinjaMicroman's hip joint. (I wish I had known then what I know now.)

Here's hoping the joints are strengthened because I would hate to see the Kicker figure (and by extension the Microman line) get a bad reputation because of sloppy QC and safety engineering.

Link  | 

10:29 AM - Howling mad

Wolves provided the biggest upset of the season so far when they beat United 1-0 at Molineux. An amazing sequence of improbable and unfortunate events culminated in a shocking United loss.

It was easily the most frustrating United displays I've seen this season. The Red Devils had the lion's share of possession but were unable to put the ball in the back of the Wolves net.

Wolves packed the central area and United were forced to try the wings to get any penetration. Unfortunately, the wingers, Fletcher and Ronaldo, weren't able to provide any sort of decent service. The match might very well have been a showcase of poor crossing technique.

And when United's foxes-in-the-box, Scholes and van Nistelrooy, did get the ball in a goal-scoring position, they completely fluffed the opportunity. Van Nistelrooy somehow managed to miss from a metre out -- Miss of the Season! -- and Scholes seemed to have Forlan's shooting boots on because he kept missing the target.

Wolves got their goal when Miller got clear after Wes Brown slipped -- forget "luckless", Brown's flat out jinxed -- and the Wolves striker managed to just beat Howard to get his first Premiership goal of the season.

To summarise, the Premiership leaders succumbed to the bottom-most club thanks to a goal by a striker who had never scored in the top-flight before.

What were the chances of that happening?

Link  | 

10:25 AM - Ah, fans

Lessons from fan forums:

  • Your penis will fall off if you do not post something. If you do not have a penis to begin with, you might just grow one if you do not post. Do not let the minor fact you do not actually have something to say stop you.

  • If you can't think of anything relevant to post, be zany and wacky.

  • If you can't be zany and wacky, just post something inconsequential. (Remember: penis!)

  • If someone makes a point you can't refute ... well, time to die, Mr. Straw Man.

  • Ignore any rebuttals and simply repeat your arguments. Sticking your fingers in your ears (or should extreme circumstances warrant it, your head in your ass) helps.

  • Turn the debate into an us-versus-them thing to garner sympathy from forum members if you can't actually conjure up a rebuttal.

  • Dismiss your opponent's arguments as speculation which cannot be proved. Ignore the fact the same holds true of your own arguments.

  • If in doubt, fall back on a popular position. If the majority of the forum believe something to be true, hell, it must be true.

Link  | 

Friday, January 16, 2004

9:00 PM - MISB

One fan decided he wanted a "case-fresh" MISB Masterpiece Convoy and thus commissioned an airtight plastic coffin for the package.

The thread title ("MasterPiece Convoy Case, My toy may now outlive me!") captures perfectly the absurdity of it all.

Link  | 

8:50 PM - Ninja fever

Because you can never have too many NinjaMicroman digi-doodles on your web site.

Link  | 

8:49 PM - And I quote

An (unfortunately) anonymous Slashdot reader:

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a setsquare, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney general John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

Read the rest. It's probably the funniest maths-related piece of writing you'll read this year.

Link  | 

8:48 PM - Fish fingers

Keith Sutton on "noodling":

To become a noodler yourself, you must be brave enough (or foolish enough) to reach into an underwater hole and extract the occupant. At times, this is simple. The occupant becomes infuriated by your intrusion and chomps down on the offending appendage. You drag it to the surface and hope your buddies quit laughing long enough to beat it into submission.

If the creature is a catfish, your friends will pat you on the back and tell everyone how you bravely fought the beast. If it is, instead, a snapping turtle, snake or muskrat, they'll ask why you stuck your stupid hand in a hole where you couldn't see.

I'd like to see "noodlers" try this in the Mekong River.

(Link obtained from MeFi.)

Link  | 

12:54 AM - By design

It turns out Kobayashi Hironori, one of the Masterpiece Convoy designers, once won a kitbash contest at the 1998 Japanese BotCon with a transforming Arcee entry. He joined Takara a year later.

It appears now Don Figueroa, another fan famed for his kitbashing work who also eventually went on to work for the Transformers toycos, did have some involvement in MP-1 Masterpiece Convoy/20th Anniversary Optimus Prime but just exactly how big an influence he was and when he worked on it remains a mystery.

Is this a big deal? Sort of. This is such an amazing figure that I would like to see due credit to be given to the folks who worked on it.

Former Hasbro designer, "Kyde," provides an interesting counterpoint:

... in the toy world, along with the rest of the product design world, the concept of "outside recognition" is something designers don't have the luxury of expecting.

...

Most of the time, product designers are anonymous. As far as I've seen, the need for recognition isn't very high on the list. That's because it's such a team effort that to take credit for something beyond a very specific aspect is disrespectful of your teammates, who probably contributed just as much.

I suppose the main reason I'd like to see the designers properly credited and recognised for their work is because their work can be attributed to the wrong person. Fan speculation becomes myth which becomes accepted truth and finally turns into FAQ fodder.

To give one example, it was taken for gospel for many years the original Transformers animation character designs were the work of John Romita and it was only recently discovered the designs were the work of StudioOx and these were further simplified for animation by Floro Dery. It may only be my own reading of his replies but Dery seems slightly irritated about the misattribution.

Link  | 

12:53 AM - And I quote

William McAdoo on Warren G. Harding's speeches:

"... an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words actually capture a thought and bear it triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and over work."

(Link obtained from Arts & Letters Daily.)

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

7:49 PM - Energon

I got Skyblast and Strongarm, two Omnicons (think Basic-sized figures) from the Transformers Energon line yesterday. They're retailing locally for RM39.90 each.

In brief, I like them. There are some exasperating design choices which unnecessarily limit the posability slightly but all in all, these are fine action figures and good Transformers.

The really good news is that the figures and accessories have quite a few 5mm pegs and ports on them. (The accessories have got Powerlinx ports as well but these aren't as interesting to me.) I'm glad to see Takara and Hasbro are placing a greater emphasis on 5mm peg and port connectivity for the Transformers line now. I'm hoping they'll eventually release booster sets containing 5mm joint-based accessories to encourage the mix'n'match play pattern.

Link  | 

7:39 PM - The price

Slashdot is comparing broadband pricing around the world. We've got a pretty good deal here in Malaysia if we consider pricing alone. Streamyx Home 88 (384Kbps up/128KBps down) is RM88 per month (US$23).

But as Slashdot reader Stinking Pig rightly points out, the quality of service should be factored in as well and I don't think there's any Streamyx user out there who's going to claim our ISP's quality of service is excellent.

Link  | 

7:31 PM - "What!? Your Internet EXPLODED?"

Making fun of the computer illiterate is kind of cruel. But it's also horribly fun. RinkWorks has plenty of tech support comedy in its Computer Stupidities section.

I do sympathise with these folks because I've had my own share of bizarre computing behaviour (1, 2, 3, 4). I am embarrassed to say some of these problems were of my own making but others were almost undiagnosable problems that led me to believe I had a demonic creature residing in my system casing.

It doesn't help matters BIOS diagnostics and OS error reporting are for the most part useless and indecipherable to most computer users.

Would it kill computer manufacturers to state errors in plain English?

(Link obtained from the Quarter to Three forum.)

Link  | 

7:29 PM - Move

The January transfer window is open and that means lots of player movement, speculation about transfers and player agents stirring things up.

But what goes on in a pre-transfer player medical? The BBC has a brief overview of the process. An excerpt:

Sight is tested to see if the player is colour blind - nobody has ever said for definite if it is to make sure they know what colour of shirt to pass to or not.

The medical isn't a mere formality since it can reveal potential problems that might scuttle a deal e.g. van Nistelrooy's knee ligaments back in 2000.

Link  | 

Monday, January 12, 2004

6:38 PM - Takara vs. Hasbro

There's an interesting thread about Takara and Hasbro over at the Toybox BBS with some fascinating claims and statements made. Excerpts from the thread are in italics with my comments below.

"The Japanese toy market is larger and more lucrative than the US Toy market."

No.

The US market is the single largest toy market in the world with US$20 billion in total sales for 2002.

I don't have stats specifically comparing the sizes of the US and Japanese markets but retail toy sales in 2000 for North America are almost double that for all of Asia put together.

From the 2001-2002 Toy Industry Factbook:

Global sales of toys at retail in 2000 (including traditional toys and video games) totaled US$69.493 billion, with 44 percent of total toy retail sales worldwide taking place in North America.

"Takara is bigger than Hasbro."

No. No matter how you try to spin that, I cannot see how you can state Takara is bigger than Hasbro.

Takara's consolidated net sales for their financial year ending March 2003 was ¥85.7 billion while Hasbro's total revenue for 2002 was US$2.86 billion.

"Hasbro cannot and does not tell Takara what to do."

Incorrect.

Hasbro has done this since day one. That's not to say Takara is obliged to do whatever Hasbro tells them to. The two companies have had arguments over things like colour.

"Masterpiece Convoy was conceived due to the results of a Japanese poll ..."

Not sure. There was a Figure King poll in 2000 that asked what Transformers figures fans would like to see re-released but I can't recall any others that might have inspired the development of Masterpiece Convoy.

However, if that three-years-to-produce nugget is taken at face value, it would put MP-1's conception around the time Takara were releasing multiple versions of the G1 repro (in every possible variation) to take advantage of the demand. I doubt Takara needed a poll to tell them fans would like to see an updated version of Convoy when they had strong repro sales to prove the character was immensely popular.

The Takara designer said they were "working on" this product 3 years ago. They don't say WHAT they were doing for it.

Looking at that Kobayashi interview, he specifically mentions "it took three years to go from trial production to final product." There doesn't seem to be much doubt in that statement the company was already producing prototypes for Masterpiece Convoy three years ago.

Look inside the instruction manual and you'll notice early-stage concept art of a toy design that is radically different from the final product. That art was drawn by Don Figueroa, who three years ago was just another Transfan with a lot of pretty homemade art on his website. He was tapped by Dreamwave to draw for the comics, and his first series, "The War Within," came out towards the end of 2002. And sometime *after* that, Aaron Archer said in a cryptic Q&A post that Don had been brought on-board by Hasbro to "do some design art."

It doesn't look as if Takara relied heavily on that Figueroa design and Archer's reference to Figueroa's design work might have been related to Transformers Energon/Super Link rather than Masterpiece Convoy-related.

"It's also worth remembering that Takara has indicated that the Masterpiece line will not be limited to Transformers properties in general."

Where and when did the company indicate this?

Why would the company want to produce a Masterpiece edition of, as someone was speculating, Henshin Cyborg? If a fan wanted an accurate depiction of Henshin Cyborg, he could pick up a repro, a Neo Henshin Cyborg or a Cyborg 99.

On the other hand, if you wanted an 'toon-accurate Optimus Prime (the best known depiction of the character), you had to wait until MP-1 Masterpiece Convoy/20th Anniversary Optimus Prime rolled out. I think Takara would do well to stick to Transformers for the time being. There are a whole bunch of StudioOx/Floro Dery animation character designs that were very different from the toys and Masterpiece editions of these would do very well, I think.

Drifand's suggestion of a Masterpiece Skyfire is excellent. Scale would be an issue but I think most fans would overlook this just to get a 'toon-accurate transforming Skyfire.

"Takara designs other huge lines that never see the light of day outsite the Japanese/Asian market."

True. This might be surprising to those who only follow Transformers, but it's very true.

Some of the company's biggest hits in recent times had nothing to do with Transformers or action figures for that matter e.g. Beyblades, eKara, Duel Masters.

Furthermore, Takara doesn't shy away from releasing Transformers figures that will never be released by Hasbro in the US e.g. G1 Megatron. (HLJ's pre-order page shows Megatron is being re-re-released this month along with a whole slew of Transformers repros.)

"Takara keeps Hasbro 'in the loop' with its current designs and projects. Sometimes Hasbro chooses to contract out domestic talent to help tailor stuff to the US market, which in turn pass some suggestions back to Takara."

Not sure.

Binaltech/Alternators, at least, was the result of Archer (and I think Frankel) brainstorming at Hasbro.

Archer revealed there were 2 designers at Hasbro and 4 or 5 at Takara. Both companies are involved but just how much input each company has in a given figure (or line) is unknown.

Archer specifically mentioned the Armada Megatron as being a figure he worked a lot on but even then he also points out the Takara designers worked on the transformation for the figure.

It's a collaboration.

"... what about Beast Wars? It has been reported that Takara neither had nor wanted anything to do with that and it was a mostly Habro thing. The legend goes on to state that Takara only picked it up after it proved to be lucrative."

Technically, it started out as a Kenner thing. Kenner (purchased by Hasbro in 1991) was given the job of reviving the Transfomers brand and they put out the first few waves of Beast Wars. If you looked at the early Beast Wars packages, they had the Kenner logo. Crucially, though, those figures still carried the "Manufactured under license from Takara" and were indeed co-designed and manufactured by Takara.

That telling "Manufactured under license from Takara" credit is present in Hasbro's Transformers packages to this day.

Ultimately, any Takara versus Hasbro argument vis-à-vis Transformers is pretty futile, I think. The two companies need each other and theirs is a synergistic partnership that has worked very well.

Link  | 

6:19 PM - Stalemate

From a previous entry:

United take on Newcastle in a few hours. This fixture is renowned for the number of goals it has produced over the past few seasons. Would you believe there have been a total of 30 goals in the last five Premiership matches between these two teams?

The match turned out to be goalless. Figures.

Both sides fought hard and had chances to get all three points but I think a draw was a fair result. Newcastle were the better side in the first half but United had the edge after the break.

The referee, Paul Durkin, got two big decisions wrong. Howard tripped Shearer after a horrible backpass by Gary Neville but Durkin waved away Newcastle's penalty claims. (He later admitted his mistake after seeing replays.) He then ruled a United goal illegal after Silvestre was harshly adjudged to have manhandled his marker.

United lead the Premiership by a solitary point but ominously for the Red Devils, Arsenal have yet to be beaten this season and the Gunners have racked up points and victories even when they were without the services of key players.

United need to kick it in gear if they're going to have any hopes of retaining their title.

Link  | 

Sunday, January 11, 2004

7:23 PM - Open mouth, insert foot

United beat Bolton 2-1 earlier in the week.

The match wasn't shown live locally but I did catch some highlights of the match on yesterday's Here We Go programme. It looked as if United had their foxes-in-the-box, Scholes and van Nistelrooy, and their keeper Howard to thank for the victory.

United take on Newcastle in a few hours. This fixture is renowned for the number of goals it has produced over the past few seasons. Would you believe there have been a total of 30 goals in the last five Premiership matches between these two teams?

Regardless of the outcome, another thing to look forward to is the post-match interview with the Newcastle manager, Sir Bobby Robson. He has a habit of producing entertaining misstatements.

The Football Quotes Page has more chuckle-licious quotes from Sir Bobby and others. A sample:

Rob McLean: John Hartson is playing superbly today.

Sandy Clark: Yes, Rob, there’s no one better today.

McLean: So, Sandy, who is your man of the match?

Clark: Alan Thompson.

Link  | 

7:21 PM - And I quote

Father William J. Fitzgerald:

If you were to watch ever so closely you would observe play as a primal blessing.

Take time to watch a lamb skipping, or a young colt frolicking.

Take time to watch a child skipping down the street.

No one taught them - no one coached them.

Skipping must be deep down in our DNA!

For it is the rollicking rhythm of primal play!

Primal play. I like it.

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Friday, January 09, 2004

7:55 PM - Twentyhundred

I caught 8TV's 8 o'clock news programme, "Twentyhundred," last night. Two observations:

  • There's only one "l" in "coalition."

  • The news presenter apparently suffered an accident while shaving his unibrow.

While I like the idea of a more casual new presentation to cater to younger viewers, I think 8TV didn't go far enough. They ought to have the presenter lying on a couch, dressed in a sarong and a singlet and begin each news item with "Wah liau, you heard this one-ah?"

Link  | 

7:53 PM - Let's Religion!

From Fate:

While the Bible makes no mention of what Jesus did with his life between the ages of 21 and 33, the Takenouchi document provides a detailed explanation of what Jesus was up to during these “lost years.” According to Jesus’s will, known as “The Last Testament,” he first came to Japan during the reign of the Emperor Suinin when he was 21 and spent the next 12 years under the tutelage of a distinguished Japanese priest, studying the culture and religion of Japan.

I can't stop giggling.

Jesus: Son of God, Saviour, otaku.

Link  | 

7:52 PM - On the wall

A Chinese factory motivation technique.

(From Danwei.)

Link  | 

Thursday, January 08, 2004

6:01 PM - Designer toys

From Wired 12.01:

We like to think we've left our G.I. Joes and Barbies back in the sandbox. Yet they are still with us in our office cube-farms. Gangs of action figures stand guard at people's workstations: Wolverine looms over the printer while Yoda secures the inbox and Homer Simpson scratches his head beside the phone. They are the foot soldiers that cartoons, movies, and comic books send into our mundane reality.

But now a new kind of plastic pet is on the scene - one not born of a corporate media franchise. These action figures emerge directly from the minds of their artist-creators, and they're intensely cool - funky fusions of surrealism, urban fantasy, and punchy design that are at once arty and in-your-face.

One is inclined to add these new figures engender pompous, pretentious phraseology.

It's a shame designers of mainstream action figures aren't going to get the kind of fawning seen in that Wired article. I doubt folks like Abiko and Kobayashi are going to be mentioned in the same breath as designers like Michael Lau anytime soon.

Ah, it's all about perception, isn't it? Michael Lau's figures are considered art mainly because they're overpriced and sold in boutique-like stores whereas Takara action figures -- easily superior both in terms of design and engineering -- are looked down upon because they're cheap enough for a kid to get and are available at your friendly neighbourhood TRU.

Link  | 

5:59 PM - Toy pix

Head on over to Omopura for some stunning CG-enhanced pictures of action figures. I especially love the pix of the Kamen Rider 555 Orphenochs in Gallery 2.

(Turn on Javascript to see larger versions of some thumbnails.)

Link  | 

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

10:44 PM - Bard of course

Emgee Obie-Nathan:

And now for my next number I'd like to play you a melancholy tune. It's my ode to a humble beast of burden which does its duty uncomplaining no matter the hardship involved. I call it ... "Kiss my ass."

Link  | 

10:17 PM - 30 and still going strong

A digi-doodle of a M11x series Microman.

The Microman line celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The line hasn't done as well as Transformers in recent years and indeed Microman directly suffered because of the popularity of Transformers.

The 1999 MagnePowers line and its sequel, LED Powers, were cult favourites of many action figure fans but I believe those lines suffered because of a lack of focus and Takara's dire financial situation back then.

However, the 2003 Microforce line was very well received and Takara is hoping to build on that success this year. There are three Microman-based lines planned and Microman designer Abiko Kazutami even dropped hints about a CG media tie-in -- will it be a show, comic or game? -- in a recent interview.

Link  | 

5:52 PM - SNAFU

From a previous entry:

It's probably due to a combination of TM Net finally getting its act together ...

Remind me to never make wild assumptions about TM Net's competency again.

I lost my Streamyx connection thrice today. The ADSL Line indicator on my D-Link DSL-200i started blinking which meant I had lost my connection with the CO.

I called the Streamyx hotline, waited for about five minutes -- by the way, does that pre-recorded voice telling you to wait for X-number of minutes have to sound so infuriatingly chirpy? -- and was told the problem was due to (surprise, surprise) something on TM Net's end.

Things seem to be back to normal right now but another screw-up is forthcoming, I'm sure.

"Thank you for calling TM Net's customer service centre. Your peace of mind is not terribly important to us. Your next scheduled Streamyx problem will occur in *pause* 1800 minutes ..."

Link  | 

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

8:51 PM - "Bola itu bulat"

Want to speak like a seasoned football pundit? The BBC has a guide to football clichés.

Link  | 

7:42 PM - A digital seduction of the innocent

Computer games, videogames and the people who play them are in the firing line once again. There's a MeFi debate over whether games (especially the action slash violent variety) are the most evil thing ever invented.

These attacks against games and gamers are getting exasperating. These are the same sort of baseless, ill-informed accusations that were hurled at comics and comic readers once upon a time and I suspect Fredric Wertham would have approved wholeheartedly of this media-fuelled outrage over the digital seduction of the innocent.

Some gamers are fighting back. Penny Arcade started Child's Play, a toy donation drive, with the intent of providing the media with a positive view of gamers. In Gabe's own words:

If you are like me, every time you see an article like this one - where the author claims that video games are training our nations youth to kill - you get angry. The media seems intent on perpetuating the myth that gamers are ticking time bombs just waiting to go off. I know for a fact that gamers are good people. I have had the opportunity on multiple occasions to meet hundreds of you at conventions all over the country. We are just regular people who happen to love video games.

The good news is gamers responded in an outstanding fashion. The bad news is nobody in the media seems to care. One might infer from this that games-are-evil is fashionable article material but gamers-are-caring is not.

But as MeFi poster mischief points out, Child's Play was just one of many toy donations during the holiday and Stan Chin is right in saying positive media coverage of the event wasn't PA's god-given right. While one can understand PA's outrage over one report's inaccuracy, I don't think that particular mistake ought to be used as a damning indictment of the media.

Link  | 

Monday, January 05, 2004

9:46 PM - "He scores goals ..."

United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Villa Park in the third round of the FA Cup. (The Insider has a write-up.)

The first half was awful to watch if you were a United fan. It took the Red Devils 20 minutes to conjure up their first shot on goal. The clever flicks and the one-twos were just not happening and stray passes put paid to most of United's attacking moves.

Villa, meanwhile, had two clear chances in the opening 10 minutes. If it weren't for the impressive Howard, United would have been staring at another early exit.

The American keeper had little chance of saving Villa's goal in the 19th minute, however. Gareth Barry's shot deflected off Wes Brown -- look up the definition of "luckless" and you'll see his mug shot -- and ended up in the back of the net.

Ferguson threw van Nistelrooy and Keane into the fray in the second half and United looked a more confident side from then on. It took less than 10 minutes for the equaliser to arrive and it came courtesy of Scholes. It took another five minutes for United to take the lead and it was Scholes once again.

United take on either Northampton or Rotherham in the fourth round.

And I quote

David O'Leary:

The biggest compliment I can give my players is that it has taken the 'full monty' to come on and beat us.

I should point out he didn't mean United had to resort to using unemployed Sheffield steel workers turned strippers.

Link  | 

9:04 PM - Awfully fun

I love Something Awful. Where else can one find a medieval tapestry featuring Voltron? Comedy Goldmine, indeed. The Photoshop Phridays, an amazing blend of technical wizardry, artistic skill and perverse humour, are excellent as well.

Warning: The site is unsuitable for minors, who should be studying diligently or browsing Daddy's Secret Folder of Gross JPEGs instead.

Link  | 

Sunday, January 04, 2004

7:49 PM - Why Smokescreen?

Someone was wondering why Takara and Hasbro chose Smokescreen as the first figure in the acclaimed Binaltech/Alternators line. It seems an awfully strange choice, doesn't it? G1 Smokescreen wasn't the most prominent or the most popular of the Car Robot-generation Autobots.

I would guess the choice was influenced by the licensor, Subaru. The car manufacturer might have insisted Takara and Hasbro release a WRC version of the Impreza in rally colours before releasing the WRX version. Smokescreen would've been the best candidate among the Datsun Fairlady Z Autobots for the WRC version since he sported a racing scheme.

The bonus here is that the other Datsun Fairlady Z Autobots could be used for the repaints. The Bluestreak-inspired Alternators Silverstreak/BT-03 Streak has already been announced and I reckon an Impreza Prowl will be eventually released. Sound farfetched? Keep in mind older models of the Subaru Impreza WRX were used as pursuit vehicles by police in Canada and Australia.

Link  | 

7:42 PM - Mugenbine

Simodon has another review of the Machine Robo Mugenbine figures and it includes some fan-made combinations.

I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of monstrous MRM combos gattai maniakku Sakio will come up with.

Link  | 

Saturday, January 03, 2004

8:49 PM - Microman 2004

There's another interview with Microman designer Abiko Kazutami on Takara Hobby.

It includes glam shots of the upcoming Acroyear figures: Acroyear Acroscorl, Acroyear Acrocrave, Vortech and Acroyear Acrobiom. (I'm not sure about the romanisation of the names, though.)

Unfortunately, Microman 2004 has been delayed due to a production problem. I don't really mind. I'd rather Takara delay the figures than see the company release a substandard product.

In other news, a second Microman-based line is in the offing and this one will be based on a famous movie character license. Might that famous movie character be ... Ultraman? (Takara released a repro Henshin Cyborg-based Ultraman Jack figure last year.) A Microman version of Ultraman would be cool since the Microman design is capable of reproducing all the famous Ultraman poses. But you wouldn't describe Ultraman as a famous movie character, would you? Well, I'm stumped.

The Japanese toy maker is also collaborating with a fashion magazine(!) for a third Microman-based line. I cannot wait to see what sort of bizarre creations result from this unholy union between haute couture and action figures.

Finally, Takara also released a questionnaire asking what repros fans would like to see and the answers included the Titan Command series, Giant Acroyear and the vehicles. I would love to see Takara reproduce these figures. The designs may be 27 years old but the playability is still there thanks to the interchangeability.

Link  | 

8:37 PM - Pearls Before Swine

Heh.

(Click fast because the link dies at the end of the month.)

Link  | 

Friday, January 02, 2004

7:32 PM - Picture this

If you're looking for art -- both digital and traditional -- with a sci-fi or fantasy theme, head on over to Epilogue. In their own words:

Epilogue is a growing community of today's most talented artists and illustrators, specializing in science fiction and fantasy art. Founded by artists for artists, our sole purpose is to help fellow artists to become more successful through high-quality exposure and community interaction. Epilogue offers a uniquely diverse and creative environment for artists of all levels to learn and grow in their craft.

The galleries are divided into various themes which include anime, sci-fi and fantasy as well as a gallery to showcase Editors' Picks.

There doesn't appear to be much in the way of mecha-themed art but otherwise, there are loads of purty pix to gawk at and admire.

And if you should feel inspired to try your hand at creating your own art, there are even art tutorials.

Prepare to waste hours.

(Link obtained from the Quarter to Three forum.)

Link  | 

Thursday, January 01, 2004

9:32 PM - Brandish

Another digi-doodle of CommanderMicroman from the Microman Masterforce series.

The more I play with CommanderMicroman, the more I love it. If an action figure's got enough articulation points, you can adequately portray action. If an action figure's got superior articulation, you can practically convey emotion through body language.

Don't believe me? Just you wait until l get a digital camera with a killer macro mode.

Link  | 

8:32 PM - The die is cast

Apparently every toy fan got a memo insisting that the word "heft" has to be used when talking about a die-cast toy.

You expect it on the Toybox BBS since it's frequented by die-cast fetishists but it's surprising when it's coming from folks talking about the differences between Alternators and Binaltech Smokescreen.

I'm not saying there's no discernible difference between the two versions. I'm just saying the difference -- especially in terms of weight -- is hugely overrated.

I haven't weighed Binaltech Smokescreen (and I don't have Alternators Smokescreen) but I gather the in-package weights for the two are 0.58kg and 0.4kg respectively. Unless Binaltech Smokescreen magically puts on 5kg when taken out of the package, I don't think the weight should be that big a factor because the actual weight difference between the two figures is probably less than 300g.

I've also seen folks claim that the Alternators version plays better because it's lighter. The implication is that the playability of the Binaltech version is somehow hampered by its weight. Which leads me to wonder what kind of weakling has that trouble. The damned thing weighs less than half a kilogramme. Trust me, picking it up is not going to result in a full upper body workout.

To put things in perspective, Powerlinx Optimus Prime (from the Transformers Armada line) has an in-package weight of 1.58kg. Yet you don't hear about "heft" and a massive playability hit because of weight in Optimus Prime's case.

Yeah, there are differences between the two versions of Smokescreen but let's not exaggerate them.

Link  | 

8:27 PM - An evening in Dagger Falls

I found another nice NWN server today. Dagger-something-or-other. I spent about two hours playing and had a fun enough time that I put the server in my Favourites tab.

The ping rates were excellent and I had no technical problems whatsover. In fact, playing multiplayer NWN has been very pleasant of late. It's probably due to a combination of TM Net finally getting its act together and my hardware upgrade.

The server has some good house rules. The most interesting one was player advancement beyond level 10 was limited to those who had obtained tokens from DMs. These tokens were handed out as rewards for role-playing and generally being a positive influence.

This is a wonderful idea.

It's a good way to prevent those ding-dongs who have awful RP judgement from getting too powerful and abusing their power.

As a bonus, it also frustrates the powergamers and forces them to RP instead of simply running from combat encounter to combat encounter. I expect powergamers wouldn't be interested in the server anyway since the server is pretty stingy with its XP from what I can tell.

It was a bit difficult finding a fellow neophyte to adventure with but the role-playing element was quite good. Hell, I had a fun time simply asking for directions from another player.

I did eventually put together a party -- cheers to Twitch and Kara -- and we had some fun exploring a crypt. (Memo to myself: Try casting Ray of Frost on the Zombies before they get killed.)

I need a few more sessions before deciding if I want to settle there but it looks really promising.

Link  | 

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