Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Wed, 23 Nov 2005

Half a Life

After my various experiments with Doom I thought I might try something slightly more up to date. As I mentioned before I spent a lot time playing Half-Life back around 1998. I still had the CD in my rack, so I thought I'd see if it could run somehow on Linux. I found a site that details how to do it. I'm obviously well behind the times as the site has not been updated for a couple of years. Basically the game can be run using the wonderful Wine system. It's not exactly an emulator, but it allows Windows programs to run on Linux.

I had a few issues running Half-Life. After installing it I could get into the menus, with sound, but the game itself failed due to problems accessing the CD drive. A bit of tweaking and installing a later game patch (hl1110.exe) sorted this. So now I can relive those days wandering around the Black Mesa Research Facility. In the brief time I've spent playing I have yet to get past the long introduction to the point where everything goes wrong and the aliens appear. The graphics are a big step up from Doom that came five years before, but I expect the current crop are even better. The surfaces in Half-Life are very smooth and there are no curves. If I really wanted to play games I could just get something like the new XBox, but I really ought to do things other than playing games.

My main remaining annoyance with Half-Life on Linux is that when I quit the game my desktop resolution always changes. There's probably some option to prevent this.

In other news I was drumming at Secret Bass on Sunday. I think there were about eleven there this time. There may only be one more session this year. I'm on the search for my own Djembe, but there do not seem to be many places to buy them.

The UK weather has taken a turn to the cold and misty this week. This makes driving slightly more dangerous, but a slight mist is not an excuse for drivers to use their fog lights all the time! Those lights are only for use when others would not be able to see you otherwise. I keep having my retinas burnt by the rear fogs of these inconsiderate people.

[08:53] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Fri, 11 Nov 2005

Mariza at Cambridge Corn Exchange

I first became aware of Mariza when she appeared on Later some time ago. She's a Portuguese Fado singer. Not my normal listening, but I was impressed by her singing, even if I couldn't understand the words.

Friends of ours had tickets to see her, but couldn't go, so they offered them to Tanya and myself. The Corn Exchange was full. It was a slightly older crowd than most gigs I go to. This is the first time I've seen a gig there without any scenery and this worked well as the old brick arches made a great, atmospheric backdrop. The BBC were there with several cameras to film the concert as part of a documentary about Mariza and Fado. I expect it will be on BBC4 some time.

She came on at 7:45 with her band. This consisted of classical guitar, Portuguese guitar, acoustic bass, violin, viola, cello and percussion in various combinations. The sound was great and they used lighting well to set the mood. The songs varied from emotional ballads to up-tempo stuff you could have danced to and which we were encouraged to clap along with. Her voice is incredible. I thought there were hints of Jewish and Arabic music in some songs. At times she almost sounded like she was calling the Muslims to prayer. I don't understand any Portuguese, but the emotion came through clearly.

She was on stage for nearly two hours, including a long encore during which she and the guitarists did one song without amplification. This resulted in a very different sound as she was having to sing so much louder, but she had enough power to pull it off, helped by an audience who almost held their breath to keep quiet. She also did Gershwin's Summertime, but said that some people back home would kill her if they found out. She talked quite a bit about what the music meant to her and seemed to appreciate the reception she got.

The band were also encellent, although the drummer did milk his solo somewhat. The guitarists did an instrumental piece that reminded me somewhat of the Eagles' acoustic version of Hotel California.
[08:56] | [Review] | Comments | G

Wed, 09 Nov 2005

Doom kaboom!

I found another Doom port to try. PrBoom has the main advantage of actually giving me sound! For those without the original data files it comes with it's own one so you can play it straight away. It's fun in a retro way. There are lots of options that I need to explore. I blasted through the first couple of maps last night, but couldn't remember where all of the secret areas were.

Back in the Amiga days I felt left out of the Doom-type games scene. Then Team 17 released Alien Breed 3D. I spent many hours playing that. The graphics were very basic, but the action was pretty good. Unlike Doom there was no option to save during a level. Instead you got a very long code at the end. I think I did most of the levels. Later I played Doom on the Amiga, but by then it had been souped up to a mighty 33MHz 68040 and 32MB.

Meanwhile, the kids have been playing PlanetPenguin Racer. It's basically just a penguin sliding down an icy hill, but the graphics are pretty good and there are loads of courses to play. This is based on Tux Racer which I tried on previous Linux systems, but I don't think I ever got it fully working. On Ubuntu it was a matter of installing the NVidia driver to make better use of my hardware. Just about everything I have installed on Ubuntu has been a matter of selecting packages from their repositories and most things have just worked. For things like the Doom ports I've had to locate the program files myself to run them as they do not appear in the menu.

[09:04] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Sun, 06 Nov 2005

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit 4/5

I've been an admirer of Nick Park's work from the days of Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts. A while back they signed a five film deal with Dreamworks. Chicken Run was the first of these and this is the second. Chicken Run was more of a Hollywood type film, this is back to basics with Peter Sallis as Wallace and a few big names like Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes. The look is fairly similar to the last couple of W&G films. I expect more money was available this time to make it all so polished. I see from the IMDB that they used some CGI, but had to tweak it to look like plastecine.

Our heroes are running a pest control operation to protect the town's prize vegetables before the big show. Then an accident with Wallace's new mind control machine creates a monster.

I have to say it's a cracking film. Plenty of laughs and some great action scenes. You have to keep watching for all the sight gags and film references. I hope they do another W&G feature, but I'm sure their other films will be great too.

The main feature was preceeded by a short based around the penguins from Dreamworks' Madagasgar. This was very funny too. I remember when most films in the cinema had a short first, but this seemer rare these days. Pixar do some great ones.

[15:16] | [Review] | Comments | G

Sun, 30 Oct 2005

Doomed

I don't generally play computer games these days. It eats time that I could be wasting in other ways. In the past I played loads of games on my BBC Micro and assorted Amigas. I used to work at a place where we could get away with playing network games at lunch time. We got through a few, including Doom and Duke Nukem. I actually played some Doom on my Amiga after they released the source code and it was ported. The last game I played extensively was Half-Life on my old PC. I enjoy the ability to explore a world that this sort of game offers.

For some reason I decided this week that I wanted to play one of these games again. I've tried a couple of Linux Doom ports. Legacy looks the best so far, but I have yet to get any sound working. I have a set of game CDs I bought to use with the Amiga that include Doom I and II. I may have to get into it again.

I know games have moved on a lot from Doom and even Half-Life, but my PC does not have a great graphics card, so I'm limited in what I can play. I've not even tried any of the many on-line virtual worlds. I'm not sure I want to commit myself to that sort of thing. I just want to blast things now and again.

[17:33] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Thu, 27 Oct 2005

Review: Gattaca 3/5

This is a film I had been wanting to see for a while, but just got around to recording when it was on TV recently and watched last night. It's a real style exercise. Although set in the near future, the people look like they belong in the 1930s with hints of later decades. The cars are supposed to electric, but look like old models including P6 Rovers for the police. The architecture is minimalist and smoking is back in fashion.

In this future babies are designed to have flawless genes and anyone who does not meet those standard cannot get a decent job. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is a flawed natural birth (an Invalid) who wants to go into space, but can only get work as a cleaner. He pays Jerome (Jude Law), a paraplegic Valid, to supply him with the genetic material he needs to bluff his way into a job at the Gattaca aerospace company. There are complications when a flight director is murdered and traces of Vincent are found on the scene. Uma Thurman plays the love interest Irene. She looks perfect enough, but didn't do much for me emotionally. Actually the film didn't move me that way generally apart from at the very end, but was interesting as a style piece and as a warning of what could happen. The whole film is tinted a bit green (like The Matrix) for some reason. The Michael Nyman score is good if you like minimal music.

Overall I'm glad I saw it, but don't feel the need to watch it again too soon, even though I feel I may have missed something in the plot.

Details as usual at IMDB.

[22:21] | [Review] | Comments | G

Mon, 24 Oct 2005

Double Distributed Processing Anniversary

In April last year I formed a team with some colleagues on the Grid.org project. I'd been running it for a few years myself. As of this week we have clocked up six years of processing and one million points. That's with a core of four or five people and a few others along the way. This is small beer for a project that clocks up well over 100 years each day, but it all helps in the quest to cure cancer and other diseases.

Other things I meant to blog: I saw one of the Virgin airline entertainment systems do a re-boot and spotted Tux at the start. You wouldn't know it was a Linux system when it's running, but then it doesn't look like Windows either. I wonder what sort of hardware they have on board. There must be a server with all the media. I guess there could be a little PC with no local storage built into the screen or a rack of them elsewhere. Anyone know?

Since I got back I've had time to watch a little TV. Family Guy and American Dad started runs on BBC2. A couple of adult cartoons that I will not be letting the kids watch. The Simpsons is generally OK or just goes over their heads, but these are both a bit too adult for them. Both funny though and I will be watching them again. Later is back. I've not watched so much of recent series, but last week's had some great music. I'll have to set it to record every week on my PVR, assuming it's always at the same time as my box is not too intelligent. Amazingly this series 26 (2 per year?)! Jools still asks the same old questions in his interviews.

[13:52] | [News] | Comments | G

Sat, 22 Oct 2005

Batman Begins 4/5

Watched this on the way back from Miami. Not optimal due to the usual small screen, made worse by the person in front leaning back.

This is a darker (in both senses) Batman film. It explores how Bruce Wayne came to be a crime fighter. This involves some mystical training in China and a supply of gadgets from his company's labs. Christian Bale is a cool customer and backed up by some major actors (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson). The baddies are really bad and not as comic as in the other films. The action is spectacular in what I could make out in the mostly night scenes.

Some of the city scenes were shot in the enormous Cardington hangers a few miles from where I live.

Details on IMDB and DVD at Amazon.

[17:01] | [Review] | Comments | G

Upgrading Ubuntu

I've been using Ubuntu Linux for a few months now. Generally it just does what I need after a few little tweaks. This month the latest release (5.10 aka Breezy Badger) was released and I decided to try an upgrade. This is supposed to be a matter of running a couple of commands, but all did not go smoothly.

After letting it download a few hundred megabytes and install everything I re-booted and ended up with a command line rather than the usual graphical log-in screen. It proved impossible to get either KDE or Gnome to run.

Luckily I could use another PC (running Windows 98) to access the web and search for solutions. Eventually I managed to fix it with a combination of apt-get -f install (to fix dependencies) and installing xfonts-base. So now I had my GUI back, but still had a few issues with size of fonts and complaints from the update process about a few packages. Running apt-get -f install again fixed the latter.

So after the upgrade what has changed? Actually not a whole lot. I'm still using KDE, so maybe Gnome has changed more. At least I can get straight to the address book in Kmail. It took a further update to get GPG working on mail.

My next areas to explore are video editing (still not done any) and audio recording. I want to record myself playing the guitar for my own amusement. Audacity looks like a possible tool for this.

[17:00] | [Computer] | Comments | G

Tue, 18 Oct 2005

P.O.S.H.

At very short notice I had to fly out to Miami again for work. For a change I flew Virgin and was lucky to get upgraded to their Upper Class. This is similar to the BA business class that I have also experienced. Both have similar levels of service and quality of food, but the Virgin planes seem to be better equipped. The seat was very comfortable, but I didn't try the full bed option. It has a huge table and a great entertainment system. You have access to about 30 films and lots of TV shows as well as their radio shows and a choice of CDs. Unlike most systems you have full control so you can watch when you like and pause as necessary. I think there's a few aspects of how the menus work that could be better, but overall I was impressed. As I was stuck there for over 8 hours I watched the following films:

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 3/5

I've heard the radio show, read the books, played the games etc so I know the plot pretty well. This version diverges a bit from the others, but it's all supposed to be Douglas Adams' vision. Some scenes were identical to the old ones, but there were significant changes and additions. Martin Freeman was a more assertive Arthur and Mos Def a more panicky Ford. The others were pretty much as before. Obviously the effects are better this time, but I don't know if they need to be that fancy. It was fun, but I was slightly disappointed. Maybe I just have it too fixed in my mind how it should be.

Details on IMDB and you can buy it at Amazon or get the old TV version

Sin City 4/5

I knew this was based on a series of comic books, but I've not read them. It really captures the look and feel of a comic. It's mostly black and white with accents of colour and beautifully put together. It's basically three interlinked film noir type stories about different men fighting injustice in brutal ways. It really is very violent, but not in a totally realistic way. Some characters seem almost indestructable, especially Mickey Rourke's big hunk of muscle. On the whole the men are tough and the women are gorgeous, but also get to fight back. I was impressed.

Details on IMDB and DVD on Amazon.

Unleashed 3/5

This is a mix of violent British gangster film, martial arts extravaganza and touching human drama. Danny, Jet Li, is an incredible fighter who is treated like an attack dog by debt collector Bob Hoskins. Danny is taken in by blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman who teaches him to be human. As you would expect, his past catches up with him and there is the inevitable big fight at the end. Although I watch a fair few violent films I get sickened by those who appear to enjoy inflicting pain on others. There is a lot of that in this film, but this is balanced by the good people. Jet Li is very good at fighting, if not a great actor. He has plenty of the former to keep him busy. Part of one fight takes place in the 'smallest room' of a Glasgow flat. The film was written by Luc Besson whose films I generally enjoy. This is not his best, but good for it's genre in my limited experience.

Details on IMDB. The DVD will be out in time for Xmas.

Buying through the Amazon links will benefit my daughter's school. Alternative suppliers can be found at Buy.at.

[11:51] | [Review] | Comments | G

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