Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2. The most immersive first-person shooter I’ve ever played. From it’s “throw you in at the deep end” beginning – chased around the streets of the overpowering City 17 by Combine agents, rushing through apartments as raids go on all around you – to it’s immensely clever, multi-faceted puzzles – how do I get past that guard? I could creep by him: I wonder if he’s paying attention… or throw that can to make a noise… maybe I could knock him in the back of the head before the security camera sees me… can he swim? – it’s a thrilling game. In the Half-Life tradition, very little is given away, and the player is left to make many of their own assumptions about the way the world around them works; I find this a little frustrating (I’d like to hear more back-story), but this is soon taken away when I’m drawn into another firefight. The game is gorgeously detailed – the characters around you frown, smile, wink, raise an eyebrow… and genuinely look relieved, scared, upset, etc. Meanwhile, explosions outside are rendered beautifully, water reacts like it should, and the ‘Havok’ physics engine means that if you can imagine it, you really can build it out of the myriad small items around you.

Despite Paul and my complaints about the Steam distribution system, it’s all seemed very good – owing to it’s modular design, I was able to start playing the game when it was just 69% downloaded (and when I ‘caught up’ with it, I only had to wait a few seconds for more content to be downloaded). Paul may be relieved to hear that once the game is downloaded (or activated, if it’s store-bought) it can be played in “offline mode”, and never accesses the internet without permission, it won’t auto-update unless you let it, and there is an option to back up the version you currently have installed – to CDs, for example – so that you could, if you wished, reformat and reinstall Windows and re-install the game without having to download it again. In addition, the modular design meant that my download was ready sooner than it might otherwise be, as it took advantage of the files I’d already downloaded as part of the demo version. I’m still not sure of any way to install to a different drive, which I’d particularly like to be able to do, but nonetheless I’m more impressed with Steam than I expected to be.

I managed to play Half-Life 2 for four hours… before I began to feel motion sick (I’d recently had a plasma cannon installed on my hovercraft, and driving it [with my left hand] while aiming and firing the weapon [with my right] left my poor eyes sufficiently confused that I’m now taking a quick break). I’ll probably go in again and blast some more Combine scum before I go to Sian and Andy‘s New Year’s Party. Yeah!

Update: Fixed link to Paul’s new blog after he moved it, breaking a universe of links. Old content was at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thepacifist/202607.html

Internet Explorer Exploit Of The Day

There’s yet another killer Internet Explorer bug out there, which is manifesting itself in the form of a new trojan, Phel.A. This one only affects Windows PCs updated with SP2 (the supposedly ‘safe’ people) and works by confusing the ‘trusted’ and ‘untrusted’ zones.

I always find reports like this interesting, so I’ve written an exploit of my own. If you’re still using Microsoft Internet Explorer, and you’d like to see why you shouldn’t be:

  1. Click here to look at a web page I’ve set up [update: link long-dead]. It looks kinda boring, I know, but – if you’re using Internet Explorer, it will slyly put a tiny application in your Startup group.
  2. Next time you log into Windows, the tiny application will download and install a bigger application.
  3. Next time after this that you log into Windows, the bigger application will run, and tell you why you shouldn’t be using Internet Explorer.

The information on how to use this exploit is easily available on the web. Before long, we’ll be seeing another wave of web sites that can install software on ant Internet Explorer users’ computer.

If you’re still using Internet Explorer, take a look at BrowseHappy.

Old Posts Recovered

This is probably going to go on for months, yet, but I’ve just recovered some more of the posts that were lost last summer, including:

If you didn’t read any of those at the time, before they ‘disappeared’, you can do so now, as they’re ‘recovered’. There’s a few more ‘recovered’ posts here and there, too, but they’re mostly for my benefit and not so noteworthy.

I’ve also found a cache of old “Avatar Diary” posts (my original blog – 1998/1999 – some posts available here) and some other microblogs I ran along the way over the last six years, so hopefully I’ll be able to “fill in” some the the gaps over the next month or so. Which’ll be cool, because then I’ll have what’ll be the longest-running weblog I’ve ever seen.

What Shall We Do For New Year?

Well; it’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow, and I know that some folks (like Bryn, Matt, and Liz) are back in town – what’s everybody want to do to see in the New Year (as good an excuse for merriment as any other)?

Symantec Warranty

If only we could get away with clauses like this in our warranties:

Symantec does not warrant that the Appliance will meet your requirements or that the operation of the Appliance will be uninterrupted or that the Appliance will be error-free.

In other words: we don’t promise that this will do what you want it to, and even if it does, we can’t guarantee that it won’t fall over or even work at all.

And we pay money for this kind of hardware? It’s amazing what you can hide in the small print. I also notice that this Symantec device is Linux-powered. Perhaps I should write to Symantec and request a copy of the OS source code, in accordance with the GNU General Public Licence.

Bloody Power Cut

For the last two hours, it seems, large chunks of residential central Aberystwyth have been completely without electricity. Anybody know what’s going on? Drop me a text.

Lottery Winners Counter

Did you know that 94% of lottery tickets get no balls, one ball, or two balls – and therefore don’t win a prize… the odds of getting three balls (1 in 57) [source: National Lottery: Prize Allocation] is less likely than the odds that recently-reported asteroid 2004-MN4 was going to hit us (widely reported as 1-in-37, now disproven: we will not be hit by 2004-MN4 in 2029)?

Yes; let’s face it – we all know these figures. But numbers like these aren’t a great way to reflect quite how hideously unlikely you are to win anything. So….

Recently, a colleague of mine showed me a little JavaScript application that counts real-time deaths from various causes. Basically, the author took statistics from the WHO about averages deaths by cause per year, and wrote this application to illustrate the death rates. Go watch it for awhile and then you’ll understand.

In any case; Claire suggested that a really good idea would be a similar application based on National Lottery statistics – one that showed the rate of ticket purchases versus the ‘win rate’ in a “live”, graphical, display. Of course, this model would make some assumptions – that tickets were bought evenly throughout the week (and not in a ‘rush’ on Saturday afternoons), for example, and that every ticket was pre-determined to be a ‘winner’ or not. In any case: she did the maths, and I wrote the code, and here it is

(if you’re viewing this page through Abnib this won’t appear as it should – view the calculator here)

If you want to put this application on your own weblog, or your own web site, or wherever, the code to do so is:

<script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript" src="/q23-content/lottery.js"></script>

If your weblog is hosted with somebody else (e.g. LiveJournal) you might not be able to put scripts on your ‘blog. Just so you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Dreams Of Escape

Just yesterday, I was commenting to Claire and Paul that I couldn’t remember any dreams I’d had, recently (we were talking about their recent dreams), and then, last night:

For some reason, this dream took place mostly in Preston. I was walking around a contorted, ‘different’-looking part of the Avenham district, towards Riversway (the dock itself is for some reason not shown on the linked map, but it’s there – both in real life and in my dream – in that big, grey area). In any case; upon reaching a large road near the dockside, I was surprised to find that a Safeway store had been constructed there since my last visit. But what I remembered being there was not whatever-really-is-there… what I remembered being there was a large hedge maze, in which Claire and I got lost in a dream I had several months ago. In any case, this superstore was spectacular, as it was not only the largest supermarket I’ve ever seen, but also included a large theme park. The big, green track of a rollercoaster snaked around in the air above it, and a yellow ‘caterpillar’-style train (with a big fibreglass umbrella in it’s midsection) whizzed around it. Behind that, I could make out a big wheel and an assortment of other rides.

Surprised at the presence of this unusual shopping centre, I continued to trek East, alongside the mystery new Safeway store. I began to miss Claire – having been reminded of her by remembering how a hedge maze used to be where the supermarket now was (mmm… dream self-referencial-ness). The boundary of the land that held the supermarket, theme park, and their associated car park, was marked by a shallow trench (about three feet deep and about six feet across) filled with water, over which bridges crossed to provide access to the car park. Further from the entrance – such as where I now found myself – this moat became wider, and small, long islands stretched along it in places. These were all well-kept: covered with recently-cut grass – and the borders of the islands were entirely vertical, reinforced with rough-hewn bricks.

I came across a man wearing an invisibility jacket (a.k.a. a glo-vest), who, seeing me looking at the moat, showed off by demonstrating that he could ‘run’ on the water, dancing along on his tip-toes. He explained that the water was not as deep as it looked, and when I tried it, I found that he was right. I followed him along one of the central islands, back towards the supermarket entrance, and he took off his high-visibility jacket (and I was unsure where he put it, because I never saw him carrying it). But we could only go so far before we came across a small sign, implanted in the grass, stating that we were going the wrong way. For awhile, I considered disobeying, but a woman in a Safeway uniform was walking towards us, down the island, so I decided against it. Thanking the man-without-the-day-glo-clothing, I continued to trek coastwards.

Somehow, here, I came across a large bus station (which also doesn’t exist) on a remarkably busy dual carriageway. Here, things go a little hazy, but I remember that I was speaking to a woman and her daughter, and they were running away from something, and they asked me to deliver a bag (identical to a bag I own) to a friend’s house in Fulwood (North Preston), where she and her daughter would be staying, which I agreed to do. And I remember looking at the contents of the bag and thinking that they were travelling rather lightly. But that’s about it.

Sorry it’s not as interesting as some of the ones reported when I was taking Lariam, earlier this year.

Impact – Certain!

I take it you’ve all heard about asteroid 2004-MN4, which NASA have been having a field day over, because recent estimates have said that it’s chance of impact with the earth (on Friday 13th April 2029) could be as high as 1-in-37 (2.7%)… well; I’ve just found a well-hidden page on NASA‘s Near Earth Object Program that makes an impact estimate that’s terrifyingly higher… see a scary estimate (the server’s a little unreliable, you may need to try to connect a few times)…

Also, why not play with Arizona State University‘s Impact Effects Calculator, which estimates the damage that would be done by an asteroid impact with the parameters you provide.

That was funny. Made you look, didn’t I?

A Merry Little Christmas

All in all, that was a fantastic little Christmas Day – less disasters, fights, fires or cats-eating-decorations than a typical Christmas with my family, but no less fun for it.

Our landlords, who run the cafe below our flat, were kind enough to lend us use of their kitchen over the festive period (mmm… catering-grade cooking gear…), which actually enabled us to meaningfully cook a Christmas dinner – just trying to fit a joint of turkey into our (borrowed]) mini oven, here, would have been a joke, never mind the stuffing, potatoes, parsnips, and pigs in blankets (which I’ll demonstrate to Paul is a British colloquialism, not an American one, as he claimed yesterday)! The three of us – Paul, Claire and I, managed to finish all of the sherry while preparing food, and began on the strawberry wine not long thereafter… a very drunk Christmas was had by all.

Gifts were exchanged… Claire’s been spending a good deal of time playing with her new concertina and has taken a ten-minute degree. I’ve been learning how to deal with a zombie invasion and discovering the 50 crappest towns in the UK (impressively, Preston comes in at number 30 – more crap than both Bedford and Croydon). On other gift-related notes, it looks like the pair of us are going to be particularly busy next June – with Claire’s birthday on the 16th, an REM concert in Manchester (40th crappest) on the 17th, then a Green Day concert in Milton Keynes (35th crappest) on the 18th. Non-interesting factoid: I’ve just noticed that both Green Day and The Goo Goo Dolls use Slender Fungus as their web designers for their official sites.

Oh; and a special thanks to Kit and Fiona, up in Scotland – also spending their first respective Christmases “away from home” for the home-made soaps, which we’re trying to identify (mostly by smell) now. By our reckoning, mine’s mint, Claire’s is poppy-seed, and Paul’s is lime. Lucky guess?

So; despite the fact that we made enough food to be a feast for six, which made the three of us very full, and that Claire got horribly drunk on wine in the evening and didn’t even survive the entirety of our special Troma Night Christmas Edition, it was still a great day. And better yet, I’ve just noticed that there’s one caramel bell left hanging on the tree… mmm… breakfast…

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, and all that bollocks.

Sorry; just wanted to be the first person on Abnib to make a Christmas Day post.

Right… where’s the sherry?

Claire & Paul

Why do Paul and Claire find it so impossible to get along? This evening, Paul’s cooking: right now, Claire’s preparing some vegetables for him, and they’ve begun arguing. Paul wants Claire to do things a particular way, and Claire doesn’t feel that Paul is giving her enough information to justify doing it. So Paul gets defensive, which Claire doesn’t feel answers her question, so she goes on the offensive, hiding behind a veil of being reasonable while actually trying to score as many blows as possible. This sends Paul spiralling into an agressive position. “Why don’t you do it, then?” Paul shouts, visibly exasperated…

…it’s all fine: within an hour, they’re okay again, laughing and joking and smiling… but I always end up feeling like I’m in the crossfire. And somehow, I don’t seem to be all swings and roundabouts as fast as the combatants themselves.


Tequila And Television

Claire went out on a work Christmas bash last night, so Paul and I decided to have a quiet night in with various retro TV shows (thanks UKNova) and drinks. All we had in in the latter category, however, was half a bottle of tequila, half a bottle of white rum, and a handful of other, less digestible things…

So, we thought, we’d wander out to Threshers, buy some more tequila and some orange juice and some grenadine, and have a tequila sunrise or ten. By the time we’d reached the bottom of both bottles of tequila we were feeling quite merry, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to mix drinks, substituting white rum instead. Drunk, Paul was heard to say, “Yeh… you can do a tequila sunrise with rum… they call it… <thinks> a tequila sunset…” Umm… okay.

Anyway, we watched Stressed Eric and Ban This Filth and a rental copy of Adaptation, one of my favourite films. JTA turned up with “Ruth, and were eventually followed by Ruth’s brothers, Owen and Robin, who sat and drank beer and watched bad TV with us.

Anyhow, Paul doesn’t seem so good this morning. =o)