Tuesday, September 28

Wanted: A Normal Day

Something must be wrong with the universe.

No, scratch that. I'm just too tired. Looking at the clock, it says I've been home for approximately one and a half hours. I can't even think straight enough to be able to catch SVU tonight and for the life of me I can't even remember why I'm blogging in the first place.

The laws of karmic justice are strange and improbable, a voice says in my head. Maybe it's the Douglas Adams I keep with me on my bedside (speaking of which, I have to rebuy my Dirk Gently Omnibus, reading Neil Gaiman's writeup on Adams makes everything feel so new!) or the general wave of crazy Murphy-isms invading my work week. A small sample:

As we were printing the programme book for the ceremony (since at the last minute the printer we engaged decided to bail out) on our HP Laserjets, a strange orange light hitherto unseen began to blink suspiciously on the control panel of Laser One (names have been changed to protect privacy). Bearing in mind that from the info we gathered Laser One had only been used sparingly, it was a huge surprise when we ran out of RM 250 Black. Laser Two and Inkjet One (for glossy) were still going on, but that necessitated a whole series of phone calls to various HP dealers and resellers until we found a way to make them come and deliver the RM 2000+ worth of toners to us (thank God for their Call-A-Cartridge policy) in the morning. Then, all of a sudden, the PCs died. Frantic searching revealed the cause to be the wall sockets apparently (in the words of a colleague) "blowing up". Murphy wasn't pleased with our progress, it seems. And then let's not get started on the mistypes and unseen, invisible gremlin-based errors...

Good, wholesome, clean fun.

Anyway, I'm buggering off, now. The strain is too much for my poor grey cells. If anyone's in the vicinity of my uni, do drop by the faculty from Thursday onwards. At the very least you'll get to meet me at my most strained, and if you're lucky I may even look, er, presentable*.



* pictures will be charged extra, of course. Someone has to feed the gorillas.


Monday, September 27

Cleaning Up After Murphy

Damn, it's been a fast day.

I kinda thought of that title phrase sometime between when I left the office and found myself stumbling out of the car, almost dead to the world but conscious of the little pattering that signals rain, or at least conscious enough to haul my oversized arse up the stairs and into the apartment. A drenched Ox is never really a good one (this week, I doubt any day will make me a good one) but I can't work if I'm sick, you see.

If by this time my readers (yes, hello again, you three) haven't figured out who Murphy is, lemme enlighten you. This is the same Murphy of the sacred Law which says, (well in simple terms anyway):

"If something can go wrong, it probably will."

True to form, Murphy visited the office today like the Bloody Head Fairy visited Ren and Stimpy (try and hunt down which episode that came from, and I promise a dinner treat) only instead of leaving a couple of coins, he left a couple of nice bombs that very nicely brought us all into condition FUBAR.

Fucked. Up. Beyond. All. Recognition.

We have two days more or less before D-Day, and if this were NATO, we'd be in Defcon 4 right now (or something that denotes some similar form of danger). So until further notice, I'm jacking into the Matrix that is my office-space and I hope to surface again sometime next Monday. There's too much to detail without being pedantic, and I can't do that to my readers now can I?

Wish me luck, guys, and I hope I'll be able to see you when I'm back.


Sunday, September 26

Sub Etha Transmissions

Photographs, awards, plaques, yearbooks. Records of who we were. Markers of where we went. As the years go by I am faced with the growing certainty that much of my life right now is almost irrevocably severed from my past, as if there is a brick wall separating that part of my life and all its attendant issues with the present Me. Sometime a couple of years back I changed, and because of that there were a lot of things that changed as well. While I'm not denying my past happened (denial never really works), hearing about other people's friendships and reunions make me wonder just how much I gave up in my journey to be me. Perhaps it's time to give up this whole "individuality" gig and conform. It would be so easy, and I probably wouldn't have a worry in the world (I'd also very probably sell off all my belongings and stay on campus as a dorm warden, but that's not the story for today).

Talking to a friend just now I bounced the idea that sometime in the future I will be making a road movie about lost connections, trying to pick up where I left off with the people I knew and rekindle all those friendships I'd somehow lost while most probably finding out that there's nothing left to find. In the movie, up till the point where (and if) I finally find myself, any images of me will be blurred, as if I will only be totally defined by what people remember of me.

Sometimes that's all we have to go on.

Reading the Readers' Digest growing up, I remember reading all those articles on "My Dad/Husband/Brother/Best Friend" and how in some way or another the writers' lives were unspeakably changed by the presence of these people. I've always wondered how I'd be remembered, if at all. Sitting in transition between the debris of the past and the uncertain constructs of the future, when the time comes will I have made any kind of an impact anywhere, on anyone's lives?

The answer could be (and most probably is) NO. Since I don't make it a habit to go to any reunions, not to mention weddings (ain't my fault if Kelantan seems the destination of choice) I'm thinking it's a safe bet that after awhile, the people I used to know will just skip my name when it comes to invites. A lot of it has to do with that sense that even after all these years we're still stuck in a time-warp. All of a sudden we're 16/17/21 again only this time, I'm so out of the loop that all the others are looking at me funny. So I've changed, and not many people are pleased with it (this in itself is another story).

Which brings us to the final scene in the movie: I come into focus, and as I drive away there is a photograph that floats down to the dusty road. It is a hot day, and this photograph has been with me since the start of the trip. For the entirety of the time the viewer is sure that my face is blurry in these images, only they're not really.

The only person who's blurry, is the one in my head.

"I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn't have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. They'd get bored as hell doing that after a while, and then I'd be through with having conversations for the rest of my life."

JD Salinger, The Catcher In The Rye


The Slipping Weekend and Fable

It's 4 pm on a Sunday and I'm desperately trying to cram in as much "lazy time" as I can from what remains of my weekend. This is the final stretch, the last few days before the faculty's 10th anniversary shebang kicks off (into what may not be) high gear, and I'm taking my final few breaths before Monday comes by yet again.

Throughout most of yesterday I was at work, teaching some school kids a thing or two on multimedia and generally attending to some of the details I have to work at for the "celebrations". Never mind that it's currently mired in several feet of uncertainty and other people's incompetence. The job must get done, or I'll go mad.

On another note, apparently someone's been spreading rumours of my possible resignation next year, since even the department heads have approached me, albeit uncertainly about it. The only thing I can say, I tell them is that we'll see what happens next year. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the meantime, early yesterday evening I finally got my hands on Fable. Four years in the making, not to mention a whole lot of times I went to the local vendors looking for it, and it's finally sitting inside my Xbox where it belongs. To date I've spent 5 hours on it, when there's at least 20 hours of gameplay in there.

Warning: geek gushing ahead.

So why am I so psyched? Simple. Fable is a game that allows the player a modicum of freedom in tackling the challenges it presents. Along the way, these changes shape the opinions of other characters in the game, making them either think the world of you, or you're the shit someone forgot to scrape off their shoes. Kind of like real life, one might say.

For instance, during the early hour of the game my character (a boy, then) was wondering about in his village when I came across a man having a romantic tryst behind one of the houses, while his wife was at work. True to form, the man offered me a cash reward (which I needed to buy a present for my in-game sister) in exchange for my silence, which I eventually took. But even then, when I ran into his wife later on I ratted him out anyway, with the result of her chasing him around town screeching like a fishwife. This is just one example of the surprising morality choices players face when playing the game. Before I leak out too much (I AM supposed to be working on a review for a friend) let's just say there's no right or wrong way to play this game. Take up a quest to protect some traders, but feel free to kill them if you get tired of babysitting. Additionally, your character grows up and (depending on his deeds) either is celebrated with renown or hissed at (both of which have their advantages).

If that doesn't sound like real fun, then I must be irreversibly damaged.

Anyway, it's back to the 'box for me. There's still a smidgen of Sunday left.

I suggest that everyone enjoy theirs, too.



Friday, September 24

Friday F-Ups

Warning: work related rant ahead.

It's been crazy at the office these past few weeks, with our 10th anniversary looming closer and so many loose ends still dangling every which way. In the chaos that's been my job I've noticed many, many things that are potential irritants, but none as damaging and mind boggling as the two I'm about to set down here. Some of you may disagree and call it nitpicking and that's fine, since everyone's entitled to their own opinion.

The Case of The Expensive Fee

I'm betting not a lot of people know this, but on the 30th (next week) the faculty is (who am I kidding, the faculty? It's me and my mates) organising an ICT exhibition as well as a seminar, both which are accessible to the public. Entrance to the exhibition (which showcases the history and "achievements" of the faculty as well as some other IT stuff, like online games) is free, while there's a fee of RM 50 for students, RM 75 for my university staff and RM 100 for outside participants for the seminar. The fees are inclusive of all materials and meals, and among the speakers coming are reps from MAVCAP, MIMOS, TMNet, IBM and Sun.

Now that the promotional bit is over, let's move on. Recently some of my colleagues have made a big deal out of the RM 75 fee. Apparently it's too expensive, and they're trying to push for a reduction in addition to wanting to deduct it from their RM 2000 yearly seminar allowance. While I can't really be bothered with them trying to have it deducted (it's their allowance, anyway) the fact that there's a fuss being made about this irks me to no end. Here we have confirmed lecturers who on average not only earn much more than I do, but also choose to live 5 km from the campus, and here they're crying foul over the supposed "expensive" fee. As anyone in the IT industry may probably tell you, RM 75 is a piddling when compared to what you may have to pay for some other talks out there. Granted that we may not be getting THE best speakers in the world (that I'm saving for GeekCon, more on this later) but to me not having to move your butts anywhere and having THEM come here is worth my RM 75, at least to expand my horizons a little.

Shows you where their priorities are. They'd gladly fork out for some direct selling seminar all the way in Shah Alam and at the same time balk at a paltry RM 75 fee for a chance to improve themselves. Wow. In a sense (as I said above) I don't mind the fact that you think it's expensive. Maybe you have ten kids, or face a horrible, horrible mortgage that sets you back a couple thousand bucks a month. All this is perfectly understandable. What I don't understand is why you have to make a big deal out of it. Just don't go, is all I'm saying.

So as a response to this (to me, at least) mind boggling way of thinking, I'm not only going (that's a no brainer since I'm the emcee, among other things) but I'm sponsoring two of my students, both whom scored the highest in a recent exam, as a sort of a reward. I figure if attending will knock some sense into them before they turn into some of the people I know, then it's gonna be worth it.

One can hope.

The Case of Being Too Meticulous

This is a short one. Some other murmurs I've heard point to a weakness in the way my committee handles our job. They say we're doing things "too detailed", citing the fact that we seem to take into account all sorts of factors in planning while conveniently forgetting that it was our meticulousness that allowed last year's Family Day to be the best in years. In the years I've worked, this is the first time I've heard complaints about being too organised.


Anyway, since I'm going to have to stay back today for rehearsals and a meeting (I'm also teaching a Flash class tomorrow at eight) I'll wish everyone a good weekend.



Thursday, September 23

DVD Alert

There's a movie I've been meaning to watch for ages, but never got around to and it's called The Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. Quite a few people have recommended it, and last I checked it's still high up on my review list, so I guess I'd better get cracking. One needs to be in the proper frame of mind when it comes to films like this.

Of course that's easier said than done when I've also landed my hands on copies of David Cronenberg's ExisTenZ (take that, all you Matrix fanboys) and what some have called the definitive George Lucas film, THX 1138 remastered and presented in its full glory. How I'm going to fit all this in before the horror that is this Friday eludes me, but I trust I'll find a way.

Good DVDs have a way getting themselves reviewed.

Until then, er, enjoy the rest of the week.


Wednesday, September 22

The Things We Have

I'd actually written a semi-longish, melancholic entry on the nature of possessions when all of a sudden the lights went out, and the part of Subang I stay in was engulfed in a nice quiet blackout.

My sister says someone must have done a Homer on the power supply (refer to the episode where a heatwave in Springfield causes a power drain as everyone turns on their A/C units and Homer switches on a singing Santa toy which plunges the whole town into darkness..) but I digress, really.

So anyway, while I'm waiting for tonight's delayed episode of CSI I thought I'd give it another go (what the heck). Before the blackout, I was finalising a deal with my colleague to buy my old Sony DVD player (this is the same guy who bought me previous TV off me) since he liked it so much after I brought it to work this morning he offered to give me the cash tomorrow. I'm practically giving it away, since I know he'll appreciate it and take care of the unit.

As I was driving to work this morning, it suddenly dawned on me just how much I actually attach emotional value to my posessions. Looking at it sitting there on the passenger seat, its power cord coiled primly next to the remote, I had a sudden twinge of guilt, and a double dose of nostalgia.

It all came back to me: my unstoppable desire to own a DVD player (after the TV, that was the next big thing), the months of saving up to actually afford it (I used to earn much, much less), the somewhat puzzled look on the Ex's face when I lovingly took it back home, the goofy look on mine as I opened it (I still have that look whenever I unwrap a tech buy), the DVDs we bought and watched (I still remember the last DVD we bought the night before she left, it was Chicago) and so much more. These washed over me in waves and I was so tempted to tell my friend that no, I'm not selling, but then common sense reigned and I knew I had to part with it, for my own good, and that the Sony deserved a new home.

I know, it's silly getting all choked up over a TV and DVD player, but these were fixtures in my life, and the first things we ever really spent money on together. These pieces of AV equipment weathered me through some of the best and worst times of my life, and I can't really see how I'd have avoided getting attached to them in a sense.

But then again, maybe I'm just too much of a geek for my own good.

I guess there are a whole lot of sides to letting go. Sure, the hardware's gone, but the memories of the software are with me where it counts. There were some good times, but like all things in life, they had to end someday. I never really named them since I was just so happy to have them around, but I hope they'll bring as much enjoyment to my friend as it did me in another life, long ago.

In the end it can be anything, really. A CD, a picture, a book, a penknife, the pen you use to sign all your cards when you send presents, anything. Most of us don't even realise how much comfort we take in having these things around us that when they're gone the transition can be somewhat jarring. They're like the sight of a light on through the window as you enter the driveway to your home: they tell you that they, and more importantly YOU, belong here.

And for the life of me I don't know anyone who wouldn't like the feeling.


PhD Material Part 2

Oh my God.

Checking my email at work, I came across one from none other than Gordon Rugg, the Keele researcher who cracked the Voynich Manuscript. Apologising for the late reply, Dr Rugg says there is a possibility of discussing future collaboration and even *gasp* perhaps a PhD!

Oh my God.

Anyway, there's a class to teach.
For context on his work, read here.


Tuesday, September 21

We Are Go On Dolby!

I've gone and done it.

I'm a thousand bucks and some change poorer, but right now, sitting in my living area is a brand new Pioneer HTZ323 Home Theatre kit. It's been a very good day. I'm almost giddy, and asides from a couple more tweaks to coax the most sound out of the baby, I think I'm good.

This is what they mean by retail therapy, I guess. Never mind that I'll have to watch the spending for the next couple months, but this baby has officially completed my very own personal A/V haven. Never again will I wonder what Black Hawk Down will sound like in 5.1 audio, or if the bullets passing Neo in the first Matrix movie will really almost clip me. If all goes well, my order of the Star Wars Original Trilogy Remastered Release, barely out two weeks in the US will be coming soon, and I can finally enjoy it the way Mr Lucas wanted me to.


The past couple hours have been good, mostly. My spending spree put me on a cautious high which was very much improved when I met a friend whom I'd not seen in a long while, and when I got home again the Pioneer was there looking all shiny and new, where I knew it'd be.

Sad, when one eschews human reliability with a surround sound system. I guess Mamoru Oshii must have pondered along the same lines when he directed Ghost In The Shell, and its sequel Innocence. Speaking of which, I got the first 13 episodes of Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (finally!) and can't wait to see what else Motoko and the PPS9 crew will have to face.

So there we have it. Toys to take one's mind off of things.

As Cleo puts it: am I an adultscent?
I think I am, only lonelier.

Cheers, people.


Smart People, Ahoy!

So you think you're smart? And by this I mean really, really smart?

Try giving this a gander. It's a puzzler called Petals of The Rose, and if you figure it out you get to be part of a select group of people who know how it works, including Bill Gates (whose encounter with the game is the stuff of legend) but you're not allowed to tell anyone, you see, because honestly, where's the fun in that?

I foresee a lot of head scratching today.

Thanks to boingboing for the link!


At the risk of sounding really smug, I have solved it within 3 minutes of posting.
Ah, endorphins.


Monday, September 20

Too Much Time, Not Enough Dosh

I'm in an academic state of mind (yeah right), therefore, in addition to coming up with weird drawings of how I'd like my home theatre setup to connect to my available media and browsing through all the pr0n I missed since the weekend, I managed to glean ONE useful link for the day.

and to think this is only the one without the speaker placement maps...

Whaddya know, it's the online version of Cliff's Notes! So students all over the world have no excuse now to NOT have it in some form at least!

In other news, it looks like I'm leaning towards the home theatre setup for my next tech purchase since I like the thought of coming home to a solid monolithic system I can touch AND hear. The Ipod's just too much of a luxury for me (plus the thought of having Yoko Kanno's jazz score on full 5.1 audio is just too...tempting, not to mention watching the Star Wars Trilogy remastered on Dolby Digital. Ahh.

Anyway, I think I'd better bugger off now. There's a class to teach come morning, and my notes are all over the place! These things don't write themselves, apparently.

Have a good week, people.


Sunday, September 19

This Is Your Weekend, Ash

It all started with a dream.

You know, the kind that you struggle to wake up from and when you do it feels like someone just tried to drown you when it's just your head messing with itself. This weekend started off with work, after which I couldn't stand it and joined my friends Jo and Lia as they looked for a vacation spot at the MATTA fair.

It's nice to see so many people (and a lot of them families and young couples) rushing about from booth to booth looking for getaway spots and for the briefest moment I felt a twinge of envy at them for not being lonely, for having someone to plan a holiday with, and all that.

Still, I don't begrudge people their happiness. Some get there, some don't. That's how life goes, and I'll be damned if I know how it works.

Later that night I got a call from the Ex, where I found out she'd recently gotten engaged. After shaking that punched-in-the-gut feeling, I realised I wasn't very surprised. Maybe my subconscious has been prepping for this in the last year, but whatever it is, I'm also glad in a way. The announcement somehow marked the the tying up of loose ends, and also that for her at least, she's found a place where she can be happy, love and in kind, be loved, and I'm thankful for that. She deserves that, after all she'd been through.

Am I envious? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't, but then again, life must and will go on. As the Ex has made her choice, perhaps I will too, one day. But until then, the world will forgive me if I decide to revel in the occasional company of friends, video games, books, and assorted gadgets, and if I'm leery of relationships (temporary condition, I hope).

Speaking of which, my designated retail therapy for this particular event is either an Ipod Mini or a Pioneer Home Theatre system (yeah, it's time to bring out the big guns now). One needs big relief for potentially big depressive episodes. Any opinions?

Heheh. Well I'm gonna enjoy what's left of my Sunday, and you should too.



"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
Philip K. Dick, in an essay entitled How to Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, 1978.


Friday, September 17

Vote, And Get Laid

Could this help increase the amount of younger voters every year?

Votergasm aims to combine the low amount of young voters with the (also low?) amount of people having sex and turn voting into a fun, uplifting experience (please, you need to see it to believe it).

Lessee..there's still about what, four years left?


The [H]ard Facts

The truth is out there, or at least according to [H]ard|OCP, different from the hype.

In their latest photo-essay, the [H] team literally undressed a generation 1 Phantom game console unit to discover, as they put it:

"Basically the entire back panel of the generation 1 Phantom is put together with lots of hot glue and a lot of plugs that connect to nothing besides the ones that I have mentioned above that obviously do connect to something.."

They have cautioned that this is a review of a first-gen model (and developers Infinium Labs are currently working on third-gen models, as evidenced by their preview at this year's E3) but still, the very fact that Infinium launched a lawsuit against [H], have proven to be secretive to say the least (as evidenced by the [H] team's expose last year) AND that the CEO Tim Roberts seems to have led several companies to bankruptcy previously does lead one to wonder if this thing is really coming to fruition or if it's just a modern day version of snake oil.

For readers unfamiliar with the Phantom, the console was announced very early last year as another contender in the game console wars. It would supposedly support the latest graphics/sound technologies and rely on downloading games via a broadband connection (read: no discs) allowing users to buy/rent games they want and have them downloaded directly to the console via a then-unknown business model.

I was one of the many initially excited over this new console since the Infinium website posted a very flashy CG trailer of the thing supposedly in action, but then like the others, I became frustrated by the lack of information released by the company other than that it's under development. Many of the more established gaming sites ran scathing editorials of the console that no one's seem to know anything about, only (like [H]) to be met with lawsuits or even more obfuscating responses.

For one thing, I'm just interested to see how this will pan out, because tempting as it may seem, something just doesn't feel right in these gamer bones. Two decades of controller-twiddling gives one a gut feeling about things...


Thursday, September 16

DVD Testing, Subang Style

Another reason why staying in Subang can be very interesting:

As I was finishing up dinner the usual DVD/VCD sellers came around peddling their wares from table to table. Me being me, I of course called the bloke over to look at what he had, and soon after the requisite "ini clear ka?" came out of me gob.

I was already expecting him to say something along the lines of "don't worry boss (in Malaysia almost everyone's a boss), you can always return it" or some such thing when instead he just grinned, tugged his knapsack open and pulled out a portable DVD player with a TFT monitor attached.

I spent half a minute collecting my jaw off the floor while he busied himself setting the player up with the Shrek 2 DVD (which I eventually purchased, since my mental faculties were still all over the floor at this point) and when the dust had settled, I just remember thinking one thing, as I clutched his mobile number (which the guy had slipped into the DVD sleeve) we DVD viewers here have it too good, sometimes.

Here we are, already paying a fraction of the price of original DVDs and we can still afford to be choosy with our pirated purchases. I won't go into detail on the pros and cons of this "agreement" (since that's been done with to death and all) but heck, you know you're spoilt when you're browsing review sites and comparing anamorphic vs. pan-and-scan picture quality and special features for the versions of the DVDs you're going to buy the pirated versions of.

Still, I guess this is something to write about, since this whole testing business isn't even done by most vendors with actual premises, let alone so-called licensed establishments (yes, Speedy, I mean you!). So at the end of the day, I went home 10 bucks poorer, but with something to write about (and a DVD to watch).

Not a bad deal, if I may say so meself. Kinda makes the assorted bullshit at the office today a little more bearable.


Coming soon: Collateral and Butterfly Effect reviewed, The Sad State of Affairs Regarding University Elections, and How Stupid People Delegate Jobs, all in some form or another!


Booyakasha, Aiii!

Two little things before the meeting with the grand poo-bah of the uni and his cohorts:

In case anyone ever wonders what Ali G would sound like giving a commencement speech (to Harvard, no less) here's a link that would do you good. As usual, for the lazy surfers out there, I extend a quote -

"Anyways I digest. It iz a well big honour to be arksed ere today. To fink dat so many great people has been educated ere like Lyndon Banes Johnson, or as he is better known - JFK, George Clinton was also ere I fink , and de one before him, and also...William Tell - is he one of your lot, probably, and dat bloke wiv de hat, but most importantly dat really fit honey from Star Wars - if u iz out dere, me'd love to - me iz stayin at de Best Western Hotel - me's got a really nice room, altho since dis morning dem has put a parental lock on de tv. "

And also, should you ever find yourself aboard an Air Tajik plane, pay especial heed to the safety card. You never know when glowing green or red aliens invade your plane, and I quote -

"Do not express you angry, do not wipe in voice, our cough. Close your eyes and do not stir them."

Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.


Wednesday, September 15

Back, You See

Hey folks.

It's been a couple days. In between the craziness that was this weekend and trying to salvage what's left of the looming 10 year anniversary-of-the-faculty-gig, I managed to almost finish Bruce Campbell's amazing autobiography, watch The Butterfly Effect (and ending up liking it rather more than I expected to), play several rounds of the console world's version of Battlefield 1942 set in the Star Wars universe (in what may just be the best Star Wars game ever, and it's called Star Wars: Battlefront by the way, God I never thought I'd whoop so much being able to sit in an AT-AT and blow up rebels on Hoth), get trapped in the celebrity cordon at Berjaya Times Square during some ERAfm radio promo, start downloading the sweet jazz/metal/folk/blues OST to Cowboy Bebop (oh man does Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts ever give me a reason to buy an Ipod, music like this is too good to leave at home) and get slightly depressed all at almost the same freakin' time.

Now if that doesn't sound like a little over full-life, I dunno what it is (and don't you even dare say that nasty delusion-word). I think it started with digesting Ashton Kutcher in 'Effect. Watching someone try repeatedly to make the world right and in the process only causing more harm than anything else gets a guy thinking (and also drafting a review):

What would I like to change, if I ever got the chance to? Would I have said something differently to someone, acted differently, what? I guess when we're thinking in this particular vein, one has no choice but to look at the now. So here I am, in what is sometimes (hey who am I kidding, sometimes?) a lonely spot, well within my efforts to break out but for some reason, desperately unwilling to.

As I see people around me throw caution to the winds and well, get adventurous, I am bloody tempted to do just that; only in the end this little voice comes in and asks "at what cost, dude?". It doesn't take much self-diagnosing to come up with an:

"I'm fucked up, that's all it is."

Pardon the French (since I don't think they did anything actually wrong) but when everything's a cost vs. benefit to you it's kinda difficult to commit to anything with shades of grey in it. As I've probably said oodles of times before, I've come to like being able to be emotionally distant. What I don't like is the aftertaste that reeks of that little condition called being a prick, or if we want to be all continental, wanker.

Can't have one without the other, I suppose. I've done some pretty interesting (not to mention potentially unsafe) things in this life, and while they've not really netted me any measure of happiness (I can't form proper relationships with people, for God's sake) I guess what it all comes down to is bloody this:

I wouldn't have changed a single damn thing.

Now excuse me, while I bugger off a moment.


One thing I've noticed (and this may not necessarily be a bad thing) is that pr0n DVDs are back, in a big way. Only a couple days ago I was at the Mines in Serdang and here these vendors were selling them waay out in the open, next to Mystic River and Mooseport (dodgy as that particular movie may be). I mean, they're kinda hard to miss with titles like I Fuck You Shoot and whatever else the Photoshop maestros over in Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Shui come up with. While I don't mind pr0n, I'm more in favour of what I term the Standard approach:

You come up to the guy selling, and mutter under your breath (or wait for him to say something along the lines of):

"Panas punya mau/ada?" (usage of mau/ada depends on who's doing the asking)

Sure, it's superficial at best, but at least it's hidden away somewhere and doesn't make the other customers uncomfortable. Of course, this is just me speaking, and maybe we've evolved enough as a society to be able to have pr0n in our shops and not bat an eye. Oh well, listen to me, extolling an SOP for pr0n vendors. Whatever would I think of next?

Excuse me again, while I really bugger off.

Track of the day:
Want it All Back - Cowboy Bebop OST 2, No Disc


Sunday, September 12

The Real Underground Movie Scene

In case this is news to some of you:

Earlier this week, the French authorities stumbled upon what seemed to be a fully equipped cinema and mini bar under the Paris streets. The cinema and bar was well equipped and stocked, even with phone and electricity and a CCTV system but unfortunately (for the gendarmerie) they didn't find anyone there.

Today, BoingBoing brings the second half of the story as a member of the secretive "urban explorer" movement comes forward to explain why they do the things they do (which honestly appears to amount to nothing much besides movie screenings and art exhibitions underground).

I dunno about anyone else, but this seems ultimately cool, if only for the good taste these people have in movies: Alex Proyas' Dark City (the REAL Matrix), David Lynch's Eraserhead and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, among others. Besides, who hasn't thought about being part of a mysterious underground movement at one point or another, making their way through the dimly lit passages under modern-day Paris? Damn, I'd sign up, if only to find out what it's like.

Sadly, I don't think La Mexicaine de la Perforation is drafting members these days, but this ranks high up on my personal cool scale.

I'm off for the rest of the day, so take care!


Saturday, September 11


This is post is an open response to xyz, who has kindly commented on my recent entry concerning my current job predicament.

Dear xyz,

Firstly thanks for coming by and sharing some of your wisdom. It's invaluable to me, and perhaps others in the same straits. However, I DO have something to say in response to some of your comments:

1) I DO hope that you'll utilise the email link I've provided in my sidebar if you're planning to post long comments. I treasure the feedback, and it'll make it easier for people to read if it's not disjointed. Plus, I can then publish the contents of your comment and my responses (if any) in a blog entry which would definitely save at least some of us the headache. As you no doubt are in academia, I'm sure you are aware of the importance of citing and attribution. Again, by using the email link I can ensure that our conversations actually become something of substance, and by putting your email address (which I ensure you will not be misused) you do yourself and academia credit. Makes sense, no?

2) Being nice? I'm hardly known for being nice at all, xyz. With all due respect, sometimes there is NO option to say no. It's a pretty difficult thing to describe, but trust me when you're interacting with Prof. Datins and the like there can actually be no choice. Believe, me, I've tried.

3) As for finding out exactly how much work the committee work involves, I'd say that's a huge grey area. Usually no one gives out any useful information due to the chain of command that's been around forever, so it's kinda difficult.

3) "Do only high profile low labour intensive comm work." - I have to tell you this. Not to brag, but so far almost all the work I've done for the faculty is high profile. Holding bunga manggar is an euphemism we like to use sometimes, but if you'd like, I could forward you the list of all the things I've been a part of in the past few years. However, the ratio of labour so far corresponds exactly to how high profile a programme is.

4) On research: I agree fully, which is why I'm currently hard at work looking up research possibilities in game theory/design AND also Dr Gordon Rugg's interesting work in his verifier approach (which I've highlighted in another recent blog entry). There are some snags because accessing the journals I need can only be done from the campus, and there is a certain limiting factor of distance there. These are very new fields, and thus aren't really very well known (and again, though I may be a blogger my research interests lie far afield of only blogging and its ramifications, which you've hinted at time and again). Also, there is the issue of funding. Due to my temporary status, I am thus INELIGIBLE for any kind of funding, be it RM 100 or RM 10 000, and as you well know, research needs at least a little bit of money (for a bloody computer that can do some statistics, at least!).

5) Again, on writing I concur that there is nothing else that counts in academia BUT research and publications. As I've said, the areas of my interest are very far removed from just the social implications of blogging and internet use (which are intriguing areas in their own right) and I'm not sure how this is in YOUR institution, but in mine research topics are governed tightly by faculty "policies" and this newer interstitial fields like game theory would nary be given a thought.

5) Additionally, each staff member is allocated a paltry sum of RM 2000 per year to go for training, pay for conference fees and the like. I'm sure you're aware that for IT, even a two-day beginner course can set one at least a couple thousand ringgit, and that's not including travel and accomodations. I did raise this issue during the assessment, seeing that we have to pick and choose our conferences so carefully, usually we have to forgo a later international conference if there's an earlier training session that takes up all the cash. Of course, this doesn't necessarily apply to research grant holders because they can always take it from the IRPA stash.

In closing, it is because of these factors that I'm considering branching out on a PhD on my own after I quit (or rather IF, because things may yet change) and again, thank you for taking the time to share your insights on the matter. I apologise if anything I say comes across as offensive, but please believe they were written with intellectual discourse in mind.

Yours truly,




It's assessment day +2, and as expected, the internail email system is inundated with warm congratulatory messages heaping bucketfuls of warm praise on our supposed "success".

Oh wow.

Is it surprising to know that most of these messages came from the ones who were very adamant on how "good" we were in the first place? One of my favourites reads something like this (and I paraphrase):

"..we small soldiers, who have often bled for the good of the faculty congratulate it on its resounding success. Hopefully this small victory will heal the cuts and bruises.."

and assorted bullshit. Ironic when the same person who sent this was one of the people who tried to subtly shut me up during the meeting, and a couple months before, when she was yelling on the phone to several different people regarding her status we thought she was one of us.

I guess it doesn't really take that long for people to forget (especially when the Merc MPV is sitting outside). Speaking about money, I'm intrigued to see what Pak Lah has in store for us civil servants, since I've never seen more than a half month's bonus in what, four years?

I'm not greedy, really. I don't expect to be paid what some of my friends in the corporate and private sectors do (that would just be silly). Hell, gimme a full month's bonus, and I'll be grateful. You know, for the little things one likes to give oneself, or savings even.

Oh well, we'll see. In the meantime, I've got a parental visit to prep for and when things have settled down race and crash a few cars in Burnout 3. Mmmm. Oh, and if you're still reading, this is something I really wish we had in paintball arenas over here.

Oooh. Be still my poor beating heart.



Coming soon: Collateral reviewed!


Thursday, September 9

The Minority Report

This is why one should always invest in a domain, said the Ox to himself as he cursed Blogger's sudden inability to publish his post. Oh well, it's here now and he's got some time to burn.

For those of you who (for some Godforsaken reason) have stumbled upon this site and are wondering just what the hell I'm talking about, let me just give you a brief rundown of the situation:

From Tuesday to Thursday this week, a panel consisting of various deans and higher ups in the IT field will be visiting the faculty to conduct an assessment exercise of sorts. While some of my colleagues were interviewed privately, yesterday saw myself in the main meeting room with about 15 others. Of course, one expects them to ask the standard questions: "what do you dislike about the organisational structure?", "is there anything else that can be improved?" and so on. I decided not to open my gob (since in my current state of employment nothing I say really gets heard, and besides some of the things I felt that needed saying were already being brought up) until one senior colleague fresh from her doctorate in the UK answered one question with:

"Tak ada masalah, nak naik pangkat atau cuti belajar. Memang adil-lah."

in English, now -

"No problems getting promoted or going for study leave. It's all fair."

I raised my hand.

I told the head of the panel what had happened to me and my comrades, how it's affected our chances for tenure, research grants and the like, and to be sure I threw in the words "demotivated" and "happening now". I made sure of course, that I didn't really implicate the faculty in this (since the Dean has been trying) and that this is more of a university issue that should be taken care of if they're really serious about attracting young minds to academia.

Of course then some of the other older colleagues tried to head me off by telling stories about how long they took, which to me at least had no bearing on the matter at hand. The assessor got my point however and as we moved on he asked, "How many of you have Pentium 4 PCs?"

My hand shot up again (to the chagrin of some of the others) and I told him, "I have a Pentium 2. Does that count?"

By this time the old fogeys were trying to drown me out by telling the bloke how they use their IRPA grant money to procure newer PCs for themselves until I very succinctly pointed out that my temporary status makes me ineligible for even an RM 5000 grant, much less an IRPA. This then provoked a retaliatory "but you can always join OUR IRPA group," or something to that effect, but by then I was already seeing red.

The final straw came when I suggested the uni be more flexible about allowing industry relations, quoting two other public unis whom, by virtue of applying and getting a small 2Mb Streamyx line from TMNet, have opened themselves to receive much needed research funding and other contributions from the ISP. Yet ANOTHER old fogey then started ranting about how much FASTER our dedicated backbone is (which the astute reader will recognise as having no relation to the issue) and as before, the head assessor acknowledged my point.

I saw red, because:

1) I have every intention of spearheading my very own research, not just piggybacking on some vague IRPA research title that hasn't seen a viable result in God knows how many years, and which monetary resources go to various gadgets (like O2 PDAs) that has nothing to do with the project?

2) Just because you took 10 years to get confirmed in 1989, does that mean others have to go through the same thing? What happened to improving over time?

3) There has to be a limit to our self denial/gilding the lily. This continued delusional approach to our perceived "greatness" has to stop because frankly it's like a worm in an apple, chewing away.

Later yesterday I found out that some other younger comrades like myself had done the same thing, albeit privately. I now check my car for bombs before I enter, and make sure no one knows where I really live.

Who'd have thought I'd be living an episode of 24 in my own container*?

*container - the building I work in is a corrugated iron container, like the ones used in shipping


Wednesday, September 8

Pre Interview Jitters

It's about 15 minutes before I have to leave for the interview, and I'm kinda antsy. As usual, the internet provides the stress relief I so badly need, and here are some more interesting links for the more game-oriented among us:

With a tagline of "where good ideas evolve", BrainDonut is Alan Dennis's endeavour to provide a forum for game enthusiasts, developers and also academics to discuss various issues pertaining to video game theory and design. Excellent stuff, if only because he writes coherently and there's no leetspeak! Yay! Join the forums, they're free!

Game Girl Advance
A gaming site run by girls, but not only for them. Well written, informative and downright fun, GGA is one of the hottest sites for cerebral game discussions around. If you're going over, you may want to check out their take on GameSpot's Academics and Gaming post.

Grand Text Auto
I first found out about this group blog from the aforementioned GameSpot article. Michael Mateas heads this blog about "procedural narrative, games, poetry and art". It's a scintillating read, and one that seriously reinforces my belief that video games are ready to grow up and rule the world (okay maybe not that yet).

Well, I'm off to the interview. Wish me luck!

As of this time, the interview's done, and I think I may have just sealed my fate as the black sheep of the faculty. Details on the blog, later tonight.

Seeya, folks.


Tuesday, September 7

Tuesday Thinking

It's hard to believe
There's nobody out there
It's hard to believe that I'm all alone
At least I have her love
The city she loves me

- RHCP, Under The Bridge

Sitting in front of the PC, with RHCP's Under The Bridge playing on iTunes (I know, I don't have an Ipod yet, but one can dream, and it's a darn better jukebox software than WMP) and a 75-page "leaked" report of sorts to browse through (and maybe memorise) before tomorrow morning's interview with the assessment board one's mind tends to wander. There are a lot of things to be done (especially considering the 10th anniversary of the faculty and its preparations which seem to be in limbo) and in between the reading, thinking, digesting and scratching of arse cheeks I can't help but feel a little melancholy setting in.

Bastard of a feeling, that one.

It's been a while since I've felt like this, and I can't say I wasn't expecting it. Yesterday I peeked in on the last minute beatification (I'd prefer the use of the term coverup, seriously) of the faculty buildings proper and I couldn't help thinking of an old prostitute circa Jack The Ripper's era putting a touch of rouge to her wrinkled cheeks and maybe a dash or two of powder and perfume even as her insides rot from her chronic alcoholism as she prepares to do one last walk, one last trick that may yet turn her fortunes around.

Funny way to think of one's workplace, innit?

Pretty white-washed lies,
endless alibis
and reasons that need cleaning every night
Half a world away
You can't wash away the stain of the deceiving
And the things that you cannot believe

- Counting Crows, She Don't Want Nobody Near

Of course, when you've seen enough of what happens and passes for acceptable behaviour round here you'd be able to think just about anything. There's a brand new fountain in front that used to leak until yesterday, we've got flags merrily flapping about in the greyish haze that calls itself the sky and deep inside everyone knows, it's like a whisper going about the corridors and the uneven steps of the staircases, taunting us that there's nothing really in here and that it's all a great big fake. What's new, anyway when you're a no one crawling up the lowly pay and research ladder, not quite in but not quite out either and after awhile the fake smiles, laughs and that reassuring tone I've got down pat begin to grate on my own nerves, and I just want to tell someone something.

Screw you
I didn't like your taste
Anyway I chose you
And that's all gone to waste

- Robbie Williams, Sexed Up

Well, I guess it's back to the grind again, at least till I can get this thing out of my face (or Law and Order starts, whichever comes first) and God knows there'll be at least one person thankful for October this year.

Oh, and today's geeky link: what would happen if a samurai warrior fought in mortal combat with a medieval European knight (or is it knigget?) . The Association for the Renaissance Martial Arts has a well thought and read essay on just such a possibility.

Have a good one, folks.


Monday, September 6

PhD Material?

As I write this post, there are a couple zillion more slides to be completed (okay I'm fibbing) for the classes throughout the week, the intro theme to Sakura Taisen is playing on WMP, and I'm once again somewhat excited at the prospect of a PhD (though most probably not under the auspices of my current employer, but this will be something I'll explore later) mostly due to this.

For those of you who didn't click on the link (the article, culled from Wired IS a bit long) I'll give you the gist here. Keele University researcher and computer science lecturer Gordon Rugg has seemingly solved one of literature and science's most puzzling riddles, the Voynich Manuscript. Written some 400 years ago by an (up till now) unknown author, the manuscript has puzzled scientists and cryptologists throughout the years. Even the famed Enigma team who, at Bletchley Park cracked the Nazi coded messages balked at this monumental task. Using a method he calls the verifier approach, the psychology-trained-ex archaeologist seems to have proven that the manuscript is just a clever hoax perpetrated by a disciple of the famed court seer, John Dee.

Even hardcore Voynichists (who knew there was even a word?) have to concede that his method seems to have unraveled the mystery at last. Next on his list of projects, Rugg is trying to make sense of the mass of redundant, often overlapping scientific writings on Alzheimer's disease. The core of his method is very simple: since no one ever considered the Voynich to be a hoax, nobody ever paid any serious attention to that particular theory, which made it easy for him to jump in. There's more, but what got my attention was that he understands that one of the biggest hurdles for any potential PhD candidate is the fact that though he/she may take a year or more to do the required preparatory reading, usually they'll only be able to scratch the surface of the literature.

What Rugg intends to do is to apply his model to any field, and allow it to sift through the redundancies and quickly find a particular root of the problem, so to speak. Already, some other computer science, psychology and health experts have shown interest in his approach which may make a little more sense of the wide body of scientific literature out there.

I for one, think this is absolutely smashing. So much so, I actually shot him an email asking if he'd be looking for any PhD students to supervise come next year or so. Hell, life being what it is, anything's worth a shot.

Okay, back to work.


In a related development, 25 Nobel-winning scientists today demanded the US government to make all taxpayer-funded research papers freely available, instead of other scientists having to pay a bundle in subscription fees. Details here.


Another Gmail Giveaway, and Nekkid Women

Now I've got a couple Gmail invites over here, and ONE will go to the lucky guy/gal who can tell me exactly what this thing in the picture below is. Hint: it's USB powered. First one to be correct, walks/slithers/slides away with said account.

In the meantime, for those of you who can't be arsed (or already have Gmail, or just don't feel like it) here's a little anecdote from Taiwan that tells us even the dead need the occasional T&A, and I quote:

"....the Hungry Ghost Festival is sending temperatures soaring in Taiwan...Hired by temples, traditional food markets as well as large and small firms, erotic dancers perform for the spirits who are believed to roam freely during the festival, which began on Aug 16... Clad in bikinis, the dancers first did some stunts twirling around and sliding up and down steel poles, he said.."

There's even a pic, and the full story is worth a read. Okay, maybe not unless you're really bored or are stuck at work like moi. Also, for something more serious, read the true story of Steven Spielberg's inspiration for his movie The Terminal. Suddenly I feel like going to France and seeing this guy. And for those 3 regular readers of mine, another excerpt:

"...His name was Merhan Karimi Nasseri though he called himself "Sir Alfred". He lived in a lost dimension of absurd bureaucratic entanglement. That is to say, on a bench in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and he had lived there since 1988. For a series of insanely complicated reasons, the Iranian-born refugee was now a man without a country - or any other documented, internationally accepted identity status. Alfred couldn't leave France because he did not have papers; he couldn't enter France because he did not have papers. The authorities told him to wait in the airport lounge while they sorted the paradox out. That he did - for years and years."

Take care, and cheers!


Saturday, September 4

MSc Thesis Writers Needed

An interesting ad I found on the klue.com.my classifieds. At least the person's being honest in the request, I just wonder which university he/she's in. What a place to hunt for help with a thesis, eh?

And before anyone asks, I'm stuck at work, so the multiple posts.



Brit Women Get Their Game On

Who said girls made lousy gamers?

According to this article from BBC, quoting researcher Aleks Krotoski's white paper, a quarter of the gamers in the UK are women!

"The typical female gamer in the UK is 30 to 35-years-old, plays around seven hours a week and spends £170 (250 euros) a year on games, Ms Krotoski found."

Now if that's not a cause for celebration, I don't know what is. Of course there are differences in the types of games a woman would like to play, most prominently in the fact than women like games they can just pick up and play versus more complicated ones. This doesn't mean they're only into Bejeweled or Barbie's Horse Adventures, however. The article cites that among favourites are games like Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, Colin McRae's Rally, Prince of Persia and The Sims, which more than anything shows off how diverse this group actually is.

For those of you still in the UK, check out two trade fests in the London area ECTS and EGN while GameStars live (which is more accessible to the public) will be on at the Excel centre in the Docklands.

Here's hoping we get more of you female gamers around.


Snags And Arses

And now, for something completely different.

The planet's most beautiful woman, our very own Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins apparently had a wardrobe misfunction of her own when she stumbled during a fashion show in Australia and snagged her dress. There are a couple pics in the original article here, but I'll be kind and share with you a sample and my observation that (to me, anyway) her arse is quite the, er, average looking (but I'll save her score on the Ash.ox Personal Arse Appreciation scale for later).

Something to keep us all going on a Saturday, I suppose.



Friday, September 3

Puteri Gunung Ledang: Impressions

For just this once, I can't really call what I'm about to write a review yet. It's more along the lines of the conscious (and some unconscious) impressions I got while viewing Puteri Gunung Ledang (yes, it's ad hoc and there's hell to pay, worksense) just now. Whilst some may disagree, I'll cut to the core of this write up here and now (in case you don't feel like reading through) :

Even if it's not the uber-mega-special epic Malaysian film some of us has come to expect, PGL is notable in the sense that if there's one film I have no qualms about letting go abroad, it's this one. If they ever decide to package a film on DVD, I'm putting my money here. Want to know why? Read on.

Before we continue: yes, I am aware of the environmental damage the making of this film wrought, but this article focuses solely on its merits as a film, and I'm not trying to downplay the damage or costs in any way.

It's difficult not to compare Saw Teong Hin's effort with Zhang Yimou's latest, The House of Flying Daggers. Both feature a love story as the essence, both are beautifully shot, and there is a restrained slow pace to everything. Unsurprisingly, the similarities end there. SURPRISINGLY, I much prefer PGL to HoTFD not because of any twisted sense of patriotism. Instead, PGL chooses to do one thing, which is tell the love story of Gusti Putri and Hang Tuah, and does it well without having to resort to convoluted twists and repetitive scenes of Tuah rescuing the damsel in distress.

Which is perhaps another reason I like this film. Tiara Jacquelina's Gusti Putri, though bound by her birth to a destiny not to her choosing, is no mere weakling. She has immense supernatural powers, knows how to (and DOES) stare down a Sultan and more importantly, does not back down from what she thinks she deserves.

One would think that with the reverence that is shown to the source material and the culture of whom it is based, it's a purely Malay-centric effort. Instead, the diverse nature of its production (from the director to cinematographer) becomes its biggest asset (although I have to say here, some people harping about how the princess should be more Malay and all really sickens me, it's a creative interpretation, get a life!). There is a sheen of loving realism, of wanting the characters to become more than mythic archetypes and therefore it becomes a Malaysian film by merit of it simply being different, and because of the way it handles the little touches (mannerisms, dress, religion).

Yes, the love theme does figure prominently (as a blogger mentions, for the life of me I find some of the person's insinuations a little off base) but then again there is a sense of it being grander than just romantic love. The characters have to deal with love and responsibility in all its incarnations, and not even the mighty battle prowess of Tuah can withstand their onslaught.

There are, however, some things I do have to make note of. Firstly, it's that in the second half of the film one begins to feel the slow pace of the film, and this does jeopardise our viewers who are so used to MTV-style quick cuts. One does understand that the slow pace is purposely done, although the editing could have been a little tighter. The special effects are noteworthy (especially a very well done matte scene showing the Malacca harbour) but still look a little too CGI-ish, although honestly this is very forgivable, given that this is a first in Malaysia's film history.

So is PGL worth a watch? I'd have to say a resounding yes. Bearing in mind it's the first Malaysian film I've actually paid to watch in a cinema in years (yes years) there are much more worse ways to spend two hours plus of your life. Just relax, don't expect a Peter Jacksonesque LOTR treatment, and enjoy what may be the biggest fluke in Malaysian film history.

Oh bosh, I like it, and I think there are some people out there who will, too.

Ash.ox gives PGL a temporary 3.5 out of 5


Thursday, September 2

Ghost In The Shell: SAC Reviewed

I've just watched the finale of the 26 episode anime Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and there's only one thing I can say:


The whole thing feels like something Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Neal Stephenson and Isaac Asimov would create after they spent a couple months in a locked room, with continuous reruns of the good episodes of Alias, 24 and the X-files for good measure. If you're looking for good science fiction with a healthy dose of action and philosophy, then look no further. This is better than those two Matrix-bombs any day of the week.

Reviewing a 26-episode series is never easy, since I'll have to take into account its strengths and weaknesses as a whole. The episodes all revolve around a covert group of cybernetically enhanced soldiers known as Public Peace Section 9. The year is 2030, and the internet is literally everywhere, accessible wirelessly through special implants in the human brain. Everyone in this version of the future has some sort of cyborg part in his/her body, bringing with it a host of unique problems as well. PPS9 acts as a task force to bring cyber criminals to justice, utilising their unique brand of battle prowess, technology and information skills.

The gang's all here: from left to right, Paz, Togusa, Bomar, Major Kusanagi, Chief Aramaki, Supersniper Saito, Hacker Ishikawa and Batou

One thing that struck me was how richly developed these characters are (with a few notable exceptions). Of course, being based on a long-running manga series helped, but one cannot help but wonder at the amount of characterisation there is. Whether it's the stoic, mysterious Major Kusanagi, ubersoldier Batou or the anachronistic Togusa (who insists on using a revolver, in addition to not having any cyborg parts), there is a balance and chemistry that is sadly missing from a lot of the live action series of today.

The series is split into two types of episodes: stand alone ones, and the so-called complex episodes which feature a recurrent theme (the hunt for the hacker known as the Laughing Man). Each ties up with the previous one beautifully, and feature some of the most adventurous methods of storytelling I've ever seen.

Case in point: one episode was set wholly in an online chatroom, where the participants were represented by their 3D avatars. There was hardly any action but the dialogue and discussions mirrored some in our real life forums and chatrooms. In another, a group of mobile, spider-like tanks (known as Tachikomas) employed by PPS9 begin to develop self-awareness and thus discuss the meaning of their existence, death, and why they were designed to be less anthropormorphic, among other things. This particular episode was made all the more poignant because (unknown to them at that point) the tanks were scheduled to be destroyed, seeing that their effectiveness as weapons were seen to be compromised as their AI grew more advanced until they appear to have feelings. In the next episode, as they were all led to be deactivated they all sang a Japanese folk song about a man who has to sell his cow to the market, and the childlike innocence they portrayed spoke volumes about our humanity, and the fragility of our little bubbles.

Fans of political intrigue and espionage would also do well to check this series out, for it contains one of the most probable (to me, anyway) scenarios for a future environment I've ever seen. From government sponsored murders to corporate intelligence gathering, the world of Stand Alone Complex is rich enough to be believably plausible.

In the end, the mixture of excellent animation, a great storyline and overall good story telling/acting elevates Stand Alone Complex from western animation and even some of its sister anime. By the time you get to the penultimate episode you'll wish you had another 26 episodes to watch.

And you will, if you get the continuation of the series, Second Gig.
Ash.ox gives GiTS:SAC a 4.5 out of 5.


Wednesday, September 1

Scholars and Designers: Video Games gets Married!

Finally, someone writes this.

An exhaustive, in depth discussion of the importance of merging video games and academia is hosted on GameSpot and entitled Redefining Games: How Academia is Reshaping Games of the Future. Written by Lauren Gonzalez, it discusses the development and evolution of the medium and why it is imperative that academics, game designers and players take this opportunity to really devote some serious research into these games' technological and social imports. The writer sums it up perfectly in the opening preamble:

"The game developer can teach the consumer what to expect in the coming months. The consumer can teach the academic about buying patterns and attention spans. The classics enthusiast can teach developers what makes a good game, regardless of era or trends. And academia can teach everyone a thing or two about what motivates a person to play games, why they are important, how we can make them better, and what we learn from them overall.."

There's too much to detail here, but among other things I found out: that doctorate-level programs on game theory, design and AI are going to be available (yay!!), there's such a thing as being a ludologist (ie someone who believes game shouldn't have a narrative, but wholly open ended affairs) and that in the US at least, serious thought is being (and already has been) put not only in the aforementioned intermarriage of academic and entertainment disciplines, but also into research to make games the next major form of thoughtful entertainment.

It's a lot to digest at first glance (even for me) since it takes up all of at least 16 pages, but for anyone who's got the time and inclination it's a positive note on gaming's evolutionary ladder as a whole. Perhaps the time may yet come when someone like me (half an academic who absolutely loves video games) will no longer be viewed as an aberration, and properly done this cooperation can only bring more involving, better written and more importantly, fun games.

A man can dream, can't he?