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Comment: It's been done. Now, it'll just be done more. (Score 1) 207 207

I know several bike groups here in the UK who keep old machines running with the help of some friendly light engineering firms. Certain parts are no longer available. Simple parts, like headlamp brackets, or exhaust clips, but with the mounting holes in *just* the right places. So, from time to time, one of the Panther user groups, or MZ user groups will take an intact part to a small manufacturing firm and ask for 25 or 50 of these - enough to make it worth their while setting up the tools to produce them; not so much as to be stuck with tons of them. Then put in the next newsletter that they're ready, and watch as people request one and a couple of spares for the next time it breaks. With 3D printers available, a lot of these will end up getting scanned, and printed out as required.

I also remember reading an article that said 3D printing won't impact big business, because what it'll make the most is Things Only I Want. Scan my hand, then make me a coffee mug that fits it *perfectly*. A set of spectacle frames that match my eye distance and my different height ears, to the millimetre. Ice trays that make ice in the shape of the Buckaroo Banzai logo. Nobody makes these - nobody could, at least not profitably. Some people have the manual dexterity and wood/metalworking skills to do these things for themselves. I'm not among their number. All of a sudden, I can have things custom-made to my specifications without it costing a fortune.

I can see that catching on massively, and when it does, all the legislation in the world won't even slow it down.

Comment: While you're promising me shit... (Score 2) 132 132

can I have a unicorn, please? Local exchange has been 'enabled' since June 2013, but I don't know anyone who can actually get Infinity in my town. I live a mile from the exchange, and 100 yards from the cabinet, and am still on standard broadband.

The story keeps changing, too, whenever I talk to BT. First it was that the cabinet hadn't been upgraded, then that it couldn't be upgraded, and now it's because fuck you, that's why. Their website says they cover two-thirds of the UK (which is a weird definition of 'most', but I suppose it is greater than 50%), but it also says (in paraphrase) that if you live more than 300 feet from an exchange, forget it. Lots of the UK, and especially Scotland, is still pretty rural, so I don't expect to see anything better than broadband any time this decade.

So while I'd welcome the service they claim to be offering, the fact that they haven't managed to deliver the original service to about 40% of the UK yet, does make me wonder if it'll ever actually materialise.

Comment: Problem - we live in the future. (Score 2) 368 368

This morning, the radio switched itself on and gently brought me awake with the news. After 10 minutes, I rolled out from under the duvet and reflected how the money we'd spent on that memory foam mattress had been totally worth it. 5 minutes in the shower saw me both cleaner and more awake in equal measure, and I rapped on my son's door as I went past. I'm sure he was on the Xbox until 3:00 a.m., and he knows it's a uni day, but there was no response. I made some scrambled eggs in the microwave, and by the time the toast had popped and the kettle had boiled for a cup of instant, I felt almost human. The bus stop isn't far from my house, and I paid my £3 and took my seat. My phone picked up the wi-fi automatically, so I pointed my browser at the BBC and started streaming an episode of ISIRTA I hadn't heard, before settling in for a few games of Angry Birds. Halfway to work, the sun was rising over the Pentlands, so I grabbed a couple of quick shots, and updated my facebook status.

When I got to work, I flashed my badge at the building and it let me in. I'd checked the rota the night before and knew I was gutter rat this week- cleaning up the messes, so I downloaded the overnight error logs to my workstation and got busy tracing batch script failures. Peter, Mandy and Eddie were already there, but my team leader, Meera, was off ill, so I covered her phone. 3 cappuccinos, and 16 error logs later it was lunchtime, and I'd been so busy, I hadn't even gone out for a cigarette.


A normal morning, slightly compressed to fit everything in. There's a lot in there. Socio-economic status, employment, I'm old enough to have a son at university, the fact that my immediate boss is both female and non-Caucasian, no smoking in the building. The team's split roughly equally on gender lines. Eddie's gay, but that won't enter into the story so I'll never mention it. There's a lot of implicit assumptions - the reader will know what an Xbox is, cultural references. Never mind 100 years, you only have to roll it back 10 years for the 'Angry Birds' and 'Facebook' items to have no intrinsic meaning. Roll it back just 50 and we lose 'Xbox', 'microwave', 'memory foam', 'wi-fi', 'browser' as words, and the concepts that go along with their use. And how would I take shots of the sunrise without a camera? 'Streaming' is still a word, but the context is missing. And in 1964, the idea that my boss at any job, let alone a technical one, would be female and non-Caucasian, would be pretty unusual. Why would I leave the building for a cigarette? And what's with £3 for bus fare to work - where do I live, the Outer Hebrides? How did I get cappuccinos at work? Why have I got a phone on a bus?

We live in a world that would have largely been science fiction just 50 years ago. Extrapolating was hard then, and harder now. You don't need the Singularity or a post-scarcity economy to mess things up, just the micro-processor and the Internet. Nobody saw them coming. The changes they've brought have been so staggering in magnitude that it makes it all the more obvious that attempting to predict the future changes is getting sillier all the time.

Mr Stross writes lovely Mythos stories, and Accelerando is pretty good. But the one I'm trying to read at the moment, about the immortal robots all pretending to be human after the humans all died out is purely fucking tedious. It's super-futuristic, and the hard science of long, boring planetary travel is well done, but I can't remember its name right now, or the main character, and that never bodes well.

Comment: Golden Age is difficult to read (Score 1) 165 165

The art is often really basic, and the stories are often not up to much, because the writers weren't paid very much, so they just made up random stuff each month. Ooh, let's send Batman into space again, to fight crime on the planet of the Celery-heads.

You want to see what the medium can really do, go by author, not characters. Anything by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Lost Girls, Necronomicon, Marvelman), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Garth Ennis (Punisher, War Stories), Warren Ellis (late Stormwatch, early Authority, Nextwave), Grant Morrison (Animal Man, WE3, the Invisibles). These authors can all, on a good day, push the boundaries of the medium.

The Golden Age is useful to understand some of the later parodies and homages. You need to read some very early Batman with the Bill Finger/Dick Sprang artwork to appreciate the beautiful pastiche in the 4th season episode of the animated Batman. You need to read some 50's Superman/Superboy to get the whole gist of Alan Moore's run on Supreme. The Silver Age is where comics start to get properly readable - the socially relevant Green Lanterns of the early 70's where Speedy does heroin, or the gorgeously gothic Neal Adams/Dick Giordano early 70's Batman. Before that there's a bit too much Bat-Mite, Mr Myxyzptlk and Streaky the Supercat for my liking.

Comment: How terrible (Score 2, Insightful) 259 259

I mean, it's not as if there's any other sites on the net where you can get streaming video, or canned video, or torrents, or people sharing their favourite shows.

It's not like it takes about 5 mouse-clicks to find an alternate source for practically anything. No, Hulu clearly have everyone completely over a barrel and we must just do everything they say if we're to be allowed to consume their entertainment the way they want us to.

Comment: Breaking the illusion (Score 2) 272 272

I remember the first time I found I was able to shoot glass out of a window - Counter-Strike. I spent ages doing just that, because of the novelty value - here was a substance in game that reacted the way it would in real life. I recognised it as a limitation of the medium, way back in the day, but it always used to annoy me when I couldn't shoot out a window in Half-Life. Or any game where a locked door impeded progress because I didn't have the key, although I was toting 6 lbs of explosives at the time.

Try shooting the farmer at the start of Halo Reach. Your gun goes bang, and there's a damage splatter appears on the other side of his head, but he won't stop talking. If you keep shooting him, after 10 shots, you die, not because your squadmates have realised that you're shooting civilians and gun you down, but a vengeful god just smites you down.

It'll be interesting to see how far the new engines go in terms of world design. Obviously there won't be civilians, or women, or children, but it'd be nice to be able to shoot out the legs of a water tower and have it collapse, because that's what the objects would do under real-world-conditions, and not just because it's a pre-programmed set-piece and the only way to complete the level. It's be nice to see enemies who weren't Terminators - combat robots who have to be completely destroyed to kill them, that can take all but 1 HP of damage and still be at 100% combat effectiveness. Maybe sometimes some of them could realise that you've just killed everyone else in their squad, and simply decide to run away.

It's also interesting to see how narrow their definitions of 'realism' are - they'll model stubble, sweat, and the texture of equipment webbing, but nobody ever bleeds, or screams, or goes mad. They'll model the correct serial number on an 21st century assault rifle, yet it'll deliver a target grouping that would shame a musket.

And I think Just Cause 2 was the last game I played where you really seemed to have a huge amount of freedom over the order you did the missions in, and there was a whole lot to do if you didn't want to do a mission. I hate purely linear games, where you have to do one thing, and until you do that to the game's satisfaction, you're not getting to do anything else. As soon as you reach a situation where you *have* to do something, rather than *want* to do something, that's work, not play; and if I'm working, I expect to be getting paid, not paying for the privilege.

Comment: It's Bill Hicks with the puppets all over again! (Score 2) 509 509

"I think the locked-down PC-in-a-box on the left is my favourite"

"No, the locked-down PC-in-a-box on the right is obviously superior!"

And to many of the rest of us, these nearly identical (both inside and out) boxes look to have the same sort of power as the gaming rigs we built two years ago. A lot of people still haven't gone HD, and only a small fraction of gamers have gone much beyond 1080p. 1080p looks pretty good on most screen sizes, but for 99% of the consumer market, there's no point going past that because the display hardware in people's houses can't display it. So once you've got hardware that'll do 1080p, you'd better have something much cleverer as a selling-point in your game, because the last gasp of "Ooh, teh shiniez!" as a major selling point was probably about three years ago.

And so far, all they seem to have are pre-rendered demos that show off the shiniez, and Sony claiming to suck slightly less terribly than Microsoft.

Really? Is that it? You want $500 out of me in the middle of a recession, when I already have a 360, PS3 and a gaming PC? You're really going to have to try a lot harder than that.

Comment: Space science fiction is encumbered (Score 2) 268 268

Not to mention expensive to do properly.

You have to postulate working anti-gravity without acknowledging the ramifications of that technology. Or spend more on wirework and/or CGI than can be coped with by a standard show's budget.

And you have to find plots that haven't been done before. Without resorting to reversing the polarity of the neutron flow or getting this cheese to Sickbay. There's what, about 800 episodes of Trek in all its incarnations, plus Galactica old and new, Babylon 5, and stuff that only made very short runs, S:AAB, Space Rangers etc.

All the science fiction from the last decade I can think of is earth-based, and I don't think it's because it's easier or cheaper to make, although it probably is. I think much of it is because any time someone comes up with an idea for a space-based series, it just sounds like Star Trek, The Nth Generation, or Babylon 6.

Comment: Thanks, Microsoft (Score 5, Insightful) 592 592

Just made the next few months so much easier, because all the hype, specs, leaks, teasers and general media d1ck-sucking can be safely ignored.

You've chosen to release a console that's less powerful than the PC I built 2 years ago, so heavily encrusted with DRM that it will get in the way of playing games I have purchased. Router bounces - say goodbye to your game session. ISP has problems - no games for you, you filthy thief.

Here's a little hint, MS - you are not the only game in town. There has never been such excellent choice in the games and console market. I can run MAME on my Raspberry Pi, or Skyrim at full shiniez on the PC. What do you have to offer that's so unique? Halo? No, that's not looking a bit tired at all. Halo 5? Wow, I wonder what you have to do in *that* game!? (hint: shoot aliens...)

My PC plays anything that needs heavy lifting - my 360, Dreamcast, N64, PS3, PS2 and Saturn all still work, and I have plenty games to tide me over your entire current console lifecycle. Really, what are you offering this time around to make up for all this shit?

Comment: Sounds like the gaming PC I built 2 years ago (Score 1) 284 284

which still plays everything at fullscreen and maximum shiniez - Saint's Row 3, Skyrim, Max Payne 3, Borderlands 2 - all look utterly amazing. Only two glitches on install - Rage, which required the special magic Catalyst drivers, and Psychonauts through the Humble Bundle which turned out to be a corrupt installer. 4 TB of HD space means all my movies are on the system and shareable with the 360s in the house through TVersity. 360 wired controller plugs straight into front USB port for racing games. It wasn't cheap, but it wasn't frighteningly expensive - it wasn't absolute cutting-edge hardware, it was the best bang-for-buck I could get at the time.

So if I could build a machine with this power 2 years ago, why are the front-runners in the industry only just getting round to it now? Are they always going to be behind the curve, because they're having to homogenise the hardware? By the time they've finalised the design, got the devkits out to the software houses, and prepped the factories for production of the final unit, are they're always going to be x amount of time behind the leading edge?

Maybe they're just counting on the fact that the bulk of console gamers will be impressed by 1920x1080 at 60fps.

Comment: Side effect of realism (Score 2) 220 220

If the games were set in fictitious countries, they'd get dinged for it. An interesting writing challenge for these games would be to anonymise the locations - in effect, to amplify the murky nature of the operations concerned. "We were down in South America somewhere, some rathole of a banana republic..." or "We'd been travelling upriver for a couple of days, heading deep into African jungle..." The original Bond books did it quite well - the idea that the top echelons of the various intelligence agencies had realised that they were all on the same side (i.e. the side that likes money and power in quite huge quantities) and were running their own organisation that wasn't based on or in any particular country. And they weren't going to let any grubby little politicians mess it up.

Comment: The scariest monster should be the Doctor (Score 1) 170 170

The Doctor has dealt with crises from a little girl with a psycho-active imagination, to genocidal extinction and universe-threatening cataclysms. He looks like a little, fussy man in a bowtie, but is a 1,000 year old alien with vast storehouses of knowledge and a very non-human perspective.

There are many ways this could be explored; where the Doctor has to do the right thing, which isn't necessarily the good thing. I also wish that the plot line they had in mind for Colin Baker's Doctor could have been done properly, instead of being mangled about by writer's strikes etc. For its time, it was quite revolutionary - the idea that the Doctor's regeneration had gone subtly wrong, leaving him more like the Master than the Doctor. The Sixth Doctor's arc was meant to be a slow descent into hell for the character, and any companions unfortunate enough to get caught up in his self-destruction, before his realisation that it had all gone wrong, and his deliberate suicide, in the hope that the next regeneration would correct the problem, because he was too dangerous to leave running around.

That arc would have made the Sixth Doctor a damaged and tragic figure in the Who mythos, not just the 'bit of a twat' he's generally regarded as, which I feel is a bit unfair to Colin Baker.

Comment: Collaborative Story-telling (Score 1) 197 197

Or like an improvised play. Or like a half-written thriller novel, where you're trying to work out how it might have ended. Depends who I'm trying to explain it to, and why.

I got a job once because on the interview form, where it said to state an achievement I was most proud of, I listed a 3.5 year RPG campaign that I wrote from scratch, designed the system for and GM'med every episode on a weekly basis. When they asked me about it, I explained how this involves system design, small-team leadership, group discussion and input, fast reactions to new data and events, and a huge amount of thinking on one's feet.

What I didn't mention were the puns that could stun at 20 paces; laughing so hard that it felt like God herself had opened the top of my head and kissed my naked brain; and the ability to reduce grown men and women to genuine laughter and tears with a handful of pencilled notes on a piece of paper.

What I couldn't mention is that some things grow out of these adventures organically, and there exists no way to describe them to outsiders. There is too much context required, and you know their eyes would glaze over long before you reached the punchline. There are only a handful of people on this planet who will ever understand why: "Range to target?" "B flat!" is funny, or grok what we meant by "Warm up the anthrax cannons, the main speakers, and the rotisserie!", or know why the cry of "Death from above!" is *always* followed by the line "Chocolates from Switzerland!". And that's as it should be.

I'll never understand why anyone would care about the outcome of a game that they didn't have money riding on; the mundanes will never understand why we never stopped telling ourselves stories.

We all live in a state of ambitious poverty. -- Decimus Junius Juvenalis

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