Enough is Enough

Checking my multiplayer stats in Call of Duty 4 has become a terrifying reflection on my addiction. Two hundred and twenty-eight hours. On a single game. This isn't even close to the top of the CoD4 leaderboard though. That guy has something like eighty-three days logged. That's one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-two hours. And that's not even the highest! The person ranked number 14 in the world has three thousand, one hundred and ninety-two hours. If you played this game for eight hours every day, it would still take you over a year to get that kind of play-time. Can you imagine?

The worst part is that I'm not even enjoying it any more. I've gotten to the stage now where most people who would be at my 'comfort' level of skill have all moved onto something else. Gears of War 2 or Call of Duty: World at War, maybe? And so what I'm left with is people that are beyond my skill-level, and just don't make the game any fun. (I often accuse them of playing unfairly, but I think this is just my way of not having to admit that I'm not good enough to play with them.)

My achievement score has suffered too. I used to love my gamer score, and took great care to nurture it. Now it's getting neglected. While I could be finishing other games that I started playing (like Dead Space, or Rainbow Six Vegas 2), I'm more likely to ignore them and fire up CoD4. To make matters worse, my Call of Duty achievement score is rather pathetic too, not at all reflecting the hours I've sunk into it.

And so, from tonight, I'm giving up. No more Call of Duty 4. Instead, I'm going to focus on other games. I've got a stack of games as long as my arm that I've been itching to play. Including (but not limited to)

  • Beautiful Katamari - barely touched

  • Stranglehold - played for an hour and stopped

  • Persona 4 - ironically, haven't started because I've heard about the amount of time people sink into this game

  • Punch Out! - I play this now and then, but haven't given it a decent run-through

  • No More Heroes - played about an hour

  • Deadly Creatures - really want to play it, but haven't touched at all

  • Condemned 1 & 2 - played them both for about an hour, really enjoyed, and stopped

And, of course,

  • Battlefield 1943 - isn't actually out yet, but I can feel my fingers twitching at the thought of playing it

So if you see me on Xbox Live (gamertag: swishypants) and you catch me playing Call of Duty 4, please, send me a digital kick in the pants. I'll thank you for it.

iPhone on Flickr →

99_graph_main_32d01074e4 According to the site's public data, the iPhone (green line) is the most popular camera on Flickr, having just passed the Canon Digital Rebel XTi/EOS 400D (pink line). It's also interesting to see how the iPhone ranks in the percentage usage among camera phones (read: it's virtually the only game in town).

I had really not been a fan of convergence, since I thought that any device that tries to be all things to all people will end up doing a piss-poor job of everything. But the iPhone is definitely making me rethink this.

Greed is Good?

I know I'm opening a can of worms here, but the more I read about the Bernard Madoff case, the weirder I find it.

The guy was a crook, and I think it's good that a white-collar criminal is being made an example of. It's refreshing to see someone actually having to deal with the consequences of their actions instead of being given a slap on the wrist.

But at the same time, I'm having trouble working up any sort of sympathy for Madoff's victims. These are people who thought they had found some sort of infallible get-rich-quick scheme. Most of them jumped onto Madoff's offer because it seemed "too good to be true". Well, it was. One of the basic tenets of investing is to understand what you're investing in. If they went through with the investment regardless of their ignorance, then it's their own fault and sucks to be them. If they understood Madoff's scheme and went through with it anyway, then they were just being greedy and, again, sucks to be them.

The worst part, though, is that these people actually make it difficult to work up any sympathy for them. Madoff's victims were mostly wealthy businesspeople who were enticed by his unusually high returns. They got burned. They want compensation, which only seems fair, right? Sure, except it's the Securities and Exchange Commission that would be paying out. Or rather, it would be the tax payer, via the S.E.C. that would be paying out. Is this fair? As Joe Nocera of the New York Times says, (somewhat invoking a modern-day Godwin), "Why should my tax dollars go to helping Madoff victims? This is not 9/11." We're in a murky, grey area of fairness now. Thankfully, we have the victims, like a fucking foghorn, warning us "here be dragons". They don't just want compensation of their initial investment. No, no. They want compensation based on the last statement they received.

Just let that sink in for a second.

They don't just want the money they lost. They want the money they had been promised by a crook. The entire point of the Ponzi Scheme is precisely that the money does not exist in the first place, but that doesn't matter to these people whose greed apparently ignores common sense. This is entirely like falling for one of those Nigerian 419 Scams, and then demanding that the government compensate you to the tune of the five trillion dollars you were promised.

Who said greed is good?

Losing Focus →

If you're taking part in Infinite Summer and, like me, find yourself falling behind or losing focus, Kevin Guilfoile has some fantastic, inspirational words:

The first ten pages of this book are remarkable. The first 100 pages are very good (if sometimes frustrating) but the first ten are amazing, and [David Foster Wallace] deliberately put them there, right at the front, in order to make you a promise. ... He could have just said this: Listen up. I have a freaking great story to tell you.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated in parts, or lost. If you feel Wallace has lost your trust, stop, go back and read the first ten pages. You’ll find a promise.

I Will Hate You Until The Day I Die

A lesson in how not to react to criticism, courtesy of Alain de Botton.

Last week in the New York Times, Caleb Crain gave Alain de Botton's new book a not particularly favourable review, in which he accuses de Botton of self-indulgence and snobbery. De Botton promptly heads off to Cain's personal blog, Steamboats Are Ruining Everything (incidentally, one of the greatest blog titles I've ever seen) to vent and unleashed a tidal wave of invectives including the incredible lines "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."

Let me just say this: wow.

I know this sounds ridiculous and cliched, but I was a huge fan of Alain de Botton's early books. Essays in Love is an amazing piece of work, showing remarkable insight into the natural cycle of (failed) romantic relationships. How Proust Can Change Your Life was also stunning, and made me look at Proust in a whole different way. After that, though, came The Consolations of Philosophy, and the beginning of his decline. Since then, I feel his books have settled into a predictable, comfortable rhythm, usually because they are written merely as companions to increasingly generic, increasingly audience-friendly TV show. I don't think I've actually finished any of his books since The Art of Travel.

Ignoring the specifics of Crain's complaints, I feel like they could as easily be applied to any of de Botton's recent books. There is a certain amount of snobbery. They frequently do veer off-topic in favour of (slightly smug) "amusing" asides. So I'm surprised that de Botton is finding Crain's review so shocking.

Even more surprising, though, is de Botton's reaction to his reaction. He points out, rightly, that what he was trying to do is to give authors a right to reply to critics, but worryingly seems to think that the only problem here is that he wrote his comments in a public forum, thinking it had been private (although the three previous comments didn't tip him off?) In other words, he's saying that, yes, he acted like an impetulant child, but the only thing he's sorry about is that he got caught.

Again, wow.

Vatican Taking Notes from Berlusconi?

As some of you probably know, there's quite a bit of controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII, the Pope who reigned during World War II. While many catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI, wish to make him a saint, critics accuse Pius of not doing enough to help the Jews during the holocaust.

Today, the head of the Vatican Archives, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, has said that there are things in the archive that will completely vindicate Pius, and show that he did a lot to help the Jews. But he can't go into specifics.

"There will be some nice surprises, even as far as the Jews are concerned ... Pope Pius took great risks, even very great personal risks, to save Jews. I can't say more now but whoever wants to open their eyes in five or six years will be able to open them."

On the one hand, this is understandable. There are currently 20 Vatican archivists working full-time on examining millions of pages of documents regarding Pius's papacy, and it would be disrespectful, if not completely reckless, to start announcing details prematurely.

On the other hand, the first thing that popped into my head when I read this was Silvio Berlusconi who, almost two months ago, promised to release a statement explaining his relationship with 18-year old Noemi Letizia, which has not yet arrived. In fact, Berlusconi recently added his voice to President Giorgio Napolitano's invitation to the media and opposition politicians to suspend discussion of "controversial issues" (read: Berlusconi's numerous recent transgressions) until after the G8 summit.

That said, the long finger only goes so far with minor issues and, regardless of what the media from other countries believe, Berlusconi's affairs are relatively minor issues within Italy. When we're talking about the deaths of 6 million people? I doubt it.

EA Sports Active

For the past couple of weeks, I've been working on trying to get myself into shape. Or rather, some shape that wasn't just 'round'. Cutting out chocolate (except when thoughtless fucks come over to stay and bring us presents of giant bars of Dairy Milk). Cutting out fizzy drinks (except when we throw a party and the thoughtless fucks don't drink the mixers). And generally just watching what I eat. And, as a bit of an experiment, I've been trying out EA Sports Active.

I've tried Wii Fit and found it to be a total misnomer. Wii Balance might have been a better name, since that seems to be all it's concerned with. I still use it for its daily "Body Tests", which measure your weight and BMI (and also still finds a way to work "balance" into the equation), but apart from that, _Wii Fit _was a non-starter in my house.

EA Sports Active, on the other hand, has been a huge hit. It actually gets your heart pumping and I'm loving the way it feels like a genuine training session. Or at least, like a more intense training DVD. I'm halfway through my first "30 Day Challenge", and there hasn't been one time where I've thought "I can't be bothered with this", so it can definitely be called a success.

That's not to say it's perfect.

  • Enough with the fucking lunges Christ on a bike. Every session has a minimum of three or four batches of lunges. Even last night, where the trainer says "Today we're going to focus on your upper body!" had five sets of lunges. I'm sure they're great for my fitness, but let's mix it up a bit, please.

  • Why can't it weigh me? I've got a Balance Board. It knows I have a Balance Board. Why the hell can't it weigh me using the Balance Board? Right now, I do my body test using Wii Fit, get my weight from that and manually input it into EA Sports Active. This strikes me as just a silly oversight. Although it also seems like none of the Wii fitness games offer this, apart from Wii Fit. Maybe this is a Nintendo-mandated omission?

  • No abdominal exercises Weirdly for something that presents itself as a rounded fitness program, the game doesn't even try to give any abdominal exercises. Apparently, these will be coming later in an add-on pack.

  • Crappy resistance band The resistance band they supply with the game is not only light as to be almost completely ineffectual, it also is made of a crappy material that will snap if you look at it wrong. My advice would be to buy yourself your own resistance band and use that instead.

Apart from these fairly minor complaints, I'm really happy with EA Sports Active. It's not a complete workout package, but it's not really meant to be. It's intended to gently ease people into regular exercise and to compliment a broader, more comprehensive weight-loss and exercise regime.

Now I just need to stop people bringing me chocolate and I'll be laughing.

All Things Considered →

NPR's All Things Considered is one of the few great news/current events radio shows out there. That's why it's so galling that they don't have an official podcast. You can only download snippets from their website, which is generous of them, but getting these onto my iPod was such a colossal pain in the dick that I decided, instead, I'd construct a podcast myself. So I did.

If you want to subscribe, launch iTunes, go to Advanced -> Subscribe to Podcast, and paste in the following URL: http://www.lowbrowculture.com/atcpodcast.php

Usual disclaimer: This is provided as-is, with no guarantees, warranties or refunds. It works for me. If it doesn't work for you, drop me a line. This podcast is completely unofficial and in no way endorsed by NPR.

Unleash the Beast

Hilarious article on energy drinks from Gourmet.com:

Measuring up the prose of energy drinks against daily life will lead to all sorts of absurdities:

“Julia, can I get you a coffee?” “No, I have a ton of editing to do, I need the venom of a Death Adder which has the power to strike back.” “How about an espresso then?” “I will bite you in your neck if you do not leave me immediately to the challenges of my intense life.” “Look, we all have a lot of work to do.” “You may have a lot of work to do. I have a lot of work to penetrate with my face, inject with poison, and kill.” “Is that your heart visibly beating through your sternum?” “Yes, it is. Jealous?”

Reality Overlay

Now that high end "Smart Phones" are being released with all sorts of built-in doo-dads, like a camera, GPS unit and compass, it means that phones know exactly where they are and what you're pointing them at. Which leads to some interesting applications:

It works as follows: Starting up the Layar application automatically activates the camera. The embedded GPS automatically knows the location of the phone and the compass determines in which direction the phone is facing. Each [commercial] partner provides a set of location coordinates with relevant information which forms a digital layer. By tapping the side of the screen the user easily switches between layers.

This is all kind of difficult to explain in words - check out the video of Wikitude in action to see what is going on...

In other words, your phone gives you a Terminator-style real-time Heads Up Display for whatever you're looking at. Imagine the possibilities - cross it with Wikipedia/Wikitravel to give you the most amazing guide book ever. Cross it with an application that "calls" your phone and you've got the most immersive Alternate Reality Game ever. Heck, if it knows your demographic, then you've got some Minority Report-style personalized ads beamed directly from what you're looking at. Which might sound annoying and intrustive, but when it's this futuristic, who cares?

Wait, Scratch That, Reverse it

Notice anything different?

My blog was drowning under almost five years of cruft and unfocused babbling, so I've decided to do an old etch-a-sketch revamp. Shake it up, start again. This time, less bullshit, I promise. I want to use this blog for writing. Not as a link-dump, or a Youtube proxy (although I'm sure there will be the occasional link and youtube video). Those things will be on my twitter. The old version of the site is still available, but really, where's the fun in that? We can't keep looking back. Got to move forward. Onward and upward.

And with that, on with the show.

Trailer for 'Get Smart' →

There's some inspired casting here - Steve Carrell as Maxwell Smart, Ann Hathaway as Agent 99, Alan Arkin as the Chief.

Edge's 100 Greatest Videogames

Edge Magazine (still the best videogame magazine out there) recently published its top 100 videogames of all time. It's pretty interesting reading and, being Edge, there are a few questionable decisions. But this is what I love about Edge - they occasionally do some wild stuff, but always back it up with good, solid explanations.

Here's the list along with my statistics.

Legend

Bold - Played, finished Italic - Played, didn't finish Normal - Didn't play.

The List

  1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

  2. Resident Evil 4

  3. Super Mario 64

  4. Half Life 2

  5. Super Mario World

  6. Zelda: A Link to the Past

  7. Halo: Combat Evolved

  8. Final Fantasy XII

  9. Tetris

  10. Super Metroid

  11. Yoshi's Island

  12. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

  13. Ico

  14. Super Mario Kart

  15. Pro Evolution Soccer 6

  16. Street Fighter Anniversary

  17. GoldenEye 007

  18. Final Fantasy VII

  19. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

  20. Civilization IV

  21. Okami

  22. World Of WarCraft

  23. Metroid Prime

  24. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

  25. Sim City 2000

  26. Advance Wars

  27. Rez

  28. Perfect Dark

  29. Deus Ex

  30. Shadow Of The Colossus

  31. Katamari Damacy

  32. Project Gotham Racing 2

  33. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

  34. R-Type Final

  35. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty

  36. Battlefield 2

  37. StarCraft

  38. Virtua Fighter 5

  39. Secret Of Mana

  40. Wario Ware Inc: Minigame Mania

  41. Gran Turismo 4

  42. Rome: Total War

  43. Bomberman

  44. Super Monkey Ball

  45. Company Of Heroes

  46. Quake III

  47. Far Cry

  48. Puyo Pop Fever

  49. Animal Crossing

  50. Shenmue

  51. Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire

  52. Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness

  53. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

  54. Chrono Trigger

  55. Counter-Strike

  56. Guitar Hero

  57. Soul Calibur

  58. Tempest 2000

  59. StarFox 64

  60. Pac-Man Vs

  61. Manhunt

  62. Jet Set Radio Future

  63. Lumines

  64. System Shock 2

  65. Darwinia

  66. F-Zero GX

  67. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

  68. GTR2

  69. PilotWings 64

  70. Ridge Racers 2

  71. Ninja Gaiden Black

  72. Killer7

  73. Puzzle Bobble (aka Bust-a-Move)

  74. Thief: The Dark Project

  75. Burnout 2

  76. Ikaruga

  77. Football Manager 2007

  78. Doom II

  79. Secret of Monkey Island

  80. Virtua Tennis 3

  81. Robotron 2084

  82. Lemmings

  83. Nights

  84. Phantasy Star Online

  85. Silent Hill 2

  86. Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast

  87. Mr Driller

  88. Sega Rally Championship

  89. Tomb Raider

  90. Devil May Cry

  91. Super Smash Bros Melee

  92. Resident Evil

  93. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

  94. Gitaroo Man

  95. God of War

  96. Wipeout

  97. Tekken 3

  98. Sensible Soccer

  99. Psychonauts

  100. Crackdown

Statistics

Total played: 72 Total finished: 44

Number of sequels: 55

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Secret of the Incas

I don't think anyone actually understands how psyched I am for the release of the new Indiana Jones film next year. When I was younger and my age was still in single digits, I used to wake up extra early so I could go downstairs and watch all of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom before school. Every day. For about a year. And if I had my copy here with me now, I'd probably be watching it now.

secret-of-the-incas-sm.jpg

I came across a film called "Secret of the Incas", a low-budget adventure movie from 1954 starring Charlton Heston which seems to be Indiana Jones' most obvious inspiration. Heston plays Harry Steele (fucking awesome name), a square-jawed treasure-hunter who is determined to find the treasure of Machu Picchu in Peru. Like Indiana Jones, Steele walks around in a big brown fedora and leather jacket.

The similarities aren't accidental either. Rumour has it that before production of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Senor Spielbergo and George Lucas screened this movie (along with China, starring Alan Ladd) for the cast and crew, to give them an idea of the kind of movie they were trying to create.

incas.jpg

Youtube - Secret of the Incas (I) Youtube - Secret of the Incas (II) Youtube - Secret of the Incas (III)

These clips from Secret of the Incas should give you a good idea of how well Spielberg & co. managed to recreate the tone of the earlier movie. In fact, you could go further and point out specific sequences in Raiders that were influenced even by these three clips.

I'd love to see this movie completely, but it's impossible to buy Secret of the Incas. Nothing on Amazon, nothing on eBay. Even nothing on Bittorrent. Some conspiracy theorists reckon the movie is being 'suppressed' by Paramount because of the similarities to Indiana Jones, reckoning that people would be up in arms if they could see how much this film influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark (although I personally think this is ridiculous: if people can't that the Indiana Jones movies are nothing but a distillation of classic action movie staples, then these people should be banished to the wilderness immediately).

Whatever the reason, I can't get a hold of it on the internet. Anyone got a copy of this lying around? I'd be willing to pay good (read: not ridiculous) money for it.

We've come a long, long way together

My idea of heaven - 1991

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My idea of heaven - July 7th, 2007

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Slowly making my way through all of these in roughly chronological order. Monkey Island 2 next. I don't think there's a bad game in here.

BONUS CONTENT Press Play on Tape perform the Monkey Island theme live. If the first 30 seconds don't make you smile, I guarantee the last minute definitely will.