30 July 2008

Because No Man Is Truly Happy With Just One Unix

I've been trying out VirtualBox on my MacBook, more for fun and exercise than any real need. VirtualBox is a virtualization application that allows one to run another operating system on top of the original in a virtual machine.

I started out with Debian 4.0 (the current "stable" release). The installation process went surprisingly smoothly, but I soon remembered why I've always used the testing or unstable versions. I fully appreciate the need for a well tested stable release for many users, but there should be some kind of limit! "Antique" would be a better title than stable (it's still got Emacs 21, for crying out loud). So I proceeded to install another virtual machine with the testing release, and, once satisfied it worked OK, removed the first machine.

It runs reasonably well on my Mac. Of course it hogs some resources, but not as bad as I might have expected. Not something I'd want to have running constantly, but good enough to use occasionally if I need some app available for GNU/Linux but not for OS X. Of course the installation eats up a few gigs of disk space, but I'm not running out just yet. The Mac keyboard is always an issue. In Gnome I got it to work quite well, but I'm not sure how to configure it to work with other WMs or in a console. (The trouble is the special symbols usually typed with the ALT key on Macs.)

Then I proceeded to other experiments, mostly for the fun of it, and because, for some reason, I find myself very interested in the Unix scene in its entirety. I tried installing FreeBSD, without success. After a couple of attempts and various errors I gave up. Then I tested OpenSolaris. This installed quite painlessly. It's a bigger resource hog than Debian, though. I'm also not sure about its available software. I took a quick glance at the graphical package manager, and the packages listed there were very sparse. Of course I don't know if I was using it correctly. I won't be keeping it on my Mac, as Debian runs better and surely has a better software selection.

If I had another machine, I might seriously consider trying another Unix-like OS on it, such as a BSD variant. Mac OS X is a great OS in many ways, but it has its cons as well. It is a Unix system of course. I'd never have bought a Mac if it wasn't. It's a commercial product, however, even if its core is Open Source. Also, the integration of the Unix core and the top-level graphical interface (what most people think of as Mac OS) could be much better. App packages are inconvenient to run from a command prompt, and don't by default see many parts of the Unix system, such as hidden files and certain system folders that Unix users are used to tampering with. Also, software installed in a more Unix-like fashion, from source or via tools like MacPorts, usually need the additional X-server to run (when graphical), which (in my experience) has a tendency to be unstable in some cases. (This was true at least for the MacPorts version of Scribus, which seemed to suffer from frequent crashes. I've never had trouble with it on other platforms, so the only cause that comes to mind is OS X's version of X.)

On the other hand I like all the convenience and eye candy of the OS X interface. If only I could make it work better with and more like the *nix tradition I'm used to...

28 July 2008

Butterfly Paradigms

Update: Added BossBattle.net's first ever comic, Butterfly Paradigms

I have a passion for comics, both Japanese and Western. I would love to create my own comics, but I discovered years ago that I have no natural talent for drawing, and neither the patience or time to learn it the hard way. So a couple of years ago I had this idea. If I can't draw myself, I'll use images created by others.

The result was a little experimental comic by the name of Butterfly Paradigms. It was put together from various photos downloaded from Flickr (all under a Creative Commons license), which I then modified to look more artistic and, well, comic-like. Butterfly Paradigms was intended to be a continuing series, an original and rather surreal take on the superhero theme, but I never got around to creating a second issue. In the end this method of creating a comic seemed too restricting and finding suitable images was a tedious task.

Now, I came accross the first issue again recently and decided it worked reasonably well even as it is, as a stand-alone comic, even if it is very short (just 12 pages) and has very little story. I did one or two little tweaks (mainly removing references to future issues), and uploaded it. So here it is for anyone interested, in PDF format. You can download the file directly here.

26 July 2008

Boycott Beijing 2008!!

For a long time I felt that, once the games had been given to China, boycott was not the right or most constructive way to protest against the situation there. But with every passing day as the games draw nearer I'm hearing reports about the actions of authorities there that are rapidly making me change my mind.

Today's paper reported that authorities are putting up lists of topics that it is forbidden to discuss with tourists. These reportedly included such things as religion and income, and even married life. Last week I read about reports, I cannot know about their truthfulness, that authorities are trying to ban blacks and mongols from entering bars during the games. Supposedly this was in order to cut down on drug trafficking and other crime.

It is obvious that China in it's current state is incapable of supporting fundamental human rights. Because these ideals of freedom and equality should go hand in hand with the Olympic games, it is clear that China does not deserve these games. Since China won't listen to protests, it's beginning to look like boycott is the only route left to take.

It's just too bad that I'm not in any kind of position for my boycotting the games to make any difference whatsoever. But I'm beginning to hope that many important figures would come to the same conclusions I have.

Of course, I don't even like sports, and wouldn't be watching the games much in any case...

19 July 2008

Thinking Aloud and More

This is mostly me trying to organize thoughts in my head. I've been wanting to create a few stock RPG scenarios I could easily run for any group if a suitable occasion happened to come by. Creating a stand-alone, single session game, however, is rather more difficult than creating a session for an ongoing campaign.

So I've been thinking of some basic rules of thumb to aid me in the creation of such adventures. The most important is that the players should be able to grasp the game setting and characters pretty much instantly. Spending time explaining the geography and politics, even the physics (and metaphysics) of a game world before the game can commence is very tedious for both GM and players alike. What this means is that the game world should be one with which the players are all familiar with. Unless you're running a game for a group you've played with before in a particular setting, the "real world" is almost the only practical setting. There might be a few others that are familiar enough for practically everyone, such as a Western setting or a few other historical settings.

Obviously props like maps are always useful. But if you go to the trouble of creating a lot of props it would be nice to be able to get more use out of them than one session. Of course you'll have them ready if you wish to run the same adventure for a different group. But you could also create a "microsetting" that could be used for several different scenarios. My Beyond the Bridge setting is one such. Coming up with new ideas for small, self-contained settings isn't that easy, however.

Well, I'll let this stuff stew in my head, and maybe something fun will come out of it.

The other stuff:

Joss Whedon is still one of the greatest living geniouses. His Internet production Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is brilliant. The ending even managed to surprise me. I hope you had, or will have, a chance to catch it while it's still online.

The Last.fm website has had a complete revamp. I like it. You can still find me there by the username elcalen, if you want to see what I'm listening to. Or you can take a look at my artist page. I finally got the capitalisation of some of my tracks corrected. (Had to ask staff to do it. Apparently the capitalisation is set when a track is first scrobbled, even if I later upload mp3's with correct titles.) It had been bugging me for a while. I'm a total spelling nazi, and while the capitalisation of most tracks wasn't incorrect, the inconsistent use of different capitalisation between tracks was really, well, as close to my idea of Hell as I can imagine.

There's probably other stuff, but this post is getting too long already. So, later.

16 July 2008

I Had a Shoggoth

Another very quick post. I Had a Shoggoth is the funniest song I've heard in ages. Warning, for geeks only.

Idle Country Blogging

It's funny how the times change. Just a couple of years ago the idea of spending my vacation here in the country surfing the web, playing games and watching DVDs would have seemed utterly alien. Just two simple things, a laptop and an Internet connection, have entirely changed my way of life here.

While the change has it's blessings, it's not all for the best. Just as it is at home, it's much easier to procrastinate. Surfing the web and chatting with friends tricks the mind into thinking you're actually doing something. Starting new projects, whether creative work like writing or music, or something as simple as reading a novel, feels next to impossible.

It's not all technology's fault, though. The weather these past couple of days has been pretty bleak. Otherwise I might well have been sitting outside with a good book in hand, at least. I have this tradition of reading Hayao Miyazaki's comic Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind each summer while I'm up here in Nilsiä. It's my favourite comic book bar none, and even one of my favourite books in any form, graphic or prose. (The movie version, based on just the early parts of the comic, is much inferior.) The hammock is my favourite place to read here, although these days there seems to be a lack of really suitable places to hang one.

14 July 2008

Doomed

Update: Review of the Doomsday Engine version of the classic game Doom

Well, the next game I got around to writing about wasn't Loom, but Doom. Well, close enough. Every true gamer should be familiar with Doom, but not everyone might know about the modern 'source ports' which have not only brought the game to modern platforms, but also greatly improved the graphics and controls. The Doomsday Engine is one of the most advanced of these ports. It's true to the original game, and can be configured to look and play very close to it, but also supports much prettier polygon graphics, improved textures, lighting and mouse control similar to more modern FPS games. Good old Doom with nicer graphics and more precise control, what could be cooler? It's the only FPS game I've ever really loved, and will probably always be.

Jesse Jane

Just a quick comment. I'm just listening to some Alice Cooper, and don't you think the lyrics to The Saga of Jesse Jane are just the best ever?

13 July 2008

Going Country

Six hours on the road isn't really my idea of fun. It's boring, and has a tendency to make various things ache. I listened to a little music, stared out of the window and... that's about it. I had toyed with the idea of playing games on my MacBook, but it would probably have been too hard to concentrate in the car, and in the end the sun was too bright to even see the screen properly.

I'm up at my grandfather's place for a few weeks. He'll be 100 in less than a month. Which is impressive, but I'll leave it at that. This is a blog about me, after all. I don't want to talk too much about my family and friends. It's too easy to cross boundaries and offend their privacy. Anyways, I've spent my vacations in this little town called Nilsiä since, well, I've existed. It's a nice, peaceful place, even though they're making a little too big a deal out of tourism here lately. I come here for peace and quiet, after all, not to see hordes of upper middle class Russians on skiing holidays (or whatever it is they do in the summer). Just how many golf courses a town of 6000 inhabitants needs, is what I'd like to know.

As you can see, we've got an Internet connection here (and no, my grandfather doesn't use it), so, apart from my physical presence in the capital, there should be very little change in my activities in the near future. I might even get around to playing and reviewing a game or two. I've had a yearning to replay Loom recently, and managed to get it working on my MacBook with the help of ScummVM. It's a nice piece of software. It's just a shame that, although I have a lot of respect for them, I don't really have enough patience to play most games in the point-and-click adventure genre. Loom is probably the only one I've beaten, probably because it's quite easy and quite short.

10 July 2008

Bloodthirst

I just read the Lordi comic Verenjano. It was quite fun, with a couple of clever ideas too. I'm not used to reading comics in Finnish, but Mr Lordi's northern accent really made my day. The art, while perhaps not the best ever seen in comics, was nothing to complain about either. Now I've got to try to find the first issue as well... (And I still haven't manage to see the movie. It'll have to wait until the DVD is cheaper.)

Lordi is a rarity for me in several ways. First, it's one of the very few Finnish groups I listen to, if not practically the only one. Lordi's image and style aren't particularly Finnish, of course. Second, it's one of the few modern groups that I like with a heavier sound. I do like a lot of older hard rock music, like AC/DC, and many bands that combine harder rock with other styles, like Queen, Jethro Tull or Alice Cooper. Later groups, and especially metal groups, rarely appeal to me. It's usually the singer that spoils it for me (and that applies to many other genres as well). I'm very picky about the singing styles I like (ok, so Lordi's singing voice isn't exactly at the top of my list, but it's still better than many). But often it's also the image and attitude of the bands, which tend to be overly negative and aggressive, to an extent which just looks ridiculous even when intended to be serious and dark.

Lordi's different. It's intentionally over-the-top, I think, in a tongue-in-cheek way. Lordi's music isn't anti-social, and certainly not satanistic, but rather a homage to horror movies and comics. Which certainly appeals to a horror fan like me.

7 July 2008

OMG, i can haz relijun

Ok, this is one of the wackiest things I've seen in ages. Much of the Bible has actually been translated into lolspeak.

Now, I guess there might be people who could find this offensive. However, I find it hard to believe that someone would go through such a huge amount of work if they had anti-Christian sentiments. Parody is one of the best forms of tribute, I think. (This also applies to one of my favourite movies, Dogma.)

It should be mentioned that I don't consider myself a Christian these days. Quite the contrary, I've found other philosophies that appeal to me more. However, I have the greatest respect towards, and interest in, all religions. In fact, I don't think I would find this site so funny if I was at all anti-Christian.

Summer & Fandom

A fairly active and social weekend for a change, instead of the usual stay at home watching movies and playing video games kind (even though I did manage to squeeze a couple of movies in as well). A summer picnic of the Finnish science fiction fandom scene on Saturday, which sort of spilled over into Sunday as well with unfinished Finnish Tolkien Society business to sort out. (Although the business part was quite brief in comparison to the museum visit and cafe chat session.) All in all a pretty enjoyable weekend. And the weather was just right as well, for the most part.

I've been an active member of the Finnish Tolkien Society since roughly the turn of the millennium. It's been a lot of fun and I've made lots of friends there. It's funny though that, while all the fantasy and SF organisations in such a small country are pretty familiar with each other, I don't really know that many people in Finnish fandom, outside the immediate circle of the Tolkien Society. Partly I guess it's cause I can be kind of shy and quiet when I'm in strange company. But mostly I guess it's cause I'm just too lazy to go to a lot of social gatherings.

I wouldn't quite call myself a recluse, but there's a bit of that in me. Many of my interests just aren't very social. I love nothing better than to just curl up on my sofa watching a good movie or playing a good video game. Of course I love seeing friends, but I just don't seem to have the energy to do that every weekend. Hell, I'm lucky to do it once a month even. And meeting strangers in strange circumstances... There was a time in my late teens, even early 20s, when that newly discovered 'scene' held a kind of wonder. But I've lost that fire at some point over the years since. And I'm not quite sure how to feel about that. Perhaps I'm just growing old.

2 July 2008

Guilty Gear X2 #Reload

Update: Review of Guilty Gear X2 #Reload for PS2

Another day, another video game review. I told you to expect a review of Guilty Gear X2 soon. Didn't know I'd get around to it this soon, though. But that's arcade games for you. Most games you have to play, and play, and play, and then they're over. And then you write a review based on the entire experience. A fighting game, on the other hand, is something you keep coming back to, again and again, just to play a session or two. It doesn't end. There's always more to learn, room for improvement. Yet you can get the gist of the game in just a few sessions, well enough to write a pretty fair review of it.

Well, at least that was the case for The King of Fighters, which I bought last week and reviewed just half a week later. I've been a fan of Guilty Gear for a couple of years already, just haven't gotten around to writing a review.

1 July 2008

The King of Fighters XI

Update: Review of The King of Fighters XI for PS2

Another game review within 24 hours. Aren't I efficient today. Or, I may just be procrastinating and putting off other things I should be doing.

The King of Fighters is, surprisingly, a famous fighting game series. And it's a darn good series too, albeit not one of the easiest to approach and, like many games of the genre, suffering from frustratingly difficult bosses. Or maybe I just suck big time at this type of games. (Which I do, but won't let it stop me.) I've yet to review Guilty Gear X2, one of my all time favourites in the genre, and the game that got me hooked on fighters. Expect a review of it before too long.

I think it's mildly worrying that my PS2 game shelf has grown to such an extent that I concluded the only sensible way to organise it was in alphabetical order. I'm sure many people have much more games than I do. After all, I'm quite picky about the types of games I like. Still, it's not an entirely unimpressive sight.

Metal Slug

Update: Review of Metal Slug Anthology for PS2

It's been a while, but at long last here's a new video game review. Metal Slug is one of the coolest arcade game series ever made, and this cool PS2 disc has, well, all the arcade titles from the series. They're tough, though, like arcade games tend to be. I'd like to see an arcade shooter I could beat with a single credit. It would make me feel good, feel like I've accomplished something. But alas, I'm doomed to be a failure at all games that require skill, speed or reflexes. If I'm going to fail, though, at least I'll fail with enthusiasm!

Hopefully it'll be less than six months till my next review.