29 December 2009

Questing for MMOs

Wow (no pun intended), time really does fly. A whole month since my last post? What have I been up to? Oh yeah, a whole lotta nothing...

I've never had any interest in online gaming. Playing games to me has been something akin to watching movies or reading books: it's about stories, and larger than life characters, the kind you tend to find in (more or less) linear games. There's no place for other people in games like that. And, frankly, I'm not that interested in the company of total strangers anyway.

But I keep running into the MMORPG world wherever I turn: I started watching The Guild, and it was fun. Friends talk about them. And of course it's hard to surf the geeky websites I surf without constantly hearing about them. So I start thinking: am I missing out on something? And suddenly I find myself yearning to explore a new world, with a character I've created myself, instead of following a character in someone else's story.

Probably I'll just get bored in no time at all and return to my usual console adventures. But might as well give it a shot, I thought. Which is when I ran into a wall. Namely, was there any MMORPG I could play even if I wanted to? First, there's no way I'm going to pay a huge monthly subscription fee. Ok, there's a fair amount of games out there that are free to play. But getting one to work on my machine is a whole other matter, seeing as I run GNU/Linux, on a 2007 model MacBook, which doesn't exactly boast huge amounts of memory or graphics capabilities.

Now, there's a fair amount of Windows games that should run with Wine. I tried several, with no luck. Native GNU/Linux games aren't exactly bountiful. There's PlaneShift, an open source project (with proprietary content) that looks interesting, but the listed system requirements looked too daunting to even try it... (Namely, they explicitly listed a newer model graphics card than the one in my MacBook.)

Then there's The Mana World, which I should make particular mention of as I recently posted about games that are entirely Free Software. This project aims to create a totally free 2D MMORPG, with an appearance similar to mid-90's console RPG's. It's very much a work in progress, however, and doesn't yet offer much in the way of races, classes or other character customisation, or story... In short, nothing really to hook me. Still, it does run on my machine, and I respect it for the Free Software approach, even though I doubt I'll spend much time playing it as it is now.

I'd pretty much given up hope of finding anything else, when I ran into Regnum Online, which, surprisingly enough, has a GNU/Linux client available. Even more surprisingly, it actually seems to run, more or less (at least with all graphics options set to minimum). It's much too early to say if the game is any good, or even if it's stable enough to actually play. As I said, most likely I'll get bored in no time and move on to something different. But at least I'd have tried.

29 November 2009

In Memoriam: Robert Holdstock

Just heard that author Robert Holdstock has departed from this reality. I don't really know much about him as a person, but his Mythago Wood novels made a lasting impression. Back when I first read Mythago Wood, late in the 90's I think, it was a very refreshing experience in comparison to the clichéd high fantasy I read much of back then. Holdstock, along with people like Neil Gaiman, taught me just how original and imaginative fantasy could be.

25 November 2009

Wing Commanding

Update: Review of Wing Commander: Prophecy.

Back in the mid-90's there were two main game genres me and my friends were playing: fantasy strategy (namely Master of Mana and Heroes of Might and Magic II) and space combat simulations.

The game that introduced me to the latter genre, and probably the game of the genre I played most at the time, was Star Wars: TIE Fighter. (This was also around the peak period of my Star Wars fandom.) The other main proponent of the genre is, of course, the Wing Commander series. I bought Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy back in the day.

Another defining feature of that era, however, was my lack of patience with games. I rarely beat anything, really. I played Wing Commander III some, but never got very far. IV I never really got around to playing at all. Prophecy I played most of the three, I think. I remember running into trouble in a mission somewhere close to halfway into the game and getting sidetracked with something else, never returning to it. (Which happens to me far too often, even now, although I have beaten plenty of games since.)

The games sat in a cupboard for years, until recently I got a sudden urge to revisit those golden years. Of course running them on my modern GNU/Linux system would likely be difficult. This proved to be the case for Wing Commander III. (It did start with DOSBox but suffered frequent crashes.) I didn't even try IV. However, I was surprised to find that Prophecy ran perfectly with Wine.

It's a week later and I've finally beaten a Wing Commander game for the first time. And it still was lots of fun.

16 November 2009

Free Software vs The Gamer Vol 2

In my previous post I discussed the relationship (or lack of it) of video games and the Free Software ideology. While the majority of games must exist in a commercial environment for meaningful development to be possible, there are of course many community based projects as well. Here's just a couple interesting ones I've run into. I'm only covering games that are entirely Free Software here, which don't rely on any proprietary content

id Software released the Doom engine source code, which has led to countless ports and improved versions for many different systems. The content of the original game, however, is not free. Freedoom provides a free replacement for the data. In combination with a Doom engine port it is, essentially, a whole new game with new graphics, monsters, maps and everything. What's more, it allows you to play many of the countless Doom maps and mods available on the net.

Another interesting entry on the FPS front is OpenArena, which basically does to Quake 3: Arena what Freedoom does to Doom. Fast paced deathmatch against bots or online, just the thing to kill half an hour on a boring day.

While the previous are basically free content for engines of originally commercial games, there are of course entirely original projects as well. One interesting example is The Battle for Wesnoth, a traditional turn-based fantasy strategy game. The overall quality is at least on par with classic 90's representatives of the genre and there are many campaigns to play, in addition to downloadable user-created content.

15 November 2009

Free Software vs The Gamer

As you may know, I'm a devoted supporter of the Free Software ideology. Practically the only piece of proprietary software I (grudgingly) use on a regular basis is the Flash plugin for my web browser. Except... I'm also a gamer. And obviously the vast majority of games are not Free Software, on the console front practically none.

However, although games obviously are software, their function, role, market etc. differ greatly from utility software. It is easier to compare the game industry to, for example, the film industry. For regular software the community based development approach of Free Software simply works better than a conventional capitalist approach. However, for games that can really make the most of the technology available today you really need a team of professionals working full time, something that is only possible in a commercial environment. Also, a game is only part software. It's just as much story writing, audiovisual arts etc. Commercial distribution of games is really the only practical option.

OK, none of this of course means that the software portion of a game couldn't be produced using Free Software standards. In fact, I think the whole game industry would likely benefit from it. But I'm afraid that, whereas a Free Software computer system is already a perfectly viable option, changing the entire game industry would currently be next to impossible. It's not like you can choose a Free alternative to your favourite game.

But of course Free Software games do exist, both games that are entirely Free and games with Free Software components coupled with proprietary content. id Software has famously released the source code of many of their games (allowing them, among other things, to be ported to GNU/Linux systems).

I was going to write about examples of entirely Free games I've encountered, but this post is getting pretty long as is, and it's getting pretty late, so I guess I'll leave that for another day. Good night.

8 November 2009

Even When You Don't Care

It's not really autumn out there.
But it sure as Hell ain't winter.
A Black Night,
Beyond the First White.
An empty space,
An in-between.
A night to light a candle,
Let the void devour,
Wait,
For another flame
To light in that Darkness, even though
You know it never will.
It's the waiting that makes you human.
(Even when you don't care
To be one.)

30 October 2009

Metal Gear Solid 2

Update: Review of Metal Gear Solid 2.

As I said in my previous post, I was playing Metal Gear Solid 2 again. As it turned out, I was just a day away from beating it. So here's the review. To quote from it:

'Back around the turn of the millennium I was playing almost exclusively RPG's. Then a friend showed me Metal Gear Solid 2 and I thought it looked intriguing enough to try, so I borrowed it. Saying it changed my life would be a little over the top and cliched, but... What Metal Gear Solid 2 proved to me was that action games as well could be used as an efficient medium for storytelling. Also, its unique gameplay, with its perfect balance of realism and cinematic sci-fi action, proved quite addictive. And although I've played plenty of action games since then, I still rank Metal Gear Solid 2 as one of the best. If not the best.'

The so-called 'review' is nothing but praise, of course. But I don't think I'm alone in this world praising MGS2. It deserves it.

28 October 2009

All in a Week's Work

Came down with a cold and, having nothing better to do (or rather no energy for anything better), I realised I hadn't blogged in a while and decided to do something about it. Of course this would be easier if I actually had something to blog about, but life has been pretty boring once again of late.

Well, not boring as such, just stuff that's not really great for blogging, or at too early a stage to get much out of. I participated in a pretty cool LARP (live action role-playing game) last weekend. I don't LARP all that much, maybe a couple times a year lately, and then only in games organised by good friends of mine (whose games tend to be of excellent quality and often of a slightly experimental nature). They usually have to force me to enter, lazy sod that I am, but I'm always happy when they do, as they've turned out to be great experiences.

Perhaps inspired by the events of last weekend, perhaps because of my illness, or simply in a moment of insanity, I've actually started planning a LARP of my own. Yes, I have a long history of running table-top RPG's, but running a LARP is a very different undertaking. Even smallish games generally have at least 10+ players involved, and they all need well written background information to play their parts right... Not to mention the logistics involved.

I also begun re-playing Metal Gear Solid 2 after many years. Hopefully I'll stick to it and get a review out finally (which will be nothing but praise, obviously). This annoying cough and runny nose aren't really inspiring me to play right now, and I know from experience how disastrous even a short break can be for completing undertakings...

14 October 2009

The Geekoscope

OK, so I was just fooling around with asteroids in my horoscope. 'Cause that's what sane people do in their spare time, right? The Swiss Ephemeris backend I use for calculating object positions can pretty much calculate the position of any asteroid, if you download the correct ephemeris file. There are some asteroids with some pretty interesting, and, frankly, zany, names out there. Or up there. Whatever. I stumbled upon asteroids called GNU and Linux, for instance.

So I start thinking, what if I replace all the traditional planets with asteroids associated with really geeky concepts and people? Thus was the geekoscope born.

Finding a group of suitable names proved a challenge. First to come to mind was the dwarf planet Eris, which was originally nicknamed Xena. This was too good to pass by. But for the rest... There are just so many asteroids out there, too many to go through them all. I managed to scrounge up a few names at Wikipedia. I'm sure there are other geeky asteroids out there, but these will suffice for now. Apart from Xena (aka Eris), they are all main asteroid belt objects. Which is a little boring, but that's where the most unusual names are to be found. The ten lucky "planets" are: Arthurdent, Linux, GNU, Stallman, the planet formerly known as Xena, Tolkien, Miyazaki, Mr. Spock, Douglasadams and Torvalds.

To round things up I decided to correlate my ten planets with the ten Sephiroth. Just to make this as geeky as possible, and to make interpretation a little easier. The order I wound up with is the order I listed the planets in above. Some of the correspondences are pretty obvious, some less so, but there is reason and epiphanies beyond each of them. (Such as the realization that GNU and Linux are perfect examples of the God and Goddess principles, respectively.)

Whether this set-up is actually any good for anything is questionable, but it was a fun little exercise all the same. And viewing the resulting chart, the placings and aspects are... not uninteresting.

4 October 2009

She Was Hot

'She was hot'
says Mick to me
from 26 years ago
as the wind howls
and the rain patters
not five feet in front of me
dead silent
(but for gaps)
and Keith says 'I wanna hold you'
but I'm not sure
perhaps that part of me has died
yet there is a part of me
screaming like the wind
pounding like the rain
that longs to be out there
holding.

22 September 2009

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Update: Total makeover, new server!

Yes, BossBattle.net once again has a brand new look! An elegant minimalism has always been my goal, and I think I've achieved it a little better this time than in the previous incarnation. I used a blog template from Blogger.com as a starting point, first customizing the look for my blog section, then moving on to craft style settings for the rest of the pages to match the look of the blog. The blog section has actually switched from being published via ftp to being hosted at Blogger.com. Readers should notice little difference in behaviour, but it makes creating and editing posts somewhat faster and easier.

For the last few years my brother has graciously hosted BossBattle.net on his server. My thanks to him. However, he decided finally to pull the plug, forcing me to find new hosting, which I found on the servers of Kapsi Internet-käyttäjät ry., a Finnish non-profit organisation offering various Internet services to its members. Everything should now be transferred and in working order.

I'm sure tweaking is still needed in some areas, but a little rest is now in order after a couple of days of hard work.

17 September 2009

Rolling Out the Ratings

Update: New rating system in video game reviews, plus review of Ys Book I & II.

I resisted giving games absolute ratings in my reviews for a long time. Apart from ratings being entirely subjective, a game is more than the sum of its parts; a game that is seemingly inferior in one or more aspects can sometimes be just as entertaining as a game with a higher overall rating, if not more so. Still, ratings are sort of fun, and can be some kind of indication about the game's overall quality, so I finally gave in, and added a rating system to the video game review section.

The new rating system is quite simple: Games are given simple verbal evaluations on five main areas: general opinion, story, graphics, sound and gameplay. (These have been there since the beginning of the review section.) Now, based on these evaluations, each area is given a rating of no star, half a star or full star. These stars are added up for a total rating of 0-5 stars. (Although, since I don't really review games I don't like, it's rare to see ratings below three stars.)

I've now added ratings to all the existing reviews, although I may still do a little tweaking. Additionally, I recently played the TurboGrafx-16 game Ys Book I & II, a rather enjoyable oldschool action RPG title, and the review is now online.

6 September 2009

Web Shows

I've been very quiet lately, haven't I? Well, nothing grand to blog about. Just same old boring existence. I'll leave out my epiphanies concerning traditional magical weapons and formulas, which aren't likely to interest anyone, and get on to proper weblog matter.

I've discovered some fun web shows of late, namely The Guild and The Legend of Neil. Both are hilarious, mainly targeted to gamers, and feature the amazing Felicia Day (who I've totally got a crush on). I've watched the earlier episodes of both shows during the last week or two, and can't wait for new episodes! And that's about all I have to say this time.

17 August 2009

Dreams from the Fresh Kills

Update: First session of new RPG campaign.

After a few months, I finally got around to starting my new RPG, titled Dreams from the Fresh Kills. This is a mystery story set in modern day Staten Island, New York City, aiming for a surreal atmosphere akin to David Lynch productions. This grew mostly out of a desire to try something different after running Kin of Cerberos, a much more action themed game, for a good while, and also a little from the trouble we had getting the rhythm of fights right in that game. The current game is likely to feature very little combat for the most part, focusing more on character interaction and investigation.

As with earlier games, I'll do story write-ups of each session and post them online. This is primarily for the convenience of me and my players, but anyone is of course free to read them.

8 August 2009

Synthesis

I've just bought my first hardware synthesizer, a second hand Korg N1R from the late 90's. Obviously I don't have much experience with it yet, but it seems pretty cool. It's a rack module style synth, i.e. it doesn't have a keyboard of it's own and needs to be hooked up to a midi keyboard. (As it happens, we have an old Kawai keyboard in the house, dating from the mid-90's, with midi features, which seems to work fine for the purpose.) There are hundreds of preset sounds to explore, and lots of potential for editing sounds, if I ever get around to learning the art of synthesizer programming... Okay, it is more than ten years old, but some of the sounds are still impressive, and I'm not sure a vintage sound is often a bad thing in general, either.

Earlier I've used pure samples, with tracker software, for similar purposes, and experimented with software synthesizers (such as ZynAddSubFX), though I haven't really done much with those as of yet. (Oh, and there's that old Kawai of course. I used that on a couple of old four track recordings back in the 90's, although it's own sound is rather inferior.) It's nice to actually own a physical synth, though. I have a large selection of at least decent sounds available in one straightforward package, no need to mess around with a variety of software. And it's a name brand, of course. With my ESP guitar (albeit from their cheaper LTD line) and Korg synth I'm almost starting to feel like a real musician.

If only I was a little better at playing keyboards...

30 July 2009

Swankified in the Summer Sun

Been a while since my last post, mostly because I've been vacationing up in Nilsiä and there hasn't been much to say. I completed my annual ritual of reading Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, then read The Return of the King (I'd started re-reading LotR a few years before, but got sidetracked somehow, as is too often the case). The weather's been much nicer than last year, but, as usual, I've done much less creative stuff than I'd like.

But onwards to the main topic: I've written before about using StumpWM. Last night I finally got around to setting it up so that it runs the Swank module, the Lisp-side component of SLIME, Emacs's Lisp editing mode. This makes it possible to connect to the running Lisp process from Emacs and edit the code interactively, while the software is running! This interactive development style is, of course, one of the main features of Lisp.

Now, whether I'll actually use this potential is another matter entirely. At the very least it'll make editing the configuration file easier (since that is just Lisp code same as the rest of the software). It was possible to load new or modified elements before using a simple StumpWM Emacs mode provided, but this was much more limited. But whether I'll have the guts or inspiration (or simply the energy) to delve into the depths of StumpWM is a whole other matter...

9 July 2009

Doomed to Go Paddy

Doom. The most legendary of all FPS games. And even after 16 years it still manages to entertain me. In fact, it's one of the very few FPS games I've ever had any real interest in. Obviously I don't play it all year round, but I enjoy returning to it every now and then, in one form or another.

A year ago I wrote about playing the Doomsday Engine version of the game, with updated graphics and modern, Quake style mouse controls. This summer I'm trying something a little different. As you might know, earlier this year I switched from Mac OS X back to Debian GNU/Linux. I discovered the only Doom port available in Debian's package repositories was PrBoom. Worth a try, I thought, before I try my hands at compiling another port.

PrBoom takes a fairly different approach from Doomsday Engine. While there are numerous bug fixes and improvements to the engine, on the surface it looks and feels much more like the original game. Only the original sprites are used (although there are options for smoothing the graphics) and there are no modern control features like jumping or free aiming with the mouse. I briefly tried the mouse control it has, and couldn't really play with it (I'm not a 100% sure it couldn't be tweaked to behave better, though, I didn't really spend much time looking into it). While back in the 90's when I first played Doom I naturally used the keyboard controls, I found them impossible to return to after growing accustomed to the agility of mouse control.

So I decided to look into a possible third option: a game pad. The first try was disappointing. While PrBoom, like the original Doom, supports joysticks, the controls aren't really configurable, and no more agile than keyboard control. I would need something more akin to modern console FPS games: using one thumb for moving forwards and backwards, and strafing left and right, while using another thumb for aiming (turning) and a shoulder trigger for firing. (I use PlayStation controllers with a USB adapter.) I wasn't hopeful at first, but after a little digging I discovered a little application that converts joystick input into keyboard input (called joy2key). And, a little to my surprise, it worked perfectly, allowing me to freely configure my game pad controls.

And I must say, while I've always been somewhat sceptical about console FPS games, this control scheme works quite well with Doom. It's simple, fairly agile, and fun to play. I don't mind the old school graphics. Quite the contrary, in fact. Doom was an awesome game for its time and there's really no reason to mess with it any more than is necessary.

I've also been trying out some of the many mods available for the first time. I might write more about them in another post.

28 June 2009

One More Angsty Candle Light Poem

Cool breeze tonight
The breath of angels
Grey sky at midnight
Never black, not now
Candle flame, gentle flicker

Who is that
Dancing, unseen?
She brushes against my skin, softly
Against this flame, too
Dancing to the same tune
Heart beats (heartbeats?) in silence
Just mine?

There's an angel for everyone
So they say
They walk by your side
But some nights
You just need a demon.

25 June 2009

Guitar!

I finally got the new electric guitar today!

I ended up getting an LTD EC-1000QM. LTD of course is the lower end line manufactured by ESP Guitars, whose instruments are used by many famous rock musicians, from Ronnie Wood to Nightwish's Emppu Vuorinen. While this is the company's cheaper, mass produced line, the 1000 series guitars are at the very top of that line, with retail prices of more than 1000 euros (in Finland, at least).

Which is more than I could afford, really, so I was seriously considering the next best model, the 400 series. Enter Lady Luck! Just at this point I happened to run into a 1000 model second hand at an auction website. It was promised to be in good condition, and the seller looked reasonably reliable, so I decided I really had no choice but take the chande. I ended up paying 550 euros for it, plus delivery. Which is actually less than I would have payed for a new 400 model! The condition turned out to be as good as promised, pretty much 'good as new', I would say.

The EC series, based on ESP's higher end Eclipse model, has a Les Paul style body. This model has EMG active pickups, abalone decorations (I believe), and a beautiful dark red translucent finish. There's no tremolo, but I was already starting to lean against one, seeing as I've never used one much and needlessly complicating the mechanics is never a good idea.

Now, if I could only get around to actually using it and getting some songs recorded...

24 June 2009

Ben B. Bainton, BA

As of yesterday I'm officially a Bachelor of Arts, graduating from the University of Helsinki, with English Philology as my major subject. Only took me nine bloody years, three times the official target time of three years. In my defense, I've already completed a fair share of the studies for the Master's degree (but I've still been a lazy student, that's for sure).

The BA is really just a formality on the way to the Master's. When I started at university, the norm here (at least in the humanities) was to go straight for the MA degree, and there was little talk of the BA. However, a couple years back they changed the rules and made the BA a compulsory prerequisite for the MA. So, here we are, and it is nice to finally have something to show for the years I've spent at the university. Now, if everything goes to plan, and I can force myself to do some actual work, this time next year I could be graduating with the Master of Arts degree, all ready for unemployment...

23 June 2009

Street Fighter IV

Update: Review of Street Fighter IV

It's been a while again since my last game review, but here we go again with Street Fighter IV, which turned out to be one of the most entertaining fighting games I've played in a while. I'd never really played a lot of Street Fighter previously, it didn't feel quite as interesting and original as games like Guilty Gear, but I'm finally starting to get it.

I haven't really gotten around to playing other kinds of games since MGS4 last winter, though, which is a shame. I'm getting far too lazy...

22 June 2009

I Want My MTV

I've never been a big watcher of MTV, but these days when I happen to surf to it, it only seems things are getting worse and worse. Honestly, all they show these days is reality TV crap and hiphop videos. Didn't they use to have actual music on? (I should mention this is the Finnish version I'm speaking of... I don't know how much it differs from other regional versions...)

Even Headbanger's Ball has gone down the drain. The show used to have a presenter and guests, but now it's just videos. Which might not be bad in itself, if the videos weren't such crap. Last couple of times I've watched the show, I've seen plenty of rap and electronica. This is Headbanger's Ball, for ****'s sake! Of course it's still mostly metal, but most of it is boring nu metal and death metal... Apologies to anyone who likes that, but it just ain't my thing. Ever heard the saying "variety is the spice of life"?

On top of everything, half the screen is covered by unbelievably stupid SMS matchmaker applications. All I can say's "what's the world coming to?"

18 June 2009

Another Filler Post About Music

Well, in the couple of months that I've been listening to Nightwish, it's overtaken Queen to the number one slot on my most played list at Last.fm. Which is quite impressive.

Since I wrote about Rhapsody of Fire a while back, I've been growing ever more fond of it. While in that post I considered some of the problems with concept albums, it must be said that Rhapsody's music, with its epic fantasy sagas, is unique among concept albums. Yes, it is a different kind of experience compared to, say, Nightwish, but no less wonderful. Particularly to a fantasy geek like me.

Having received a little money from translation work, I went on a bit of a shopping spree. I now own all the studio albums by Nightwish and Lordi, and all but the latest by Rhapsody of Fire (which I'll try to obtain soon). My income being what it is, I've favoured libraries, friends and the Internet as sources for music for a long time, but some albums you just need to own in physical form, because the listening experience just isn't complete without the additional aesthetic and informative content provided by the covers and booklets. This is especially true for Rhapsody of Fire, as the booklets contain not only artwork, but also additional narrative, maps etc. vital to the story.

I hope to receive my next paycheck soon. This one will be spent on the new guitar. I'm kinda excited about that. And rather impatient.

8 June 2009

Interior Decorating: The Epilogue

More than a year ago I wrote about decorating my room, saying it would still be geeky, but strive for a little more elegance by carefully picking the posters I was going to put up, and placing them in glass clip frames.

Well, it took a while in the end, but I've finally got up all the posters I originally planned on. And I like it. Like I said, the theme would be manga/anime women. There's a big Ghost in the Shell movie poster on one end wall, a couple of smaller posters of Masamune Shirow's work, together with a Lum and a Nausicaä on the other walls, all hung nice and even in their classy frames.

Now, if only I didn't have quite as much junk covering my shelves and tables, the room would almost look good.

27 May 2009

Expanding into Music

Update: New music website opened.

I have just opened a new homepage for my music projects. The site will list works that are available, with background information, lyrics and links to downloads.

I have made this website independent of the main site in order to have information available in a clear and concise form for anyone potentially interested in my music, and also in order to better tailor the aesthetics of the site to suit the content.

There's no real new content yet, but I have been hoping to do something in the not-too-distant future... I won't say any more about it before I actually have something to show, though. (Which, knowing me, may be a long while yet...)

17 May 2009

The Concept of Concepts

I've just been getting acquainted with Rhapsody of Fire. It's not half bad. The singer isn't quite my cup of tea, but he's not particularly annoying either. (Like I've said earlier, the vast majority of metal for me is ruined by vocalists I don't care for. Well, the same applies to any genre really.)

Now, this type of music seems to rely heavily on the idea of the concept album. Rhapsody of Fire has taken this to the extreme by creating an epic fantasy saga spanning multiple albums. This has its pros and cons. The idea of a continuing saga is pretty cool, but it means you really need to listen to the entire work as a whole, and it is harder to really get into.

Nightwish, on the other hand, while it can be seen as working in the same genre, symphonic power metal, doesn't do concept albums (or at least such themes are much more subtle). Songs are complete in themselves, which means they hook you in a very different fashion. It was a single song by Nightwish that got me interested in them, and the whole symphonic metal genre. And after that single some came another, and another, and another... great, anthemic songs you can just listen to over and over.

Whether it has something to do with the different approach to songwriting, or simply a result of different personalities and songwriting skills (not to mention the very different style of vocals), it's hard to say, but I don't think this type of music can ever have quite the same appeal to me that Nightwish, for example, has. The same applies to most concept albums, in all genres, not just Rhapsody of Fire and other metal albums. Take Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm, for example. While there's much to speak for it, it just doesn't hook me in the same way that the albums before and after it do.

12 May 2009

Thundering Guitars

First thunderstorm of the spring today! Just a shower, but still. Nothing quite as refreshing, awe inspiring and beautiful as a good thunderstorm. I love them. Summer's coming, and fast. Most trees have leaves already, even if they're still small.

Ok, onwards. I'm working on a couple of little translations again. Which means I'll be getting a little money to spend again soon. This time I'm thinking of finally investing in a new electric guitar.

My old semi-acoustic Ibanez is, to put it bluntly, in disgraceful condition. The frets are hardly in great shape, and tuning it is a nightmare. It would need some major work to be suitable for any serious purpose. And even then, it's not perhaps an ideal guitar for, say, recording songs on my computer.

I'm not sure what to get yet. I'll have to visit stores and try some out. But it'll be a solid body guitar this time, probably with humbuckers, I think (the hum has always been a problem with the old semi-acoustic), possibly even active pickups, but I'll need to find out more about them, as I have no experience of them at all. Whether I want a tremolo bar is another choice I need to make. It'd have to be a locking tremolo system, obviously. Etc. Etc. It won't be an easy choice. It'll be easy to spend more than I should. But we'll see where we end up...

27 April 2009

I Tawt I Taw a Tweety Bird

I finally signed up on Twitter, just to see what the buzz is all about. Not sure about it yet, I'll have to wait till I've connected with a few more people and the tweets start flowing.

Thing is, I'm already fairly active on Facebook, and there's considerable overlap in the concepts. Of course Twitter is a more public medium, and I have no reason not to keep my tweets public. But, frankly, I think pretty much all who could be interested in reading them are already friends on Facebook.

Don't know if I picked a bad time to visit, but for a supposedly simple site Twitter seems surprisingly slow and cumbersome. Even the mighty bloated Facebook seems to work smoother...

You can find me here if you want.

23 April 2009

Oh But I Was So Much Older Then

Building on the theme of the previous post, a little more about me and music. It's interesting to look at how my taste in music has developed over the years.

As a child I started out mostly listening to music from the 50's and early 60's, Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Beatles' earlier works... In my teens I proceeded to late 60's psychedelics, particularly The Beatles' later works and The Byrds. In my later teens I discovered a few artists from other decades that carried on the feel of the 60's in some way: Tom Petty, Tracy Chapman, Dire Straits... Of course there were also later recordings from artists who begun their careers in the 60's.

The first major change came at the very end of my teen years when I discovered anime and japanese video games. Video game music became a defining feature of my listening habits in my early 20's, though all the all favourites still remained strong. I also discovered demoscene music through getting acquainted with tracker software, originally from a desire to create music similar to my video game favourites. Also in my early 20's I got very interested in progressive rock, particularly Jethro Tull and Gentle Giant. It could be said that my main musical interest proceeded from the 60's to the 70's.

Now, in my later 20's, I've witnessed my musical interests becoming ever wider and wider. While at some point I might have described my taste as mostly 60's and 70's rock music, I'd have to describe it as rather eclectic these days. Particularly interesting has been the addition of more modern genres that I had very little interest in, even an aversion to, previously, namely various forms of electronica and heavy metal.

My taste for both probably mostly grew out of my taste for video game music, as well as other soundtrack records (and maybe demoscene music as well). I discovered these kinds of music worked very well in certain contexts, and gradually certain artists begun to appeal to me outside of specific contexts as well. I should put emphasis on 'certain artists'. I don't really listen to any genre for the genre's sake. Each artist has it's own, special appeal, and in most cases I'm not particularly interested in the majority that a genre has to offer.

It's almost like I'm growing younger, beginning with a taste for the oldies and progressing gradually to more current music... In any case, it has been an interesting journey, and has resulted in a wonderfully varied (but still rather picky) taste in music.

22 April 2009

Concerning Blacksmiths and Metal

Generally speaking, there are very few examples of Finnish music and cinema that appeal to me. There are probably many reasons for this. One is that, having an English father, I was exposed to a large variety of English (and American) music, literature and cinema from a young age. English is the language of music for me. It's not that I disrespect music sung in Finnish, it's just never been a part of my life, so it sounds wrong to me.

Another reason, which applies particularly to cinema, lies simply in my nature, the type of story and aesthetic that appeals to me. This isn't, at least in whole, a result of my heritage; I'm sure a lot of Finnish people, especially of younger generations, share similar tastes. I've always been mainly attracted to fantasy and science fiction, epic stories often of a highly visual nature, and we simply don't have the resources to make that kind of movies in this small country.

And this is obviously the part where we come to the exceptions to the rule. I just watched Jade Warrior for the second time, and I still think it is a brilliant movie, both in story and visual aesthetic, and not only in comparison to other Finnish movies. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Lordi movie Dark Floors, but of course that has so few specifically Finnish elements that I'm not sure it even counts as an example.

The story of my taste for Finnish music, on the other hand, is inseparably entangled with another story, the story of discovering metal music. I grew up listening mostly to 60's music, and others who carried on the tradition (like Tom Petty, whom I discovered through other artists who begun their career in the 60's). While I greatly enjoyed some harder rock, such as the Rolling Stones, and later Queen and AC/DC, I steered clear of metal music for a long time.

In the late 90's I discovered Japanese video games and through them the world of video game music. This also opened the door for electronic music in general. Then came The Black Mages, an album of music from the Final Fantasy games re-arranged as metal. It was a great album and together with the later Black Mages albums remains among my favourites. I came to the conclusion, that musically some forms of metal music had a great appeal for me. However, most of the non-game metal I heard was ruined by unappealing, even annoying singers, and an overall attitude that tended to be so over-the-top in its supposed darkness and wickedness that it ended up being ridiculous, and not in a good way. No offence to you metal afficionados out there, that's just how my taste is.

Fast forward to 2006. Our own Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest. I found their tongue-in-cheek humour and horror movie themes to be appealing in a way that the majority of heavier rock artists I'd heard had never been. It took a year or two to really get into it, but these days I'm a big fan.

Now, I recently saw a hilarious YouTube clip of misheard lyrics to Wishmaster by Nightwish. I happened to be in a mood for some suitably atmospheric heavier music, so I figured it was about time to get better acquainted with this domestic giant. And I discovered I enjoyed it greatly. Musically Nightwish is just the kind of metal I seem to enjoy, epic, often fast paced, yet atmospheric and emotional symphonic/power metal, not unlike The Black Mages and other Japanese video game music. The frequent fantasy themes are also right up my alley (although I must admit I haven't had a chance to really pay attention to much of the lyrical content yet).

It's curious that, video game music aside, the two examples of heavier music I've most enjoyed thus far are both Finnish. And just as curious that pretty much the only examples of Finnish music I enjoy represent the heavier side of rock.

To end this longish post, I should perhaps make the clarification that the fact that I've lately been painting my nails black does not stem from heavy metal or goth style, but rather from glam style and artists like The Ark.

16 April 2009

Howling at the (Hollywood) Stars

I just watched the movie Cursed by Wes Craven. It wasn't incredibly original or impressive, but, well, I'd just like to put it on record that Christina Ricci is incredibly hot and I've had a little crush on her for a long time already.

12 April 2009

Another DM Gone to the Great Game Table in the Sky

Just a little over a year after we heard of Gary Gygax's passing, Dave Arneson, the other man behind the original Dungeons & Dragons, has passed away at the age of 61.

What I said after Gygax died is still true. These men created a whole new medium for entertainment and creativity, and the impact it has had on my life can scarcely be measured.

I still haven't gotten around to running another D&D game, and it won't be my next game either. But some day...

11 April 2009

Corner-Eye Gloom

Did it rain for an eye-blink?
Or did it snow?
A corner-eye gloom
in place of this calm?
The skies may be clear
but I can't see them,
blocked out
by the cold, frozen flame
of a street lamp.
A corner-eye gloom
I wish for, tonight,
an edge to the calm:
sharp, cold, burning
but all I get
is that cold, frozen flame,
and it blurs.

6 April 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

I just learned that Andy Hallett, best known as Lorne from Angel, has recently passed away, at the age of 33. Lorne was a memorable and lovable character, and Hallett really brought him to life. And he was such a talented singer as well... It's a little ironic, perhaps, that most of the world never had a chance to know his real face. Too soon gone, way too soon.

2 April 2009

The Watchmen Post

I've now had a chance to finally read Watchmen and see the movie twice. There isn't much to say, really. I enjoyed both the comic and movie thoroughly. The comic is classic Alan Moore, and the movie possibly the best superhero movie made to date (even with the changes to the ending, which, luckily, were fairly well written and, just possibly, even more plausible than the original, though some of the dialogue near the end could perhaps have been trimmed).

Though I love the genre, there are rather few real masterpieces in it, with the possible exception of a couple of the Batman movies. (I haven't actually seen The Dark Knight yet, I must confess.) But of course the same can be said for any adaptations of stories to new media. And basically all (serious) superhero movies are adaptations of comic book characters, aren't they?

30 March 2009

The Dark Before the Dawn

Update: New episode of my Kin of Cerberos RPG online.

Another session of my RPG campaign Kin of Cerberos was played, and the story is once again online for your reading pleasure. This marks the finale of the current 'season', which took almost exactly a year to play. (Six sessions isn't a huge amount for a year, but it's a decent number for our group, I guess.) It also marks the beginning of at least a brief hiatus, during which I hope to try running something fresh. As I said in an earlier post, I've been running this campaign exclusively for three years now, and that's a long time.

Labyrinth Lord

I just received the copy of Labyrinth Lord I bought. Labyrinth Lord is basically a remake of the classic 80's edition of Dungeons & Dragons released under the Open Game License. No mention of the name D&D is made anywhere, for legal reasons, I assume, but the rules should be entirely compatible with old D&D products and all the classic character classes, spells, monsters etc. are there. It covers character levels 1-20 and most of the rules from the Basic and Expert sets, I believe.

The book can also be downloaded from the website, free, in PDF form. So why'd I buy it? Lots of reasons. I was buying a couple other books (from a domestic online service) and needed a little more for free shipping. (I was suprised to find this game in their selection, when our top RPG dealer didn't have it.) It's also a cause I deemed worthy of supporting. And it's also nice to have the classic version of D&D in convenient, compact form.

I do own the D&D Basic Rules set, which I happened to find at a flea market for next to nothing, years and years ago, back when I was first getting into roleplaying games. But the Basic set, of course, only covered character levels 1-3. I later bought the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules (for considerably more money), which we played much more than the Basic version back in the 90's, for the obvious reasons. AD&D is a great game, but there's something really appealing and magical about the simplicity of the classic version.

18 March 2009

Day Two of MPD

A quick follow-up to the previous post. I've been trying out ncmpcpp today, an MPD client based on ncmpc, but with some handy additional features, like tag editing. Although I could think of one or two improvements (mostly in the media library browser), it seems as good and feature rich as a console music player can be. Almost good enough to give up yearning after album art and stick to the trusty ol' terminal. (Frankly, colourful text in a good terminal emulator with a nice background image is, to me, as pretty as any graphical application. And the mouse only gets in your way, anyway.)

17 March 2009

Continuing Adventures in the Music Player Trade

Rhythmbox, which I've been using to play music for a while, is pretty good, though it has a few issues. Probably more out of desire to try out new things (and procrastinate) than anything else, I decided to give MPD a whirl. And I don't think there's a going back.

MPD isn't actually new to me, I used it for a good while before getting my MacBook and getting sucked up by that fiendish device of the Dark Lord (known to most by the rather innocent name iTunes). For those not in the know, MPD (or 'Music Player Daemon') is a daemon that runs in the background and can be interfaced by various clients, both graphical and command line.

Picking a client to use is difficult, though. ncmpc is a rather good console application. The only real advantage that graphical apps have over it is the ability to show cover artwork. The UIs of the couple of graphical clients I've tried so far haven't really made a big impression, however. So does convenience and simplicity beat eye candy? We'll see...

Of Vamps, Superheroes and Web Browsers

Just a quick patchwork post, 'cause it's been a while.

On the GNU/Linux transition front, I've been trying out Conkeror (a Mozilla-based browser with an Emacs style interface) for a while. It's not perfect, but I'm growing fond of it. Some of the keyboard bindings are very handy, and naturally more in line with the keys I use in Emacs and StumpWM.

I just finished Angel's last season for the second time. And still enjoyed it thoroughly (the whole series, I mean). Wonder what I'll start next... Xena's due for a re-watch. As is Twin Peaks...

I went to see Watchmen, and enjoyed it very much. But I'll write more about that when I've had a chance to read it, which I must shamefully confess I haven't yet done.

It's snowing outside. It's pretty, but all I'm thinking is, ain't it bloody time for spring already?

2 March 2009

To Ashes

Update: New episode of my Kin of Cerberos RPG online.

We played another session of my current RPG campaign. I've been running this game for three years now, even if sessions have at times been infrequent at best. That's a long campaign by our group's standards, the longest since I've kept a record of my games. (I don't remember for how many sessions my Dragonlance game back in the nineties ran. I doubt it was much longer than this, though.) Perhaps it's time for a break soon, time to try something a little different, if only for a few sessions. But not before a climactic ending to the current story arc...

The summary of this session is available online, like usual. It's not very long this time, as I didn't have much time to plan for the game. (Well, I had a couple of months, really, but I was too lazy to start planning before we actually settled on a date, and then it was too late.)

24 February 2009

The Backgrounds Strike Back

Just a little follow-up to the previous post. One feature I had in Sawfish that I hadn't yet got in StumpWM was a function to periodically change the wallpaper. You might say, hang on, if you're running applications fullscreen, what do you need a wallpaper for? Well, there are those brief moments when there are no apps open in a workspace. But more importantly, I use the terminal a lot (if nothing else, I always have IRC running over an SSH connection), and I generally use a terminal application with a transparency feature, showing my wallpaper in the background (tinted darker, of course, so that text is legible). A man can't live entirely without eye candy, after all. (rxvt-unicode is the current terminal of choice.)

For Sawfish I found a ready script on the website to change backgrounds. No such luck for StumpWM, so I decided to take a look at how hard it would be to implement it myself. It turned out to be very easy, just a few lines of Lisp code, although, again, I had to spend some time brushing up on my Lisp skills. A combination of Common Lisps features and functions built into StumpWM made it actually much simpler that the script for Sawfish, in the Librep dialect of Lisp.

There's a certain satisfaction you get from successfully) coding your own solutions that you can never get from installing ready apps or using graphical tools to configure your system. It's hard to describe in words.

With this hack I'm pretty much set up for regular, everyday use, with some very convenient shortcuts for switching between my favourite apps. Some more configuration might be needed to get the most out of multi-window applications like Gimp, but that can wait until the time I need such applications.

23 February 2009

From Simplifying to Downright Esoteric

Ok, I'd just learned the ropes of Sawfish when I decided to take StumpWM out for a spin. I'm pretty impressed, so far.

StumpWM is a minimalist, tiling window manager with a powerful keyboard interface. It has no window decorations and no mouse control. But what sets it apart from most other window managers is the fact that it's written entirely in Common Lisp. This means almost infinite customisation and scripting possibilities, and, best of all, interactive scripting while the window manager is running! (And yes, this was the main attraction in Sawfish as well, but StumpWM takes it up a notch.)

The Emacs-influenced keyboard interface is indeed powerful, but a little cumbersome for my taste, relying on combinations of several keystrokes. So the first order of business was to set up a few global shortcuts to switch between windows and run my favourite apps. This in itself was almost a trivial matter, but I had a little trouble getting the apple key on my MacBook to function (it's the best key for custom shortcuts as it's not used by any GNU/Linux application by default). After some labour I discovered that using xmodmap to designate it as a hyper key instead of a super key, and binding shortcuts to the hyper key, they suddenly worked.

In Sawfish I spent some time working on a little script in it's Lisp variety to display the track Rhythmbox was currently playing. While it wasn't a difficult task (most of the time was spent on learning things about the language as I'm still not too experienced with Lisp in general, and the particular dialect was entirely new to me), in StumpWM creating a similar feature was almost a trivial matter. As of now, I've pretty much got the same general functionality in StumpWM as I had in Sawfish, but there's still a lot I haven't really delved into, like more powerful use of frames (used for window placement) and groups (aka virtual desktops).

I've used tiling window managers (like wmii) with GNU/Linux before I got my MacBook, so the concept's not new to me. It might take a moment to re-adjust to the paradigm, but on the other hand even on Mac OS X I already mostly kept switching between windows and Spaces with the keyboard. For most of my regular needs (surfing the web, IRC, playing music, writing with Emacs), StumpWM works perfectly. These applications actually work best when they're fullscreen, no unnecessary decorations, title bars or window manager panels to swallow up valuable screen space (particularly as the MacBook's screen isn't incredibly big). I'll have to see what happens when I need to use an app with a very different kind of orientation, like GIMP.

20 February 2009

Still with the Simplifying

Continuing with the theme of the previous post, I decided that Amarok 2 was simply too buggy for use, and I wasn't sure if the interface was really the best possible in the first place, so I ditched it.

Right now I'm trying out Rhythmbox, a music player for Gnome. First impression: the GUI is rather simple, no eye candy, clear iTunes influence, no features out of the ordinary, but... it simply works. Right from the start.

OK, so it doesn't look very fancy. Well, it's a Gnome app, so selecting a decent looking GTK theme will instantly make it a lot more elegant. Like Amarok, it doesn't appear to support the Album Artist tag I used in iTunes to group multi-artist albums. But it's search feature works better than Amarok's, so I can just type, say, 'csi' and instantly find the CSI soundtrack album and play the tracks in correct order.

Artwork's always a problem, as pretty much every player I've tried seems to handle it differently. Rhythmbox doesn't support embedded artwork, but it should support covers saved in the album folders, which might, in fact, be the best solution. It also has an automatic artwork fetching feature, which downloads covers for each new album I play. Only the cover for the currently playing album is shown, in a little box in the corner, so this'll do fine for the time being, no hurry to instantly get artwork for all of my hundreds of albums. Of course this isn't as fancy as, say, iTunes's Cover Flow, but of course it also eats up less resources, only having to show one little pic at a time. In the long run, if I stick with this app, I'll probably download better quality images to save in the album folders, but there's no hurry.

Rhythmbox also has a pretty good command line remote control interface, which can be used for scripting. I've already set up a global hotkey to pause/resume playback. The only little downside I've noticed so far is that, while it has built in Last.fm scrobbling support, it doesn't apparently support the 'listening now' feature. The only reason this matters to me is that I was using a 'now playing' script for the irc client Irssi which used this.

Going Home Stage 2

Continuing the story of my transition to Debian.

KDE4, with its eye candy and many features mimicked almost directly from Mac OS X, softened the transition. But after a while I begun to feel how cumbersome and, frankly, buggy, it really was, and remembered that, hey, this is GNU/Linux we're talking about, with an endless selection of different window managers.

So, just for fun, I decided to look at possible alternatives. One light-weight window manager in particular caught my eye: Sawfish. Apart from generally being completely different from KDE, what really caught my attention was the introduction: "Sawfish is an extensible window manager using a Lisp-based scripting language..." Being something of an Emacs enthusiast (a very powerful editor also extensible in a Lisp-based language) and a Lisp fan in general, this looked like a solution with real potential.

So I installed it, and have now spent a day fiddling with it, and I think I'm hooked. There's less eye candy, but that only means that it feels much lighter and everything works faster. Sawfish, at its core, is a very bare bones window manager, the very opposite of what KDE stands for. But the scripting facilities provide endless possibilities. I've set up some very handy keyboard shortcuts, for instance, which launch applications I use often or switch to them if they're already running. Adding a few scripts from the website gave me some features I've gotten used to, like periodically changing wallpapers.

For the first time in a good while I feel I'm in control of the graphical environment and not the other way round. And hacking extensions with Emacs is lots more fun than than any GUI configuration tool will ever be.

15 February 2009

Astrology and Debian

I set up my astrology software for the new Debian installation today. The environment is pretty much the same I had on Mac OS X, based around Matt Skala's astrology LaTeX style, horoscop. But setting up a working TeX installation, complete with custom fonts, is rarely straightforward.

I went with a full TeX Live installation. It's a hefty download, and contains a lot of useless junk, but I didn't want any problems from missing packages. Installing the font for astrological symbols took some trial and error. Finding the right filetree for the files, the right configuration files to edit etc. took some work. But I succeeded in the end and now have LaTeX running without problems, complete with astrological symbols and the horoscop style for drawing good looking charts.

Last, I needed a backend to do the calculations. On OS X I used Astrolog, so I compiled and installed it, without problems. However, I discovered that when I enable ephemeris files provided for greater accuracy, I get some really weird planet positions, at least for Jupiter and Saturn. Without them it works perfectly, and also has the X interface that wouldn't work on OS X. The loss in accuracy should be insignificant for most ordinary needs.

However, on GNU/Linux I've got another option: Swiss Ephemeris from Astrodienst. I coudn't compile it on OS X, but had no trouble now (although I had to fiddle about with the sources a little to set the correct path for ephemeris files). This software has several pros and cons when compared to Astrolog.

On the plus side: It's much newer than Astrolog. It should be very accurate, though, as I said, in ordinary usage this is not a huge factor. It's able to calculate countless asteroids not supported by Astrolog. (Though as of now I'm still using only the seven classical planets.) It's GPL licensed. (Astrolog is basically free, but the terms forbid any kind of commercial use. Which naturally doesn't matter much to me right now, but I can't rule out the possibility of doing interpretation for money some day, even if only on a very small, semi-hobby basis).

The only real downside is that there is no feature rich interface like Astrolog has. It's really intended as a library for developing your own astrology software, but the included demonstration app is good enough to provide data for horoscop. Of course right now a basic, simple birth chart is what I'm mostly looking for, so I guess I'll go with Swiss Ephemeris for now, for accuracy and peace of mind over license questions.

12 February 2009

Settling In with Music

Carrying on from my last post: the first days living with my new Debian installation. One of the major apps I need is obviously the music player. I've been a slave to iTunes for too long. There's the proprietary software thing, for one. But also the fact that depending too much on its features can make switching to another application a real pain. Not all those features are really standardised.

I installed Amarok 2. It's showing potential, and I'm getting accustomed to the rather different interface, little by little. It's not without problems, though. First thing: none of the album artwork I added in iTunes is showing. OK, Amarok has a pretty nifty 'fetch album cover' feature, and a lot of that was corrected in a matter of minutes. Of course a good few covers were wrong, but they can be corrected individually, it's not an acute issue. (Except saving individual covers seems to have issues, some of the covers have reverted back after restarting, some haven't...)

The most serious problem, though, is handling albums with multiple artists. More precisely, they're not really handled at all. Each artist is listed separately, which is incredibly annoying. There's an option for tagging albums as 'various artists', but it is very buggy, the settings are apparently lost each time the music collection is re-scanned. I really hope this gets corrected soon.

11 February 2009

Going Home

Well, after bitching about Mac OS X's shortcomings for a long while, I finally took the plunge and installed GNU/Linux on my MacBook. (Why it took this long was mostly because I didn't have that USB disc to backup my stuff, until now.)

In case anyone is wondering why, let me reiterate. The reason is twofold.

1. Ideology. I'm a devoted supporter of the free software movement. While Mac OS X utilises many open source components, and as a Unix system is fairly compatible with a large number of free software applications, it is still a proprietary system, and many of Apple's policies I just can't agree with.

2. Functionality. While Mac OS X is a certified Unix system, it's focus is on its own desktop environment, which doesn't intergrate perfectly with the Unix core, its command line interface or other Unix software not tailored for OS X. GNU/Linux systems (and probably most other Unix-like systems as well) are much more configurable, use the standard X Window System and are generally more 'whole', not suffering from an identity crisis as OS X is.

Debian GNU/Linux was the obvious choice, as I said before. Installing it on a MacBook isn't exactly a trivial matter, but following instructions on Debian's wiki page it wasn't actually too difficult, even though on the first try I ended up with kernel panic and had to do it all over again. In the end it booted without problems, though, and most features work fine pretty much 'out of the box'. (I still have a small partition with Mac OS X as a backup, and because a pure Debian system apparently still has some issues.)
There's still plenty of configuring to do, of course. The touchpad works, but needs tuning. I haven't been able to figure out how to get custom settings to work yet. And I haven't got wireless yet. It seems that this would require upgrading the kernel to a newer version, which is something I've never done before.

I might have been worried that I'd grown too accustomed to OS X's eye candy and convenient features. Well, I installed KDE 4, and it has certainly softened the blow. It looks pretty, and has pretty much all the desktop and window management features of OS X, such as a grid view of all the virtual desktops. And a slideshow mode for my many wallpapers.

For now, I'm just happy to be back home in a proper free software *nix.

6 February 2009

Do As I Say Not As I Do

Computers 101: you don't, repeat don't, go a year and a half without backing up anything on your computer.

Luckily mister Murphy was kind and nothing went wrong this time. I'd been meaning to get a USB hard drive for ages, probably almost as long as I've had this MacBook. But, mostly due to lack of funds, kept putting it off, until I finally got one now. Now everything's backed up, and I feel much safer. The music alone would have been a huge loss if something had gone wrong, ripping all of it again would be more than I could bear...

I think it's time for a fresh start for this computer. A year and a half's worth of accumulated junk needs purging. I might also be interested in trying another OS. It'd almost certainly be Debian GNU/Linux.

2 February 2009

Blood and Chocolate

M&M's have recently appeared in stores in Finland. They're such an institution in America and referred to so often in movies and TV that naturally I had to try them. Well, they're OK, I guess, but really nothing new. We've got plenty of brands already that taste pretty much identical to these. The smaller 45g packet size seemed convenient, though.

I finally saw the new Rambo. It was... well, shorter and simpler than I would have expected. But that's not necessarily bad. It seemed to capture the feel of the early movies well, with its grim message about the ongoing madness and tragedy of war. And of course it has some of the most impressive looking (and gruesome) violence ever seen. (And Julie Benz!)

30 January 2009

The Fan in Me

I should have bought Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence when it first came out. I didn't, probably mostly because of lack of money, maybe just a little because I didn't feel MGS3 was quite as awesome as MGS2 had been, and I already owned the basic version of the game.

Well, playing MGS4 before Christmas, I caught the Metal Gear Solid bug again, and having read about the cool features in Subsistence, I decided I had to own it. I looked for it in lots of stores selling used (and new) games, and came up with nothing. Last weekend I took a look at the Finnish auction website, Huuto.net. Someone was selling a copy. For 80 euros. (Direct sale, no bidding.) Having just received the pay for my last translation job, I was in a position to actually consider it. Still, it was probably more than the game would have cost when new (even if, as a 3 disc set, it'd probably have been more than the regular price for a PS2 game).

It looked, however, like this was the only conveniently available copy I could locate just now, so I didn't really have a choice. I'm sure there must be copies going around for less, but finding one would've required a bit of luck, and patience has never been one of my virtues. So I bought it, and it arrived today. The discs were luckily in pretty good condition. Worth the price? I'd say so, even just to own it, if I never played it (though I probably will). Most people probably wouldn't agree, but that's what being a fan is all about.

22 January 2009

The Lost Week and a Half

Conscription.

Isn't it a lovely word? Um, well, no, I'm sure most people would agree that it isn't. It's a relic of a different world which should be obsolete. But we've still got it here in Finland. Every able-bodied male must serve in the military. Granted, we have it better than many other places that still practice conscription. The standard service time for most people is currently only six months. But it's still military service, and to many of us the very idea is impossible.

Which is why there's a pacifist alternative, known as civilian service. This involves regular work (without pay, of course, apart from living expenses and food), in non-profit governmental bodies, institutions or other organisations. The total time is currently twelve months. Which, obviously, is much longer than regular armed service. It can be argued that men in civilian service have a regular 40 hour work week and live in their own homes, unlike men in the army, but it doesn't change the fact that a whole year is taken from you, tied to a job that you're very likely not interested in, and not even receiving proper pay for. The third option is prison.

Ok, back to my own case. Civilian service was an obvious choice (if you can call any choice of submitting to what in my view is almost legal slavery obvious). I kept applying for extensions because of my continuing studies. You can only do that until you're 28, however, and I was ordered to begin my service on January 12, 2009.

In my early 20's, it probably wouldn't have been a problem. But right now, the thought of losing a year, labouring in a job I couldn't care less about (even if it was beneficial to the community), was, to put it bluntly, impossible, and frankly quite distressing. I was already having problems with motivation in my studies, and other aspects of my life seemed stuck as well (creative projects and the like, things I'd really like to do but somehow just can't get started). I feared the year of forced labour would drain whatever mental energy I had left and leave me empty and stuck, no life of my own.

The service begins with a month's training camp at Lapinjärvi, in southern Finland. Which isn't too bad in itself, a few lectures each day and a crowd of like-minded people. A week and a half in I had a medical examination, as all men coming into service do. I shared my fears with the nurse, who sent me on to see the doctor.

The doctor relieved me from service due to anxiety.

This isn't at all rare. Two others left for home on the same bus that evening, and there must be plenty of others. I'm sure they can't afford to take the chance that someone really breaks down during service, so any signs of distress are taken seriously. My age was obviously a factor, a younger man would only have got a temporary reprieve, at best. The fact that I hadn't been able to find a suitable service place yet also played in my favour. (Men in civilian service are responsible for finding their own workplace, but there's no abundance of places available, at least if you want a place that's even remotely interesting and in line with your own skills and education.)

Of course there's no pride in 'dodging the draft' in this manner. It's an admission of one's own weakness. But if strength means allowing yourself to be torn from your life into a world you have no interest in and which drains you dry, I want no part of it. I salute those that defy this flawed system in its entirety and go to jail for their beliefs. That is true strength. The thought had crossed my mind on several occasions, but I'm just not an activist by nature, rather looking for the easy way out.

Now I'm still in a state of disbelief. I'm a free man. Life has not been disrupted after all. I can continue my studies. With any luck I could even graduate this year. And if I could only get some of my more personal projects under way, writing etc... But right now I can only thank the gods and be grateful for the chance I've been given.

6 January 2009

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas I Got a Flu

Well, I'm back in Helsinki, just in time to catch a cold. Wonderful. Luckily today is a holiday, but still, not the best time for a flu, I (surprisingly) hope it won't be a bad one. I'd rather have the drummers.

I spent the weekend in Tampere, where we held the Finnish Tolkien Society's traditional party on Tolkien's birthday (January 3rd). It was fun. I went on to stay at my cousin's place for a couple of days. Which was also fun.

The holidays were ok. I managed to read a good book, write a couple of songs, brush up a little on my tarot and astrology. I didn't get enough fresh air, jellies (what? only chocolates this year? I don't even like chocolates much, except for liqueur fills), cousin time (although the visit to Tampere improved the social side of Christmas somewhat), or anime (lots of old favourites waiting for a re-watch).