Friday, October 31, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Season Four review + recap

If you remember correctly, I named the third season of Battlestar Galactica as my favourite television series of 2007, and with good reasons. Even despite facing other numerous quality television shows like Dexter season two, Weeds season two and especially Heroes season one, Battlestar Galactica remains the single biggest television event that year. The lost and re-emergence of Kara, Gaious political fall out and the unveiling of four of the Final Five were brilliant television moments.

Season four of Battlestar Galactica, like the majority of shows coming out from America early this year, has been hampered by the writer’s strike. However unlike the second season of Heroes, the makers of the series has done the admirable thing by not speeding things up to close plot holes and instead set up a brilliant finale for season 4.2/5. The DVD boxset contains all 10 episodes from the rudely interrupted season four in addition to the Razor extended cut version that I reviewed last week.

Despite some criticism levelled at season four by the critics, I can honestly say I love it. The series has been slowing down for a while and is very evident in season four that the makers are taking their time flushing out minor background characters, storyline and the frailty of humanity. It is great for character building, which is something other writers should take note off rather than introducing tons of new characters every episode, only to kill them off soon after.

Recap with spoilers follows:

Season four begins immediately following the return of Kara Thrace as we’ve seen during the cliffhanger finale of season three. Despite being presumed missing and dead for months, she claimed to have only been absent for six hours. Even more importantly and bizarely to the fleet at least, she claimed that she has been to Earth. Naturally, with the exception of Lee Amada, the fleet suspects her as a Cylon and Kara was immediately placed under arrest.

In the meantime Gaius Baltar has since taken up residence with a group of females who quickly places him as some sort of prophet. Gaius being Gaius, adapts accordingly and his religious message soon spreads like a plague throughout the fleet. Perhaps a commentary on religious cult in itself, a episode even featured Gaius retaliating a rival mainstream religious sitting. Oh Gaius, how will you entertain us when the series end. The four of the last Five: Saul Tigh, Samuel Anders, Tory Foster and Galen Tyrol has since taken to having discreet meetings to discuss their plight as humanoid Cylons. Tigh, in a show of passion alliance with the humans, declares that he will never betray the fleet.

The Cylons on the other hand have a far greater problem to deal with than petty religious civil war. They have learnt that the Final Five Cylon models are on the Galactica, but Brother Cavil (Number One) is having none of that. Instead he intends on lobotomising Raiders against the wishes of Sixs and Eights whom later staged a coup against Cavil by removing the A.I. limiter on the Centurions. This soon descends into a full out civil war between the two warring Cylon factions.

Despite misgivings by the administrations, Kara is eventually given command of the ship Demetrius in search for Earth. Lee on the other hand has joined the Quorum, though the political uproar remained centred around the discovery by media on the (secret) military assignment by Starbuck. Our favourite drunk Colonel Tigh has also developed a bizarre relationship with Caprica Six, whom we later learn in the final episodes to be carrying a baby Cylon - his baby Cylon. Tory, the other humanoid Cylon, instead murders Cally through the Galactica's air lock when she discovered that Cally was on to them.

Back at the Demetrius, the crew encounters Leoben Conoy who informs Kara about the need for her to seek the Cylon Hybrid. After battling through a mutiny, and finally convincing the crew, Starbuck goes to check out Leoben’s damaged Basestar. Upon arriving at the Basestar graveyard, the crew is met by the rebel Cylons seeking a truce with the humans. The rebel Cylons are now truly lame ducks, especially a couple of Number Eights. A couple of deaths later, they agree to meet the Galactica to table their proposal.

The rebel Cylons and humans are naturally wary of each other (who wouldn't?). However despite having trust issues, the alliance agrees on a mission to destroy the Cylon resurrection hub and capture D’Anna Biers (Number Three), who is said by the Hybrid Cylon to have seen the last Five. Athena almost cocked up the mission by killing the rebel leader Natalie because of a vision she had about her child Hera being taken away by a Number Six and Gaius, the same vision that the President had and was predicted to happen by Number Six in Kobul. The mission did not go smoothly due to a jump happy Hybrid, but it was successful nonetheless, even a tender loving moment when Roslin saved the preacher despite his insane admission and self-attempt of exonerating his (partial) guilt. Eventually Roslin declares her love for William Adama, who quipped back romantically "about time". Ahh... (bulgh)

In a slightly cramped out finale, Biers holds President Roslin hostage while demanding for the four of the Final Five Cylons from Galactica. Three of the four (Tory Foster has already defected to the Cylons) are drawn to the Viper Kara was in when she returned from the 'death'. Despite Biers threatening to kill all the hostages, Lee (who now knows the identity of the remaining three) uses Saul as a bargaining chip by threatening to execute him. In what is a slightly cliché scene, Kara upon inspecting her Viper and finding that it was capable of picking up a faint signal that possibly originated from Earth, dashes through the ship and halts the execution in the nick of time. Go Starbuck!

After a bit of soul searching, Lee Adama and D’Anna Biers agrees to form an alliance seeking Earth together. The fleet of former enemies FTL’ed to Earth with Admiral Amada at the helm, jubilant that their three year journey in search of the mythical 13th colony has finally come to an end. A band of humans and Cylons flew down to the surface and lands in what is left of a desolated city (New York?), now ruined in the waste of nuclear winter. While the ending was rather expected particularly when you have a good 10 episodes and a TV film left, it was still a rather good cliffhanger. Still, the key question remained - what happened to Earth?

Season four has some misses even some absurdity that threatened to derail it, but on a whole proved to be extremely entertaining. It isn't a classic season like the first two - that remains to be seen, but I am optimistic that the writers and producers can deliver a script that will satisfy us all. The DVD boxset comes with four disc over three plastic thin cases (ugh). As I mentioned earlier the DVD set contains the Razor extended version with audio commentary and seven webisodes detailing the final day of the first Cylon war through the eyes of a young William 'Husker' Adama.

Battlestar Galactica remains the pivotal television programme of our time, a series that transcends anything we've seen yet in both drama and social commentary. I personally can't wait for season five, though being a person who is reluctant to subscribe to Sky or cable, I'll likely have to wait for the DVD boxset to be released. In either case do not, for the frakking world, miss this. So say we all.

Key summary
  • The fleet thinks that Kara has gone all apeshit, or worse, is actually a Cylon
  • Gaius Baltar is now a religious cult leader
  • The Cylons has descended into civil war
  • Apollo seeks new political challenge
  • Starbuck goes mental searching for a way to earth
  • Felix loses something
  • Felix can sing
  • The final Cylon isn't on the Galactica, or so we were led to believe
  • The rebel Cylons and humans forms an alliance
  • They find Earth not that appealing really
Season: 8/10
DVD Boxset: 9/10

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Razor DVD review

Battlestar Galactica: Razor is a rather good made for TV/DVD film that is actually accessible for both none-BSG fans and established fans alike. While fans of the re-imagined series will likely enjoy Razor the most, none-fans will probably find themselves intrigued by the mythology while at the same time is rewarded with a film that brings actual closure to the Pegasus mini-arc. Fans on the other hand will be happy to be given additional plot information concerning season four.

While Razor premiered between the end of season three and four, the events of the film is actually set around the Pegasus battlestar arc of season two. It covers Lee 'Apollo' Adama's helm as Pegasus's Commanding Officer and new character Kendra Shaw as the ship's X.O. The film also weaves through two past events (through flashbacks), that of Kendra Shaw's service during Admiral Helena Cain's reign at Pegasus ten months before as well as the events surrounding the then Viper pilot William Adama and the young Cain during the final day of the first Cylon war.

Lee Adama as the new commander of the Pegasus battlestar decides to recruit Kendra Shaw as his X.O. due to her connection to the late Admiral Cain. Kendra, we learn, is a bit of a lame duck who tends to hide her feelings very well. At no one time did I feel much connection with her character, but that is just as well as we continue unravelling the deeds she performed under the command of Admiral Cain. Ten months before Lee's takeover, Pegasus was nearly annihilated but through Admiral Cain, the crew rises through all though their methods were often questionable. A second sub-plot exists in the present day where the Pegasus stumbles upon a Cylon Basestar that happens to host defunct human Cylon hybrids that young Bill 'Husker' Adama himself witnessed being experimented upon during the first Cylon war.

Like other Battlestar Galactica episodes, Razor is a very competent Sci-Fi flick that far outstrips anything we've ever seen before (outside of Firefly of course). The plot is gritty and dirty, and isn't afraid of tackling issues we humans may deem as not worth talking about. While the story is very good, Razor is filled with unlikeable characters like the infamous and hypocritical Admiral Cain, but particularly the X.O. Kendra Shaw. It doesn't help that Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen plays the character rather stiffly and the lack of any sort of emotional response can be off putting. Special effects are wonderful, rivalling many big budget Hollywood feature films like Indiana Jones 4 and Star Wars I-III. The shaky camera effect also does lend an added realism to the series. We also get to see old school Cylon centurions but they were rather poor CGI to be honest.

The region two DVD itself is part of the first half of season four Battlestar Galactica boxset and makes up as the first two of season four episodes. You can also buy it standalone or rent it (like I did - though I am planning on getting season four - you can help). Picture quality is excellent as far as standard definition goes and the stereo soundtrack is supplemented with 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and commentary by series creator Ron Moore and writer Michael Taylor. Seven Razor flashbacks webisodes were also included, though they were already integrated into the extended feature.

Despite its flawed storyline and choice of narrative, Razor is a rather enjoyable DVD movie. It would be even better if it was released on Blu-Ray, but we all have to make do with what we have. If you are just getting into Battlestar Galactica I suggest you start from the mini-series upwards. But there is nothing wrong into watching Razor though, and if that gets you into the BSG lore then that is great. For the rest of you avoiding this series out of fear of watching more 'Sci-Fi cliché', well it is your lost.


Friday, October 24, 2008

TrackPoint caps

Now you all know me as a stoacht supporter of the TrackPoint (more commonly known as the nipple mouse) mainly because I personally find them more accurate and allow my fingers to stay on the home area of the keyboard. For reasons unknown all ThinkPads I've owned only comes with either soft dome and classic dome (cat tongue) TrackPoint caps.

Between the classic dome and soft dome, I definitely prefer the soft dome. I can never get the feel of the cat tongue, which feels rough and uncomfortably like sand paper. Soft dome caps on the other hand are very comfortable and feels right on my fingers. Unfortunately they wear out very quickly. I checked the one that I've been using for a week and three of the ridges have worn out already. They are very similar to the one on Jenni's Latitude D630, though the soft dome is curvier and softer and the harder and flatter blue Dell cap.

I recently acquired a soft rim track point replacement cap. Having never used a soft rim cap before I was really excited (as excited as one can be in terms of getting a red rubber thingy). With no ridges, the soft rim is in theory probably the most hygienic and reliable TrackPoint cap. And I am happy to say that it works great! I was initially concerned about the concave shape as I've grown used to dome-shaped caps. One thing I did notice is that I have to apply less pressure to power the TrackPoint with the soft rim cap than I do with either dome caps, but with the benefit of added traction. My mouse pointing accuracy seems to have benefited as well. I guess I'll stick with the soft rim for the time being, but will alternate between the soft dome and rim at times.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dixons' downward spiral

My experience with the Dixons Store Group (DSGi) has rarely been positive. Just last week a clueless PC World manager (from the Tech Guys area) attempted to stop us from returning an unopened Toshiba (which was reasonably priced we admit) we bought online. The reasoning was they do not accept returns of refurbished products because it is company policy. Despite us pointing out that no such policies exists in the first place (you can view their returns policy here, which we printed to wave at his face), he stood by his made-up-on-the-spot excuse.

Unfortunately for him we weren't the clueless idiots he hoped we were and despite time wasting on us we forced him to call PC World online to clarify. Naturally he couldn't get through and he was forced to eventually relented and refunded us (with a facial expression of doom and no apologies offered). The irony of the situation was we were planning on looking at some printers while we were there, but the whole sordid affair was just too much to handle and we left empty handed, happy with the knowledge that none of our money are in their hands.

So it comes as no surprise that they have suffered six months of gloomy trading. Like-for-like sales fell 7 per cent for the 24 weeks ending 18 October 2008 and share has dropped 80% over the year, probably thanks to a combination of an impending UK recession caused by greedy bankers plus customers wising up. The sooner the Dixons group falls into bankcruptcy the better. If you require a walk-in store try John Lewis the next time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lenovo ThinkPad X61 ultraportable review

Ever since Lenovo took over IBM's PC division, there has been speculations that the legendary built quality of ThinkPad would suffer. Having recently acquired a ThinkPad X61, I can safely brush aside these concerns as unjustified. ThinkPads laptops are still quite possibly the ultimate notebooks for people who who demands the most reliable portable workhorse, and the ultra portable X61 is no different.

The X61 has since been replaced by the X200, but there are several reasons why you shouldn't yet dismiss this older model, especially when you can get them for a fraction of the cost of the X200. Coming up from the X31, I found the X61 to be almost exactly the same size (smaller actually) and lighter too (200g less with standard 4-cell battery). The overall classic bento shape of the ThinkPad has been retained while thankfully black remained black, making this iconic series instantly recognisable from other me-too notebooks. Personally I kinda dislike the new X200 due to its wider footprint as well as huge bezel, but maybe that's because I am jealous!


CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo T7100
Chipset: Intel 965 Express with Intel X3100 GPU
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2 PC2-5300 (max 8GB)
Hard Drive: 100GB 7200rpm SATA
Screen: 12.1" 1024x768 LCD
Other: Bluetooth 2.0 EDR+, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 ABG
Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP3
Warranty: 3 years walk-in (2 1/2 years remaining)

I was initially disappointed of the lack of rubberised texture from the ThinkPad X31 notebook, though I still suspect that the lid is still rubberised. The display is fitted with a 12" LCD screen sporting a fairly disappointing XGA resolution (my decade old Inspiron 7000 had that resolution!). The screen here is very bright and does not suffer from dead pixels or light bleeding. On the top you have one of the most beloved IBM innovation, the ThinkLight, which is a LED that shines down at the keyboard allowing you to type in the dark. Two latches near the edge keeps the lid shut. On the bottom are a set of status lights. Depending on configurations you can easily see the status of the ThinkPad's WiFi, Bluetooth, battery, hard drive, power, standby etc.

Like previous X-Series ThinkPads, the X61 is fitted with an almost full sized keyboard. If there is a single reason to get a ThinkPad, it is for the keyboard. Quite simply, ThinkPad keyboards destroys all their competitors. I even avoid using external full size keyboard as the keyboards here are very robust, has a comfortable key travel, isn't too loud and does not flex. You can comfortably use this for hours without nary an ache. A TrackPoint sits in the middle of the 'home' area. Some may hate the nipple as a mouse device, but I absolutely adore it. The middle UltraNav button allows you to quickly scroll down documents or web pages. As a package, the TrackPoint is more intuitive and accurate, and its position allows for less finger travel thus allowing for increased productivity.

The power button sits above the keyboard near the middle. Next to it are the volume keys and ThinkVantage key (formerly Access IBM on older models), which when pressed will bring up either the Productivity Centre that help configure or diagnose problems with the notebook, or the Predesktop Area (hidden partition recovery area). Unfortunately compared to the X31, the keys here are small and clumsy, but they do work much better than those touch-based one you find on flashy notebooks. As Lenovo now fully owns IBM's former PC division including the ThinkPad line, the old classic RGB IBM logo is now sadly gone forever (no amount of pleading will bring them back lest IBM buys back the ThinkPad division which I doubt). Imprinted on the bottom right is a new ThinkPad logo, with the words 'X-series' highlighting Lenovo's desire to acknowledge the strong brand loyalty.

The bottom front of the X61 has a WiFi on-off toggle. The left side contains a single type-II CardBus slot. Below it is a full size SD-IO card slot (it is SDHC compatible). A Gigabit LAN port sits next to them followed by a legacy VGA port, a single USB 2.0 port and finally the vent. On the right side of the X61, we have a 4-pin IEEE1394 port (FireWire, i-Link), two additional USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone 3.5mm jacks, 56k modem port, the new power socket and a standard Kensington lock port. The hard drive access bay is also accessible from the right side, though you will need to remove a single screw from the chassis to pull it out. The back side is reserved for the battery. The optional 8-cell battery does stick out quite a bit. As for the battery life, the standard 4-cell battery works extremely well, providing me with enough juice to do a complete system recovery and play time to boot during my first test.

On the bottom is a single speaker, RAM door (which gives you access to two SODIMM slots), the UltraBase docking station port, battery latch and various screws. If you look closely you will also see two keyboard drainage holes, where accidental spillage of water on the keyboard will just drain right out. The speaker is okay for watching various YouTube videos of morons attempting to prove Darwin, but you'll definitely want to hook it up to an external speaker for watching films. Removing the bottom will reveal two MiniPCI Express slots, one of which is taken up by the WiFi card (in this case an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 ABG). The other is empty and can be configured to take an authorised WWAN card. Speaking of wireless, the Intel PRO reception is good though I did wish that it was configured with an Atheros powered ThinkPad 11a/b/g card. Jennifer's Acer has an Atheros card that is able to see networks my X61 was unable to. That said the Intel PRO card performance was still acceptable.

L-R: Sony PS2 Slim AC, Lenovo 65W AC, Dell Latitude 65W AC

Overall built quality is excellent. The stainless steel hinge allows you to swivel the screen 180 degrees and is so sturdy that where other notebooks will simply snapped into half, you can have no worries carrying a X61 by its lid (I don't recommend abusing your ThinkPads - but they are built to be abused!). At 1.41kg, the ThinkPad X61 is extremely portable. Even with the optional 8-cell battery the notebook weights around 1.6kg. Including the optional UltraBase docking station, the weight barely exceeds 2.7kg. Sadly the X61 uses the new AC barrel plug design, so it won't be compatible with previous ThinkPad chargers. On the upside the new Lenovo 65W AC adapter is small, petite and weighs less around 260g. The total weight for a X61 with 4-cell battery and the 65W AC is a shoulder friendly 1.7kg.

Performance wise the X61 blows my old X31 away. This isn't surprising as the X61 is fitted with a Merom-based Intel dual core processor, but even in single threaded benchmarks like Super Pi, the X61's 1.8Ghz clock speed completely thrashes the X31's 1.4Ghz clock speed, calculating at more than twice the speed despite the modest clock speed advantage. Even then, the X61 is almost always silent and if the fans do kick in, isn't as loud as the X31. Heat was never an issue with the newer model too, despite having opted for a full voltage C2D. I can comfortably use it on my lap. Unfortunately despite supporting Socket P, the T7100 is soldered down. If you desire to upgrade to a faster processor in the future, you'll have to replace the whole motherboard. You can easily purchase spare parts direct from Lenovo so long as you know the FRU part you are seeking.

The benchmark results certainly would not set the world on fire as the T7100 processor and hard drive is clearly on the average side.

Super Pi 1 million: 31s
wPrime 32 million: 48s

In terms of real world usage I find it more than fast enough. With multiple processes queueing on start-up (mainly ThinkVantage utilities, Comodo firewall and AVG), the system is able to cold boot to usable state in less than 40 seconds despite the processor rarely clocking above 1.2Ghz. Even a bloated workhorse like Firefox 3 is able to start up with minimum fuss despite having eight add-ons enabled. I am running Windows XP with it, but I don't see any possible issues with it running Vista. The Intel X3100 integrated graphics won't allow you to play modern games, but it is good enough for Telltale's Sam & Max and perhaps even SimCity 4. I had no problems playing 720p and 1080p WMV files, though it did struggle at times with 1080p h.264 files.

The ThinkPad X61 notebook came bundled with some bloatware, of which I purged by doing a complete re-installation through the Rescue & Recovery application during boot-up. You can select which program is omitted during the recovery. Naturally first class junks like Google Desktop, Live Toolbar and Norton something was de-commissioned at the source. Apart from Lenovo's Message Center, I allowed most of them to be installed as unlike most third party applications, ThinkVantage is actually useful. For example their Power Manager program is great for optimising battery life and even gives you detailed battery information including manufacturing date, current charge capacity as well as the number of battery charge cycles you have used up. Perhaps the most useful is the Active Protection System which automatically parks the hard drive's head when it detects movement via the built-in accelerometer, though if you do install a SSD drive you will be stupid to keep this utility activated.

Overall I am glad I got the X61. Sure I could have gotten something flashier, faster, thinner and more expensive to sit with in Starbucks, but the X61 is just as sexy offers features that may not exist in more expensive alternatives. Most importantly is the reliability and durability that comes with this machine. Despite getting mine used, the transferable 3 year warranty (2.5 years remaining on mine) and the peace of mind that comes with it makes it worth it. ThinkPad X-Series are powerful machines that can be configured up to the fastest mobile Core 2 Duo processors and make suitable desktop replacements (provided you get their UltraBase), so don't be fooled by their petite size.

+ Good general computing performance
+ Mature ThinkVantage applications
+ Sturdy built-quality
+ Still the best keyboard on the market
+ Classic ThinkPad design
- CPU soldered down
- Outdated screen resolution
- No recovery DVD


Monday, October 20, 2008

Barack Obama isn't a Muslim, but so what if he is?

Mr. Colin Powell said the most sane thing I have ever seen spouted from a Republican's mouth. I don't like him, but what he said makes so much sense that I am surprised that the Democrats haven't come up with it in the first place. “Mr. Obama is not a Muslim. He has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is what if he is? Is there anything wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.”

While the upcoming election in the US of A isn't really our business, but since their foreign policy allows (well, encourages) them to meddle around the world anyway I think it is appropriate to chip in. As far as I am aware, the First Amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of a national religion or the preference of one religion over another or religion over none-religion.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MOTHER 3 fan translation out now

MOTHER 3 is easily the most anticipated RPG game not to have been localised by Nintendo, whose primary motivation of making money is through targeting the soccer mums and pensioners demographic. Released in Japan on the venerable GBA platform some 2 1/2 years ago, fans of the MOTHER series has waited patiently as fans worked hard to translate the game. Well the moment has arrived, and the unofficial translation has finally been released.

To get it you will need a ROM copy of MOTHER 3 and a flash cart. Download the patcher and patch the original ROM file, before uploading the patched ROM onto a flash cart. Insert flash cart into your Game Boy Advance, SP, micro, DS or DS Lite and enjoy the game. You can also probably play it on a PC based GBA emulator. I've played the Japanese version with a FAQ (didn't last long) and from the short amount I can say the game is something special.

Thanks to HAL, Brownie Brown, Nintendo SPD and the translators for working hard to bring us the game. But no thanks to S. Iwata, Reggie and whoever runs NOE, for attempting to deprive us of a great video game title.

Thanks to Zorocaster for the heads-up

Friday, October 17, 2008

Heroes season 3 (episode 1-5) recap

Admittedly I was a little frustrated with season two of Heroes, but season three (up to episode five) has so far proven to be pretty enjoyable.

Spoilerific opinionated recap follows:
  • Sylar is easily now my favourite character of Heroes. He is beginning to control his hunger, while redeeming himself on the way. In Angels & Monsters, he saved Claire and did not kill Noah despite Noah's attempt to off him. He looks classy in a suit.
  • Peter is still the most annoying, unbalanced and immature character. He has perfected the skills he absorbed from other heroes and now has Sylar's intuitive ability but does not know how to use them to everyone's benefit. Quite easily the most dangerous person in Heroes he keeps attempting to change the future. Peter also seems to have also forgotten this Irish bird whom he left in an alternate future, which I guess is all for the better.
  • Hiro and Ando's relationship takes turn for the worst as they cock up more missions (including losing the formula that can turn anybody into heroes) than ever, and even lose Adam Monroe after digging him up. Hiro eventually agrees to join a rival 'badass' company, but has to 'sacrifice' his best friend first.
  • Mohindar has gained a power through a serum he created from Maya's blood. While his body and sense has grown stronger, he has also developed insect like abilities. A modern day reference to Seth Brundle (from The Fly) if you didn't already suspect.
  • Claire and Noah's relationship is explored once again as Claire quickly repeats the same mistakes she did in season one and two. How Claire of her. Future Claire works for the rival company controlled by Arthur Petrelli and is frankly, an icy bitch.
  • Nathan, surviving the assassination attempt by Future Peter, seems to have found god, in the form of Linderman. Except Linderman is dead and Nathan is actually being indirectly influenced by old man Parkman who is under the employment of old man Petrelli. Confused yet?
  • Niki Sanders died at the end of season two, but they bring her back in the form of her twin sister Tracy Strauss. Ali Larter, proving how limited her acting ability is plays Tracy pretty much like Niki. Tracy, like Niki, is very insecure about her ability (freezing) and eventually sleeps with this one former New York senator.
  • Usutu, a new character, has the same ability to paint the future like the dead Isaac Mendez. It is also implied that Matt has gained the same precognition ability. A little bit more originallity by the writers would have been better. You did get your pay rise didn't you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amazon UK, slightly improved

In the past I've always had to purchase £15 worth of products to qualify for their free shipping offer. This usually means buying in advance 3-4 books (though I guess it does not matter since I am a fast reader). But now that Amazon UK has reduced the minimum purchase threshold to just a fiver (£5) for customers to qualify for super saver delivery, I can be a bit more flexible in shopping for low priced goods. I guess they are starting to feel the pressure from (they have free shipping regardless of minimum order).

Below is a list of books that qualifies for free shipping. Yes these are books by Christopher Moore, the genius writer whom you should all kow tow before.

Practical Demonkeeping
Coyote Blue
Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story
Island of the Sequinned Love Nun (review)
The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings
You Suck: A Love Story (review)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dear LittleBigPlanet virgins

With Kratos (God Of War), Nariko (Heavenly Swords) and now Old Snake (MGS4) and Sephiroth (FFVII) making their sackboy cameos, are there really any more excuses you are not playing this yet? Or planning on buying it?


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

ASA saves teenage girls from Cactuar

Oasis's Cactus Kid commercial has been ordered off the air by the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA, fearing that underage girls around the country will attempt to fornicate in Homebase's gardening section or with a Sabotender soft toy, agrees with the viewers alleging that the ad promoted teenage sex and pregnancy, A further 16 complaints were filed that the ad promoted an unhealthy diet.

Now I've never seen an ad that promotes good dietary, not even those by Jamie Oliver, so I don't know how Oasis can get the stick where as KFC, McDonalds, Tesco, Asda, Carlsberg etc. are allowed to continue peddling their equally less than ideal products to us.

The mind boggles that people (ASA) are being paid to make stuff up.

via The Guardian

Monday, October 6, 2008

eMusic review

Taking advantage of their 35 free songs offer, I decided to sign up with eMusic and write about my experience with this online music shop. Offering DRM-free tracks at reasonable prices, they are one of the few online legal music stores that offers this unique feature. Now some of you may probably already know that I serial hater of online music stores, and the only reason I signed up with eMusic was their no obligation free download two week trial. I am 100% certain I'll not continue beyond the trial period. But do read on.

eMusic allows their customers to download tracks through their optional software called eMusic Download Manager, or direct download from their website, though this only allows you to download one track at a time. The download program is rather small and allows you to save the tracks downloaded into a specific folder on your PC. Download speeds vary, but personally I found it to be rather slow. The application is purely a download specific program and does nothing else. You'll have to install a third party software like the excellent Media Monkey if you require a music management program.

You can download tracks through any web browser or use the Download Manager

Now the most important bit. How are the selections? Well due to the lack of the 'Big Four', eMusic catalogues are more geared towards underground, niche and indie music. That is not exactly a bad thing as it does allow for one to sample a greater amount of music outside of the mainstream appeal. I am glad to report that music from some of the best bands around are on eMusic. I haven't really explored much, but I did find albums from Pink Floyd, Motorhead, In Flames, Camera Obscura, Lacuna Coil, Morbid Angel, British Sea Power, Napalm Death, Ellen Allien, Arcade Fire, Iced Earth, Interpol (though only Antics and Antics Remixes), Carcass and available for purchase. While I can't confirm, it is likely most of Earache, Century Media and all the major indie music labels' catalogues are available here.

Sadly the tracks made available are encoded in lossy MP3 format, specifically through a LAME encoder (standard -V 2 VBR quality averaging between 180-220kbps). While the MP3 format has significantly improved over the years particularly the LAME encoder, it is still the most significant downside of digital music compared to traditional CDs with PCM audio or lossless audio format like FLAC. On the upside the tracks are DRM-free, meaning you can upload them to a large variety of digital audio players like the (gasp) Ipods as well as, more importantly, superior players from the likes of Cowon, Sony and iRiver.

The subscription based model is flexible , competitive and much more reasonable than other mainstream services.

Unfortunately as I mentioned earlier I won't be continuing it. The lack of 'Big Four' isn't a major concern to me as their CDs are easily available at most stores anyway. The pricing is very tempting, but I've always been willing to pay a bit more for lossless downloads and in this case, eMusic has no such options. A shame really, as I do like the eMusic and their business model. If they started offering lossless none-DRM downloads with a competitive pricing, then I'll not be hesitant to recommend it. Until then I suggest you hold onto your CDs.

+ No DRM
+ Large variety of content by indie labels
+ Reasonable pricing (from 20p to 50p per track/download)
- Only lossy MP3 tracks sold
- Lacks 'Big Four', though that may be a good thing
- Download was rather on the slow side

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sennheiser CX 95 canalphones review

My desire to obtain a new mid-range headphone for my Walkman stemmed from the lack of good sealing on the bundled MDR-EX082 and the average quality (but supremely comfortable) of the CX 300. I narrowed down my choices to either a Denon AH-C700, Klypsch Custom-1, Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 3 and Sennheiser CX 95.

I finally got the CX 95 cheap from a fellow Head-Fi'er. These canalphones retails for £60-70 on the high street (or less online), a price which puts it at the high-range non-IEM canalphone market (or entry-level depending on whom you ask). Sennheiser is a brand I can trust, having a good impression with their budget canalphone, the CX 300 priced at £40 (but you can get them for under £20 easily) as well as the mainstream PX 100. The construction of the CX 95 is fairly predictable. Made of tough plastic material, the CX 95's heads are pretty sturdy protecting the single driver design. The same can't be said about the cables - which are flimsy and rubbery almost like the CX 300. The default lenght is perfect for when I slip my Walkman into my shirt pocket, but the extension cable is a just too long. I pair it with my Sony extensions instead.

The CX 95 does not disappoint in the sound quality department. With a rated impedance of 16 ohm, the CX 95 isn't difficult to drive. Playing FLAC files from my PC, the Sennheiser provided my blessed eardrums with good and balanced dynamic sound. At the price range, the CX 95 blew away the CX 300 in bass level in its quality, while maintaining a more balanced sound throughout. While it isn't as great as Denon AH-C751 (which has a greater frequency range I believe) IEMs I auditioned two week ago, it also costs far far less. Sounds are warm, with a reasonable clarity an overall detailed sound stage with Sennheiser's usual bass performance. Even when paired with my A818, and despite using lossy 256kbps files, the CX 95 performed extremely well. Highs are bright and the mids and lows balanced. Compared to my self-repaired Shure e2c, the CX 95 is a more 'fun' headphones while the e2c was more clinical and the Sony crispier.

In terms of isolation, the CX 95 works well, though no better or worse than the snug fitting CX 300. I had no problem riding the tube or waiting outside the changing rooms in Selfridges, with a little ambient noise disturbing my enjoyment. The same can be said about sealing, as I can comfortably use this in bed without any retort aimed at me. Comfort wise, the Sennheiser's soft tips are pretty much as comfortable as they can get (I settled for the medium size tips), and best of all I can use my Sony tips on them. They are not meant to be worn behind the ears like the e2c (which I tolerate only because they sound great), which is even better for my ears. The downside of the CX 95 is its microphonics. Microphonics level with in-ear canalphones has improved a lot since a decade ago, but they still exists. The CX 95 can be worn over the ear to alleviate the problem slightly, if you do not mind reversing the stereo imaging.

I love the CX 95 as it provides a reasonably great sound quality. It doesn't work well with all music genre, particularly if you prefer music with great clinical detail like classical genre. Despite that I found it pleasing for listening to old Metallica, Vanessa-Mae, Ministry, Carcass etc., and oddly loving the enveloping warmth sound the CX 95 produces. I am not a bass head and yes, the CX 95 like the CX 300 is bass-driven. But with proper EQ-ing and customising the A818's DAC, I found that the bass quality is soft and warm complimenting my sound preference very well. Overall the CX 95 is a great and balanced canalphones that isn't too expensive to invest in and is a couple of steps up over their entry level CX 300 models. Just don't expect to use it in the gym.

+ Great SQ and clarity for a sub £70 headphone
+ Warm and soft bass quality
+ Good seal
+ Interchangeable with CX 300 and Sony silicon tips
+ Isolates well
- Extension cable too long
- Flimsy cable
- Microphonics


The Sennheiser CX95 is available for less than £60 at Amazon UK, but has since been replaced by the CX 550

Thursday, October 2, 2008


So it has come to this. Nintendo's solutions to drying Wii titles is through remaking GameCube games. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition was a nice update, but that was a year ago when Capcom wanted to make a quick buck and test the market. But this autumn 2008, two years after the Wii was released. Pikmin was a great game and I may rent it again (but I'll not buy). While it does look like a couple of new I.P.s will be coming our way like that Kid Icarus-like game shown at the conference, I just hope that development of new titles isn't hindered by their new found wisdom of cashing-in on GameCube Wii-makes.

Update: Joining Pikmin as Nintendo's 'take advantage of gullible fan base who will buy anything' business model are Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Chibi Robo, Pikmin 2, Mario Tennis GC, Metroid Prime, and Metroid Prime 2 Dark Echoes. Sigh.

I've mixed feeling about the new DSi. Not sure about the camera and music player but the bigger screens may may handy, though without an increased in resolution may prove pixelated. Also glad to see it has reinforced hinges. The DSi is a bit like the Game Boy micro - a new model to milk the brand dry and prevent a price drop. Personally I'll hold out for the proper DS successor, but if you don't already own a DS Lite then I see nothing wrong with the DSi. Unless they start making DSi specific games that is... Hmm...

In other news Dragon Quest IX has been dated for a March 2009 release, in Japan. Well, at least the title has not been stuck in development hell. In the meantime do play Dragon Quest IV.