Monday, April 30, 2007

Slim notebook/laptop bags review

Today’s review concerns two notebook/laptop cases. The first is a Crumpler McBain’s Baby which was my main notebook case until I bought the Tucano Work Out case, which is the other case I am reviewing. I am a fan of products by both companies (I have a Tucano case for my DAP and Jenni has a Crumpler for a digi compact).

Both cases can be bought from the high street for around £30-£40 depending on the size. Tucano makes Work Out cases for both ‘normal’ PC notebooks and those specific for certain Mac notebooks. I got the ‘normal’ PC notebook version for my IBM. Prices vary on the web of course and can be bought for as cheap as £20. However with our shrewd eBay skills we managed to obtain a large McBain's Baby for £6 and the Work Out for £5. Super bargain! Local pickup also meant no postage cost! The McBain's Baby (medium) I have is a gift.

The McBain sports a traditional and typical Crumpler design. It is very recognisable and would suit both students and hip young professionals. The case I own (medium size designed for 12” notebooks) is too small. My ThinkPad X31 could fit in just fine but there is no room for anything else. There is a small compartment on the front which you would fit a spare battery or a slim DVD-ROM drive but that’s it. I was not able to fit the power brick in it. However we were able to stuff a standard issue power brick into Jenni’s large McBain.

The Tucano Work Out bag looks fairly conservative, but equally pleasing to look at. It is very stylish and a far cry from the hip urban look of the McBain (and other Crumpler bags). The Work Out looked like something Mandarina Duck would have created (though it isn’t surprising as Tucano is an Italian brand, like MD). Compared to the medium McBain, the Workout has plenty of space. I managed to fit in a slim DVD-ROM, an external 2.5” hard drive, the power brick, a small mouse, my portable DAP as well as my huge PDA phone and still had space left for a banana.

This is impressive as the medium Work Out I had is the same size as the medium McBain (and much smaller than a large McBain). How did they do it? Well the padding isn’t as thick as the McBain, and it does not have a waterproof flap, so the space saved were used for creating pouches. While the fabric itself is waterproofed, as the zips are exposed, any notebook inside could potentially be damaged by natural elements. Not something to cycle with then.

Both the Crumpler and Tucano have its positive and negative aspects to it. I will list them here:

Crumpler McBain’s Baby (medium)
+ Waterproof
+ Thick padding
- Pitiful space for accessories (better on larger versions, though still only limited to a single accessory pocket)
- Akward

Tucano Work Out PC (medium)
+ Stylish
+ Plenty of space for accessories (even for a banana)
- Padding isn’t as thick as the McBain
- No protective flap over zip

There you go. Personally if you want a slim case and have a budget of between £25 and £35, you can't go wrong with the the Tucano Work Out. You can’t go wrong with it. The Crumpler McBain is better for cyclists (due to the weight distribution as well as the fabric) but at £35 it isn’t worth it unless you can find one below £20. If you are still keen on getting a Crumpler case but want to bring more accessories along you would be better of getting something one of their high end offerings - mainly those created for bike messengers (like the Cheesy Disco).

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Awesome God of War II stunt

Today's repugnant headline on the Mail on Sunday was 'Slaughter' with the subtitle 'Horror at Sony's depraved stunt to promote PlayStation with decapitated goat' caught headlines among the gaming world when two mainstream video gaming blogs decided to link to the Daily Mail's online 'news'. They even managed to get an opinion from New Labour MP Keith Vaz, known anti-video gaming activist. Among the complaints the Mail on Sunday had were a dead goat was decapitated in a promo event to the release of God of War II, the sequel to the amazingly awesome God of War; as well as the abundance of topless females (what is wrong with that Middle Englanders?).

The Mail group has always been known for their anti-gaming stance and they took the chance to 'review' God of War II on page 9 (yeah, I have the picked up from the Tube paper left over by disgusted readers), and a poor one at that (they complained mainly about the violence and gore and violence). Unfortunately for many 'video gaming' fanboys, the chance to release more anti-Sony diatribe was too good that they decided to align themselves with a Littlejohn's favourite anti-gaming rag.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Frog legs: tastes just like chicken

Apparently frog legs are an exotic Chinese and French cuisine. Not sure about the exotic part, but even Jennifer loves it. We had a barbecue at the seafront today and Benoit had frog legs, which he brought over from France (although the legs originated from Indonesia). I had my first taste today... tastes just like chicken actually. But shan't be having it anymore.

Getting too old for clubbing

Yesterday we went out clubbing. Is it weird that I miss the fact that we used to require IDs to enter? I feel so bloody old. I am not a huge fan of raving clubs, but I do enjoy them like once or twice a year. What I dislike even more are those noisy pubs-cum-clubs that are increasingly popular, prefering instead to have a nice pint in a semi-noisy semi-old-school pub - which one of my twenty-something mate termed as for 'old people' (although in London it is perfectly alright for a twenty-something not to go to those conceited-infested pubs). Man, I am getting too old!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tube Relief meet-up

We had a small meet-up with Captain (Chief!) Tami Brisset on Wednesday evening at the same pub on Charing X Road. You may remember Tami from a couple of my blog post regarding the Katrina Disaster and Tube Relief. She is doing great if you guys are wondering. A curious thing was when I met Jon Justice for the second time, he informed me that a company who was lost his details managed to fine him through this blog post. At least this blog is useful for something!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Configuring IBM ThinkPad's TrackPoint middle button

If you are a fan of a ThinkPad notebook like I am, you would know that they come with old school TrackPoint mouse system, something I referred to as the "nipple" when I first used it ten years ago. As I am a TrackPoint veteran having played with them on selected Toshiba notebooks, so it worked well with me.

The thing about the TrackPoint is there are three buttons for it. The usual left and right are there but also a light blue middle button which the previous owner does not know what it does. I believe IBM calls it the scroll button, but it is a mainly disabled button for most part of this decade. Apparently. It used to work well in applications like MS Office and IE, but is now 'broken' due to it being not supported by newer versions of those software. It does not work with Firefox 2.x as well as the new IE 7.

Here's a tip that I swiped off jdavidb, download Logitech's Mouseware if you have any intentions of using the TrackPoint's middle button. After rebooting Windows XP, the Mouseware application would allow you to configure the middle button to do almost anything, including scrolling if you wish. As a person who missed the Windows button on the IBM keyboard (it doesn't have that until Lenovo changed the policy recently), I configured the middle button to launch the start button. Yay.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Before & After

How long do you think the newly replaced (cleaned?) upholstery on the left would take before it resembles the "normal" one on the right?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Devil's Dyke to Ditchling Beacon bike ride

We went mountain biking today, in what I call a Brighton & Hove circular bike ride via Devil's Dyke and Ditchling Beacon via South Downs Way. Joining us were Maureen and her partner Regis (who is on a weekend visit from France). My front tyre suffered a flatt on the way to Devil's Dyke and the 1st rear gear did not work (making climbing hills a f***ing chore). We started at 9.50am and finished as 3.55pm. I am so bloody knackered (today's 24 miles was in addition to 20km I walked on Wednesday) so I am going to have a bloody long nap.

(c) M.Berg

Our South Downs Way bike ride part began at the Devil's Dyke Railway Trail near Hangleton Way:

Devil's Dyke:

Treating ourselves to the popular ice cream van at Ditchling Beacon car park:

Wonderful weather today as evident in the landscape view from the Beacon:

Our cycle route:

Elevation data:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 boxart

Why does a video game boxart, released as part of a PR exercise, need a post of its own? Why? Because it is freaking Ouendan 2, that's why! More Ouendan 2 hype is always good. Osu!

I actually prefer the original game's boxart, but this still looks awesome. Order it here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Manga review: Battle Club

Last weekend I finished reading the first three volume of Battle Club, the new and on-going manga series by Yuji Shiozaki of Ikki Tousen (Battle Vixens) fame. The books are published in trade paperback style and is available from most good comic stores in London, as well as traditional stores like Borders, Foyles, Books etc. and Waterstones. Nothing much to add except that the scans are none-flipped/mirrored, meaning you read them from right to left.

There are plenty of fan service here, in the form of ecchi art. Even the author acknowledges them. It is harmless enough, although because the combat is now geared towards judo/wrestling (instead of traditional martial arts in Ikki Tousen), there are plenty more revealing upskirt/cameltoe shots than usual. Even the mangas are shrink wrap (Again, what is up with people? Violence are okay, but sights of nipples are not? Get a grip, we all have them!). It should be noted that Battle Club is not as violent as Ikki Tousen, and doesn't take itself seriously - at least not in the first three books. While graphic violence has gone down, the sights of nudity has increased. Fan service indeed Shiozaki-san.

The plot is far simpler than Ikki Tousen. In something not too dissimilar to Slam Dunk, the self-proclaimed protagonist of the book, lowerclassman Mokichi Saitou, decides that he needs to be the most feared man in his new school. Unfortunately for him, he also happens to be lame and was soon defeated and humiliated by a female member of a wrestling club. Determined to make a name of himself, he decides to join the female dominated club, and after a torturous entry test, he succeeded. Thus begins his adventure with the group of misfits that includes an old perverted codger and a sexy she-male.

The only problems I have with Battle Club is the excessive fan service (I don't mind them per se, but reading this on the Tube or bus is nigh impossible especially if you happened to be sitting beside a prude - plus you look like a perv in general) and the lack of character design variation. Hell, one of a new character introduced in book three even has an eye patch that mimics that of Ryomou Shimei of Ikkitousen. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate the characters as the books are published in grey scale. The only way to do so is by the uniforms they wear (even then it may be difficult especially during combat, as the female cast tends to loose 99% of their garments!) or the way their hair is tied.

Yuji Shiozaki is clearly well adept to drawing the female form, so do not be surprised by the plenty of panchira and nudity shots here. Male characters are mainly relegated as they hardly participate in battles. It is far too early to see whether Battle Club, among all the gratuitous fan service and comedy (there are cute references to other popular mangas such as Ranma 1/2 and Dragon Ball), will chart out a more serious plot like Ikkitousen did, or whether it would be like any other Shonen mangas out there where the lame protagonist eventually proves his worth and gets his girl (Slam Dunk, Love Hina etc.). But so far I have already found myself enjoying it far more than Shiozaki's previous work.

Also check out Air Gear - plenty of action but with minor bits of fan service.

Tolkien's The Children of Húrin out today

I am a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's works (not so much of Peter Jackson's films - they are good on its own, but hardly inspiring) that I have read some of his more difficult posthumous publications such as The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. These two are my favourites outside the main books, especially Unfinished Tales where plenty of the back story to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were outlined and explained.

The Children of Húrin, a newly written tale by his son Christopher Tolkien based on works and notes by Tolkien, is published today in the UK by HarperCollins in hardcover format. Parts of the narrative has already appeared in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, but as this is the first independent Middle-Earth book by Christoper Tolkien, the text are of his own, although wholly adapted from Tolkien's original manuscripts and notes.

I read The Lord of the Rings at least once a year since 1998, so a new story in the series is something that I welcome. If it is anything like The Silmarillion however I expect to finish this not before autumn! However the fact that this new chapter in the series is a complete narrative should make it a much easier task.

Slightly off-topic. If you reserve Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from Waterstones they will guarantee a price of £9 (effectively halving the listed RRP), one pound cheaper than book six was when we got it from Borders two years ago. So you can get it on launch midnight at a price similar to purchasing it from Amazon, while joining in the revellers and soaking up the atmosphere.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jack Thompson spews bullshit again

Fox News has allowed Jack Thompson, the barred irrational Christian conservative anti-gaming and pro-gun lawyer from the US, to criticise the video gaming industry for what has happened in the US today. As a side note, nothing has been released to the media that indicates the shooter(s) was a gamer. We don't even know his or her age or name.

And even if he does, so what? Nothing will be proven except that a single killer was motivated by something, and even then it would not link an entire medium with the ability to influence people's decision. It is like Columbine all over again when Marilyn Manson got blamed. I bought Antichrist Superstar when it was released a decade ago (still listening to it) and play shooters on my PC and consoles. I have yet to kill anyone.

Only a sick tosser would use the death of others to further their own agenda.

via GAF

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Warm summer weather two weekends in a row? Sun bathing in early April? Awesome.

/waits for inevitable cold spell

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney 3 dated!

Capcom has finally confirmed that Gyakuten Saiban 3 would be released in its localised state as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations this September. Finally! Gyakuten Saiban 3 has always been stated as the best game in the point and click adventure/law sim series, especially with the plot surrounding Godot - the new cocky prosecutor, and the secrets of Ryuichi Naruhodo's (Phoenix Wright) past girlfriend Chinami Miyanagi (to be known as Dahlia, although she is more well known as Dolores in a fan translated version of GS3). Having played the first case of GS3 on the GBA and found it to be fantastic, I believe September can't come soon enough. Hurry up with the localisation of Gyakuten Saiban 4 too!

If you haven't played any Gyakuten Saiban/Ace Attorney games, make sure to read my reviews here and here. You can buy them from any good importers (make sure you grab a coupon here) or game stores.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Manga review: Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface is the second volume collection in Masamune Shiro's Ghost in the Shell series, based on eleven chapters of manga first serialised in Kodansha, Japan. The review is based on the Dark Horse Comics trade paperback edition A5 size, published in January 2005. Like the previous Ghost in the Shell manga adaptation, the localisation is wonderful, but suffers from the art being flipped/mirrored. Shame on the publisher for not doing what Tokyopop and Viz Media has been doing for years.

As with Ghost in the Shell and other Masamune's cyber-punk mangas such as Appleseed, GITS2: Man-Machine Interface is filled with a quisi-humanity plot and pseudo-intellectual narrative in a typical futuristic setting. Despite Masamune's warning/apologies that Man-Machine Interface isn't a direct sequel to Ghost in the Shell, I can't help but comparing this 'sequel' to the original classic. Truthfully, despite sharing the same protagonist and the same title, Man-Machine Interface is a far departure from GITS, both in terms of ary style as well as storyline. Perhaps Masamune or his publisher(s) felt that having it associated with a highly regarded graphic novel would help sell the book better. Who knows?

For those who are fans of the original GITS's excessive and graphic violent action scenes (like I am) would be very disappointed. Man-Machine Interface's plot centers around information warfare. This is in contrast to the episodic feel of cop vs baddies narrative of the original. In GITS2, one of Motoko's children from her fusion with the Puppeteer, from the first manga, continues the fight against the baddies - just not with brawn this time, but with geeky computer commands instead. In between these Cyberbrain warfares are more techno-babble talk and fan service in the form of Barbie style virtual nude ladies with plenty of crotch shots (even surpassing that of Ikkitousen). Yep, those infamous crotch shots from the first book has returned ten-fold, with a far far higher frequency this time round. The sequel also lacks the variety of fully developed characters from the first book, instead presenting only a couple of two-dimensional plot advancers (with the occasionally funny characters).

Even within GITS2, the quality of the artistic direction differs wildly. Masamune has decided that the coloured pages of GITS2 would consist of plenty of computer generated backgrounds. Some support characters are also computer rendered. While main characters are beutifully drawn, the 3D CG backgrounds are just hedious. Regardless, with the help of CG, there are more coloured pages in Man-Machine Interface than the first volume, which some may see as a bonus. To me this allowed me to appereciate the B&W pages even more. Masamune's talent for drawing in B&W is more pronounced here than ever especially in contrast to the fugly coloured pages.

Don't let that Ghost in the Shell title fool you. This isn't it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! OUENDAN 2 dated!

This deserves all the hype it gets, and more.

17 May

Will also feature a track from Hitomi Yaida!

(Update) tracklist:

mihimaru GT - 気分上々↑↑ (Kibun Jojo↑↑ - The Best Feeling↑↑)
Homemade Kazoku - 少年ハート (Shonen Heart Boy’s Heart)
SMAP - BANG!BANG!バカンス (BANG! BANG! Vacance)
Ayaka - I Believe
Kaela Kimura - リルラ リルハ (Real Life Real Heart)
FLOW - 贈る言葉 (Okuru Kotoba The words I say to you)
Sukima Switch - 全力少年 (Zenryoku Shounen Boy’s Energy)
The Checkers - ジュリアに傷心 (Julia ni Shoushin Julia Breakheart)
Hitomi Yaida - Go My Way
Ken Hirai - POP STAR
VISTA - Going Underground
バンビーナ (Bambina) - Hotei Tomoyasu

Awesome Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword screens

A little bit pixelated (DS's lack of texture filtering hurts), but still impressive. With this, Dragon Quest IX, Ouendan 2 and three Final Fantasy spin-offs, this looks like another great year for the DS. The only problem with playing this is having to turn the DS side ways, which I already suspected of murdering my DS Lite.

via CVG

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Pair of Clover Video Game Review: Okami & God Hand (PS2)

There is something wrong with the games industry when a studio responsible for two critically positive titles Ōkami and God Hand has to be shut down by its parent company (Capcom) due to lack of sales of said titles. I am talking about the almost legendary Clover Studio (who were also responsible for creating the Viewtiful Joe franchise), one of the better internal development house at Capcom (next to Production Studio 4). But this sort of things happen in an industry dominated by rehash sports title. Just look at what happened to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Unlike the heads of Sony Computer Entertainment who seems to think that Team Ico is a core part of SCEI, Capcom decided it was best to dissolve the creative but commercially failed development studio.

Today I will be reviewing their final two games, both developed for the PS2 and recently released in Europe.


Ōkami is one of those games that hits you in the face when you first boot it up. The visuals, based on traditional Japanese suibokuga water coloured ink illustration style is as wonderful to look at, as the game was to play with. The fact that the cel-shaded technique looks so well during animation is even more impressive.

The comparisons to the Zelda series by professional reviewers might trouble some, and it is all true, from the plot style to puzzle and adventure mechanism. The director Hideki Kamiya is said to be a massive Zelda fan. But you will be glad to know that this isn't just another Zelda game. It has qualities that I am sure Eiji Aonuma from Nintendo EAD would not have thought about. At the same time the protagonist isn't as charming as the much beloved Link.

The plot is based on the ancient Japanese religion Shinto. Mixed among these is a bunch of good ol' fairy tales. The god Ōkami has always provided a protection in the ancient Nippon but one day the protection was ceased and the peace of the land was broken. You play as an ancient sun goddess known as Amaterasu who has stand guard in the village of Kamiki. As a white wolf god, Amaterause sets out on a journey to save the land from darkness.

Gameplay is done through a system called the 'Celestial Brush' and a combination of button mashing. The 'Celestial Brush' is a dynamic mechanism that mimics a paintbrush and is probably created as a tribute to the graphical style of the game. It is similar to the use gestures in stylus or mouse based games, but the painting is done with the PS2's analog stick instead. The brush is used on a canvas (brought up by pausing the game) where the player would paint on it to create commands. This can be used during puzzles and combats such as drawing a water lilly on a water's surface to make one sprout up.

Ōkami is a gorgeous game. Like it's influential cousin, it engages the player to think and in turn the player would fall in love with what is an epic and lush masterpiece. You owe it to yourself, and to those guys at Clover Studio, to play this.


God Hand

God Hand is a fun game. Despite the many negative reviews circulating (like the 3/10 review from an IGN reviewer who hates hard games) the web, God Hand is a fun game. It is a fun old school beat 'em up game. It is like Double Dragon, but in 3D. But unlike Double Dragon, it is fun. I can't stress it enough. This is a fucking fun game.

Compared to the beautiful but complex Ōkami, God Hand dosn't look like a typical Clover Studio game. But that assumption is wrong. While Ōkami was a fluke in innovation, God Hand is a much more traditional Capcom style game, although it serves the old school much more than others. Like Viewtiful Joe and Devil May Cry, and other Shinji Mikami's games, the gameplay is old school button masher. It was as if Clover Studio knew what those men in suits were planning for them, then said "fuck it, let us spend all this Capcom money making this old school game that nobody but old school fans would buy". What it does have is plenty of humour and an in-depth fighting engine.

The plot is non-existent, but if you must know, it is about this rambler Gene, whose arm was cut off. His replacement arm happened to be the famed Godhand, which gives him power beyond the comprehension of mortal men. Though he moans a lot, he has a keen sense of justice and loves to dream of himself as having a kinder side.

The gameplay is similar to Devil May Cry series. You can move in any directions on the 3D plane. Buttons can be mapped to suit each player's individual preference. Special moves can be unlocked. The biggest problem with God Hand (apart from sub-par texture quality) is lack of proper camera control. Unlike Mikami's Resident Evil 4, the right analog stick is not used to control the camera (although the viewpoint is similar to RE4's), but used to execute dodge movements. This may take some getting used to.

Let me tell you this, God Hand is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, along side Devil May Cry 3. And with plenty of wacky humour, it is also one of the funniest. There are plenty of witty remarks to be caught, alongside the plenty of cultural reference to other beat 'em up products on other mediums, like Street Fighter and Kung Fu Hustle.

Unless you appreciate a good brawler game, you will probably won't like it, but for those who love a good old school arcade style beat 'em up, the former Clover Studio has created something of a heaven for you, the perfect swansong for a small studio known for making good games.



You will be pleased to know that Clover Studio lives on as Seeds hopefully as a fully independent separate company from Capcom.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Good Co-op

For the third Easter Sunday in a roll, the local Co-op has proven itself to be a positive supporter to consumerism, opening up as usual (until 10pm), when at 9pm I decided that I needed some snacks. This is a highly commendable act when most shops decided to close up for the day. Even GAME and Gamestation decided to forgo the celebration of the Jesus Christ's alleged resurrection and opened today, catering to the hardcore gamer crowd.

Good for them!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Review: Carhartt Kickflip camo arrow black backpack

My 15 year old Eastpak backpack has finally broken down. What a great 15 year it was, but it was finally time to move on. I still remember sewing an Obituary logo patch on it (since removed). I will try to repair it, but for the time being I found this to be a great excuse to acquire a new backpack.

This nice little Carhartt Kickflip backpack in 'camo arrow black' colour seems great, especially at the price I got from Moist (closing down sale). It is sturdier and a lot tougher than the ol' Eastpak. I particularly like the Snake Eater-like camoflague. The Kickflip seems to go well with my Carhartt branded hoodies too. Hopefully it will serve me well for 15 years!!

Long Man of Wilmington

The weather was great yesterday (great bank holiday weekend!) so we decided to head to Polegate to do a little bit of cycling. I haven't been cycling for a long time so the Cuckoo Trail's was the perfect 'mid-distance on almost flat' biking. On the way back we detoured to Folkington village to visit the Long Man of Wilmington (via the Wealdway).

As seen from Wilmington village

Note to self: when lost, check that bushes are clear of thorns before running into them looking for a shortcut

On the train back there were about 20 people with bikes, including two guys who started at 7am to mountain bike from Worthing to Eastbourne on the South Downs Way! That is about 40 miles of off-road moutain biking!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Food review: Pompoko

We recently tried a new Japanese restaurant in Brighton called Pompoko. It is strategically located on Church Street, surrounded by the up and coming redevelopment of the Jubilee area as well as the North Laines. Unlike other Japanese dining trends in the UK, they do not serve expensive sushi, and they do not have pretentious benches.

Pompoko's prime targets are people looking to get a decent meal for under a fiver, and they do not disappoint. Most meals are priced between £3.80 and £4.20, making this tiny gem a heaven for those on the budget. And they do not skim on the quality and quantity either. Portions are generous as is the quality (which are home made). The Japanese breadcrumbed coated chicken curry that I tried is eons better than those served at Wagamama across the road or E-Kagen, at half the price. Pompoko is certainly one of those great perfect place you would want to grab a bite before heading out for the evening.

Ebi fried (prawns)

Ebi chili don (prawn in spicy tangy sauce)

Breadcrumbed coated chicken Japanese curry

Pork Nanban Don

Katsu Don