Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heroes recap

While the rest of us continue to follow Hiro's love triangle plight in Asuka Japan, the BBC will be broadcasting 'Company Man' tonight (9pm, BBC2). This was an important milestone in the first series of Heroes where the viewers were finally brought up to speed with Mr. Bennett's shady background and his history with The Company. If you were always wondering whether Mr. Bennett is a villain or a good guy be sure to catch 'Company Man' tonight as Jack Coleman gives one of his best performance yet as HRG.

Meanwhile for those who likes to keep up to date in the Heroes world will find that Mr. Bennett has returned to his good old habit of smacking people up in 'The Line'. Old habits die hard I guess. Glad to see that, despite his rebellious and ungrateful daughter, he is still willing to be the ultimate bad ass in order to protect his family. In what is a complete reversal to last season's plot, we also find that The Tooth Fairy in which he seeks to destroy isn't all what it seems. Oh and we have another "save New York" mission, this time instigated by Peter. My money is this new calamity will be caused by Maya.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sony DR-BT10CX Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headphones review

The Sony DR-BT10CX Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headphones set is a recent gadget that I acquired. It is actually a gift from Jennifer. So let's see how it fares.

It comes in a typical Sony packaging with environmentally unfriendly plastic on the front and recyclable paper card box forming the backside. The content includes the Bluetooth headset itself, a charging cradle, AC charger that connects to the cradle, replacement earbuds, European guarantee document and manual. I found it odd to receive a cradle with such a device when almost all manufacturers are cost cutting by excluding such a useful peripheral. Kudos to Sony for doing something right here.

The wireless Bluetooth headset is made up of two parts. The main body which contains the Bluetooth 2.0 receiver and lithium polymer battery. It supports A2DP profile as well as the headset (HSP) and hands-free (HFP) profile. The second part are the in-ear phones itself which looks like is based on a mid-range passive noise-cancelling Sony Fontopia MDR-EX71 with 9mm drivers. The earphones are connected to the receiver with a short 11 inch cable and is none replaceable. Yep. If the cable happens to break, swapping the earphones out for a new one is not an option. Unless one is willing to solder in a new one, the BT10CX is disposable. Sony should have done the decent thing and equip the receiver with a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The receiver is huge (around the size of a small Creative DAP) but very light. On the front (where the tacky chrome line exists) is a multi function button that controls various call functions, and two status indicators. A microphone hole exists on the edge of the front. The volume buttons as well as the power buttons are on the top of the unit. On the back is a slightly fiddly clip which angle can be adjusted. Unlike some more expensive Sony Ericsson A2DP headsets, the BT10CX does not contain a LCD display for displaying among others caller ID and track titles.

Getting it to work is easier than I anticipated. The following example is based on Windows Mobile 6 with Microsoft Bluetooth stack, but is a similar process to other A2DP devices by Nokia and Sony Ericsson. Just press the BT10CX power button down for a couple of seconds until both status lights are blinking. Then navigate to the Bluetooth application on whichever device you want it paired to. In the case of Windows Mobile just go to 'Settings -> Connections -> Bluetooth' and 'Add new devices...'. Follow the instructions and make sure 'Wireless Stereo' profile is selected. Once that is done a headphone icon will appear on the status bar indicating that the device is successfully paired with the headset.

The sound quality is excellent. Not on par with listening through good quality wired 'phones like the Sennheiser CX300 but still beats listening through cheapo headphones. I booted up Windows Media and the dreamy Koichi Sugiyama soundtrack of Dragon Quest VIII was streamed perfectly. Similarly watching Mononoke-hime on CorePlayer exhibited no hissings or hangups. In real world situations stuttering does affect playback through Windows Media but that is more to do with a device's processor limitation than the headset itself.

Personally listening to music sans-wires is a slightly overrated, though it does have some positive scenarios where it may prove handy. For example I can tuck my phone into somewhere more discreet and safe while listening to music on the Tube. A driver can use this to listen to both music and have a hands free kit ready. And a keen cyclist like me can finally listen to music without having to worry about dangling cables that could get me killed!

Despite its size and the lack of neck loop, I love the freedom it gives me (up to 10 feet away until it breaks off). The sound quality is better than I expected and the battery life seems to be pretty good (Sony quotes 11 hours). There are drop outs during real world usage (which I have to stress is a problem with the host device and not the receiver) but after I fiddled with the bitrate the drop outs became a rarity. Sound fidelity isn't a problem with these type of activities as background noises often mask any imperfections. The BT10CX is currently being discontinued to make way for newer Sony Bluetooth headphones so you should be able to grab yourself a bargain now.

Update: I switched from the default Windows Media 10 player to HTC's Audio Manager and found no more skipping despite playing the very same files. Similarly when playing Ogg files via the freeware GSPlayer produced no such skipping. Me thinks the Windows Mobile team should attempt to optimise the default media player because it, in its current state, sucks.

The BT10CX is available here

Saturday, October 27, 2007

street logos

This is a birthday gift from RichardAM, who sent this through my Amazon Wishlist. Many many thanks mate! Incidentally it was this very book that caused me such grieve, but fret not another parcel containing another gift was among the Royal Mail screw up. Woo-hoo!

It is street logos (1st revision) compiled by Tristan Manco and published by Thames & Hudson (so you know the paper quality is good). Not many know it but I am a huge fan of urban art (mainly stencil graffiti), the good one I mean. Obviously I don't do graffiti myself (it is illegal you know) so the extent of my involvement in it merely is to admire the art and to read about the recent commercialisation of the movement.

This book is filled with not-too-useful but still informative tidbits on the ever changing landscape of street art especially regarding the movement away from typographical graffiti to iconography based. Did you know that Space Invaders invading your clean city is conceived by an anonymous Parisian? Yeah. And he calls himself 'Invader'.

street logos is a perfect coffee table book companion to the admirers of (good) street art as well as the trendy who would not dare make the pilgrimage trip to Bristol.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Music Review: Interpol - Our Love to Admire

I am a huge fan of Interpol ever since I was given a copy of Turn on the Bright Lights a few years ago. It should not be surprising that many critics still consider their debut full length album as one of the defining moments of indie rock. Controversially I think it is better than Hot Fuss, Silent Alarm and The Decline of British Sea Power combined. Their second album Antics continued the perfection, albeit in a more cheerful manner, and was just as well received that for three years I looked forward to the suited one's third album.

Our Love to Admire was released a few months ago but due to lack of time (I was moving) I only had the chance to finally listen to it properly over the last couple of weeks. And I am glad to report that the New Yorkers do not disappoint. Their brand of post-punk revival laced with darkness isn't apparent any longer. The change is similar to when The Killer's Sam's Town when compared to Hot Fuss. Our Love to Admire is certainly different to Antics and Turn on the Bright Lights and takes time to adjust, but after a couple of listens it just hits you that this is Interpol and it is good.

Production quality is superb and sounds are pleasingly crisp clean, which isn't surprising considering the producer's Rich Costey indie experience (which includes Muse's wonderful Black Holes and Revelations). The sound of confidence is definitely present as are the ever increasing detail. The album is more 'radio friendly', but is less 'poppier' than say, some of Muse's recent offerings or say Bloc Party and Arcade Fire. Our Love to Admire as a whole is more downbeat and slower as the Six Feet Under wannabes try something different. Rest assured that for most part the majority of tracks tread familiar ground with even more bass melody and choppy guitar thrown in for good measures. Lyrics are however more positive and less gloomy.

The album opens up with a rather meekly "Pioneer to the Falls" that happens to be one of the weakest song in the album, sort of like a slow version of "Evil" but fans will almost immediately be reassured by the Paul Banks vocals. Fortunately Interpol manage to pull through and the next couple of tracks starting with "No I in Threesome" are awesome. "No I in Threesome" for example of a classic Interpol song. The patented upbeat and energetic style continues into "Heinrich Manoeuvre" which apes fan favourite "Slow Hand" from Antics. I understand that "Lighthouse" and "Wreaking Ball" aren't fan favourites but I love both. They reminds me of the melodramatic "Stella Was a Diver...". Not the same obviously but equally in its epic'ness.

Our Love to Admire isn't a genre defining album, but fans of "Evil", "Untitled" and "PDA" will be delighted as there are plenty of classic Interpol sparse and choppy guitar in this, plus new sound to those open minds who prefer experimentation. The record may be more accessible, but it isn't any less admirable.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Royal Mail useless as ever

Arghhh. Just received a "Sorry, you were out" card left by the postie. The card notes that the parcel will be kept at a Royal Mail depot that is located six miles away despite two other depots nearer, as well as a local Post Office just a 10 minute walk away.

Update: Apparently the depot is a local one some three miles away. They actually printed the wrong address, but the correct postcode, on the calling card! Lucky for me I typed the postcode into TomTom and found out the right address. Those monkeys.

Nevermind. Went to CeX to get rid of some old junk but they did not have "enough money". Apparently they do not have enough cash in store because they spent most of their cash flow into buying an Iphone and 40" Bravia telly last week. Both were still on sale a week later, most likely because no sensible people would pay for a last-gen phone with next-gen price or purchase a 40" HDTV from dodgy head bangers. Weird business model they have there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Herr Thio Li-ann

Professor of Law Thio Li-ann yesterday gave a rousing homophobic speech at Singapore's parliament against homosexuals, which would have made a dead guy (whom shall remain nameless to prevent the invoking of Godwin's Law) very proud. As a straight guy I was appalled to read her tantrums, laced with name calling and insults towards homosexuals, and feel disgusted at the way she labelled my gay friends.

But I am not surprised by her diatribe. Singapore is a country that actually prides itself to be backward thinking and until today, was illegal to have oral sex even among consenting heterosexuals. I mean people were actually applauding her nauseating rhetoric, which to me, contains absolutely no valid arguments whatsoever that homosexuality is detrimental to society.

Her "because I am right" ramblings include some kind of assertions to protecting human rights, but at the same time she contradicts herself by supporting a law that criminalised homosexual behaviours between consenting adults. In the same speech she also made reference to the bible and koran, believing that by decriminalising homosexuality would be the same as criminalising the two scriptures of yore. And yet she made no mention of other religions such as Buddhism, which gives no opinion on what sexual orientation humans should choose to participate in. But I will let her views on religion slide as I am pretty biassed on the subject...

There are comedy moments of course, like any speech condoning hatred. Her comparing conservatives to environmental conservation was a highlight LOL moment. Another one is her ironic belief that sodomy is a dirty act and yet she did not come out against the legalisation of anal sex between heterosexuals. Plus her "there are no ex-blacks, but there are ex-gays" statement was just so nonsensical it is actually hilarious. There are after all African American 'honorary-whites' during the Apartheid. And who can forget Michael Jackson?

Nobody was asking her to give homosexuals special rights. They were just asking for their activities to be decriminalised. I just find it so sad that a law professor can stoop this low giving a speech that a ten year old racist red neck could have written.

Anyway, five quid bet here that Thio Li-ann may be secretly in the closet. It will certainly go a long way in explaining her weird behaviour.

Hiding Behind Rhetoric: A Rebuttal of Thio Li-Ann

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Badger culling

I find it strange that badgers are now being made a scapegoat for the spread of bovine TB among livestocks by farmers and DEFRA. Not really strange, but rather disgusting actually, mainly because bovine TB is a cattle disease that begins with poor agricultural practice by the farmers themselves. This whole killing to solve problems attitude is silly and pointless as I am sure badgers and other mammals like deer, foxes and wild boar exist in Europe mainland. And they do not have a problem with TB. Or Foot and Mouth. Or any major disease problems with their livestocks. And here I thought we are living in the 21st century where inoculation should not be a problem.


Next thing we will be culling humans. We after all probably carry and pass more diseases than these poor creatures and probably not as useful too. But I vote that any culling should begin with inept farmers and the people who runs DEFRA. And especially that "chief scientist".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Efficasoft GPS Utilities for Windows Mobile impressions

This software was recommended to me after I complained to a friend of the lack of advance GPS features on Memory Map. The software I am using is the Pocket PC version and is compatible with Windows Mobile 2003, 5.0 and WM6.

GPS Utilities is a fairly simple program. It does not even come with maps, POI or waypoints. Those are easily obtainable online from resources like Multimap, Digimaps or Google Earth. Not that I care about those as I already have digital Ordnance Survey maps for use on Memory Map. The software supports a range of compatible Bluetooth GPS receivers as well as built-in NMEA compatible chipsets through serial.

At a glance GPS Utilities provide the user with a range of useful information such as co-ordinates, altitude, current speed, course and the statistics of satellites locked onto a GPS receiver. Perfect for geotagging photographs during bike rides. A digital compass is also available.

dThe ability to export the Track Logger file to .kml format and view it on Google Earth should be great for people who still own paper maps or for those who are travelling overseas. You can also convert the logs to GPX compatible files, which can also be used on Garmin devices.

I haven't given the software much testing but so far I find this application to be 'dumb proof', and the soft buttons UI works well during trekking though at times use of stylus is necessary. Unfortunately some key features important to logging are missing such as the ability geotag photographs or notes on my device. I will be trying out more applications in the next few weeks, both freeware and shareware to see what is best for those.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Justice served

First time this year we watched a Formula One race, well the last eight laps of it anyway. Glad that Lewis Hamilton lost. Would not be able to stand the gloating by the British press if he had won especially when his team was found to have cheated. Even if he had no knowledge of it, he still benefited from it directly. The media will as usual over-analysis the recent sporting failures in tomorrow's papers.

Now if only FIA and Mosley do the sensible thing and strip him and Alonso of their winnings and points...

In other news, holiday plan to Switzerland cancelled. F*** 'em.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Today I sat on my laptop

I usually log onto the internet in the living room with my ThinkPad, before leaving it on the footstool before I head to bed. But last night I left it on the armchair. This morning I went to the living room groggy. In an Arthur Dent moment I sat down on the armchair. It took my brain a second to register that I was sitting on a notebook (to be fair the chair is black and so was the notebook). I quickly got up but deep down I knew that nothing could have happened, so I merrily made myself coffee and went to the shower.

True enough when I booted it up an hour later I found nothing wrong with the lappy. There was nothing physically wrong with it either with not a single scratch or dent in sight. Fantastic engineering. And this was an old (but still sexy) X31 model that has no roll cage. If this was an Inspiron or a Macbook it would have been a goner.

This reminds me of a video I have seen on YouTube of a ThinkPad being driven over by a motorcycle and was found to be still working.

Also here is a video of Matt Kahut demonstrating the T61's water proof keyboard:

It is fair to say that I am a proud ThinkPad fanboy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass review

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass may be one of the most hyped up Nintendo DS games of this year. And with good reasons. It is the first portable Zelda in a very long time to be developed by Nintendo EAD instead of the usual custodians, Capcom's Flagship. And many were waiting to see what Nintendo will bring to the now stale Zelda formula. On surface it is yet another typical Zelda game with rehash plot. Princess gets captured. Link finds sword. Link saves Princess. There are some core changes made to the way the game is played, but the gameplay remains exactly the same as it was twenty years ago.

Now then, let's talk about the most controversial aspect of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - the control system. Plenty of people have voiced their opinions on the touchscreen controls. Some has praised it as being better than the traditional controls (d-pad to control Link's movement, face buttons to control each weapons), while others hated it. I voiced neither, but let's reminisce first. When Burly first got Animal Crossing: Wild World, he was given two choices. Play with touchscreen or face buttons. He chose the latter, but not after experimenting with the touchscreen controls and finding it more of a hassle than godsend. Nintendo did not provide such a choice here. This isn't like Kirby Canvas Curse where the gameplay was overhauled to fit in with the touchscreen controls, but rather a new control system retrofitted to an existing gameplay idea.

It isn't a total disaster because the touchscreen controls works very well especially when you are in a position to take advantage of it. But I personally and strongly believed that I would have enjoyed the game more if I was given the choice to play with face buttons whenever I felt like it. One of the opponents of face buttons I spoke to on an online forum remarked that it just would not work because there are gameplay elements that requires a stylus. To me these are none-issues as the majority of the game involves running, hiding and jabbing at enemies. So face buttons would work well in these situations, as it has work before in countless of overhead Zelda games.

But just how can you play a portable Zelda on the train or bus when touchscreen controls are impossible to play on the train or bus? This is a portable video game after all and not being able to play on a train ride defeats the purpose for a portable video game. Despite that, when you are at home lying on the bed next to your partner, the stylus controls works remarkable well with only the odd inconsistent gestures (rolling into trees is a chore). Still it doesn't provide the variety of sword movements that were available in previous Zelda iterations. Chalk that up to Nintendo's desire to create an "accessible" Zelda title.

Besides Aonuma decision that A Link to the Past controls are awful, my biggest gripe with Phantom Hourglass is how they integrate some of the DS features into the puzzles. The puzzles. Oh lord, the puzzles. How uniquely cliché and obvious were they. Go count how many palm trees they are on the beach and write the number down, which is sort of like a reassuring welcome mat to our touch generation friends from casual gaming land.

Puzzles are very much Zelda-like but you will be hard pressed to find anything that remotely challenging. At times the fairy that follows Link will insist on sprouting annoying hints making an easy game easier. It is like playing ICO again, but as Yorda. Compared to other Zelda games the generic dungeons here are a piece of cake. Most of the enemies can be easily defeated with two hits or less. Then we have the microphone... Just how do you justify a tacked-on feature when you find yourself in public playing the game (e.g. the tube, or the bus), but you are unable to progress because some silly oaf wanted you to scream at the DS? Do this in public and it is likely you will be beaten up by ASBO yobs. With all due respect, 'features' like this is why there are times when I felt the game I was playing was a tech demo.

Enough of my complains about the tacked-on features, let us move on to rosier things (there are some). I really enjoyed the pseudo cel-shaded visual style. Not as lovely as sprite based Zelda games like the adorable and colourful The Minish Cap, but beautiful none-the-less. The DS isn't capable of pumping out huge amounts of polygons so the odd artefacts are noticeable. It isn't even the most beautiful DS game out there though but at least it isn't ugly. Facial expressions are merely textures swapping around to give an illusion of animation, but it works surprisingly well. Perhaps the only downside is the lack of inspirational design to take advantage of the game engine. The design of the villagers home are very nice, if a tad too inexplorable but town designs are uninspiring and dull.

Then there is the Phantom Hourglass challenge at the Ocean King dungeon, which brings some sort of stealth gameplay into the series. It works like this: Link has certain amount of time to travel around the dungeon. There are 'safe points' that he can stick to where the timer pauses. Making things difficult are 'Phantoms' roaming around that can not be defeated. Unfortunately while enjoyable at first it also happens to be the game's most tedious and annoying dungeon, because multiple revisits to the dungeon is a requisite to the main quest. Did Aonuma design the dungeon to artificially inflate the game's length? Who knows, but personally I believe so.

Boss battles are completely different from the dungeons though and is one of the redeeming factors in Phantom Hourglass. They are fun. For example the third boss happens to be invisible. But the top screen does show its field vision. The player has to use that to his or her advantage to beat the boss. It isn't difficult, but at least it is fun. Same goes to most of the other bosses.

The multiplayer aspect of Phantom Hourglass is plain ridiculous. If anyone is expecting some sort of co-op Four Swords style you will be extremely disappointed. This abomination involves the player running around a map collecting stuff until Link gets touched by an opposing player (Phantoms), in a sort of Ms. Pac-Man meet a poor man's Metal Gear with unintuitive controls. It is the sort of thing that a cynical guy (like me) would assume that Nintendo probably did this just so they can print blue Wi-Fi logos on their box and to boost their online stats.

I must have sounded so negative. Do not get me wrong, despite the many obvious shortcomings it is still an engaging game - like most Zelda games tend to be. However I found myself to be very disappointed by the forced controls, the lack of proper multiplayer (which may as well be removed), supremely easy puzzles and uninspired dungeons. At least it was a fun game (for like 3 hours) while it lasted but I can't help feeling that Nintendo just created a The Legend of Zelda: Brain Traning. It is an average game, one that is maybe worth the purchase or rent depending on your fanboyism, but sadly isn't the video gaming genius we were led to believe by the press. Now where is that Orange Box?

Okay graphics
Okay sound quality
Controls are okay (when it works)

Forced controls
Tacked on functions
No puzzles, at all
Super easy difficulty
Generic dungeon design
Same old story


You can buy the cheaper US version from Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An apology

Sorry for the mess. I am currently changing the template design of this blog so expect broken links and other crazy stuff. Expect a review of Phantom Hourglass sometime later today or tomorrow. Maybe.

Anyone using an obscure web browser like Safari (lol) please let me know if the site appears borked to you.

Called O2 to downgrade my annual contract to a Simplicity rolling contract. Since the mobile that I wanted to upgrade to was too expensive on the tariff that I wanted, I thought it would be best to hold on to my current mobile while paying on a lesser and cheaper tariff; while waiting for a suitable mobile to appear (or a current one to be reduced in price) or just getting a new sim-free device.

It is also nice to find that O2's customer service has improved since the last time I had to deal with them. Everything was sorted in less than 3 minutes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wish list updated

Finally got a chance to update my Amazon wish list.

You know what to do! ^-^

Monday, October 15, 2007

Manga Review: Death Note

Death Note is quite the manga series. It isn't one of the most popular manga series to ever crossed both sides of Japan since Love Hina for nothing. The franchise even got the attention of the non-manga reading demographic, for example, the Chinese government.

The story begins with two simple beings, Ryuk, a Shinigami who is bored by the lack of social life in his world deliberately drops a death notebook; that when written with the name of a person while having the image of their face in mind, the person would die of a heart attack. The notebook is picked up by ace student Yagami Light. Like Ryuk, Light also happens to be bored with life in the human world. However unlike Ryuk's penchant for using the notebook as an entertainment purpose, Light view on the notebook as godsend - a purpose to cleanse the human world of sinners and create an utopia.

The 12 volumes of Death Note are split into two main arcs. Within those are minor arcs that takes about a volume each to complete. So even if you pick up any volume to read you will find some fascinating storyline within. The correct way however is to start numerically and to begin with the manga series first, if you want to make sense of anything (do avoid the awful life action adaptation). The first arc concerns the battle between Light and an ace detective known as L. As the authorities closes in on Light, he must use the advantage of the notebook to deflect attention of him and eliminate L. The second arc is slightly similar to the first where Light, now an adult and a high ranking officer, has to battle with L's predecessor. In my opinion the second arc is the weakest of the Death Note story.

The characters are well designed. Despite marketed as such (VIZ publishes Death Note under their Shonen Jump Advanced label), the protagonist (?!) isn't your typical average Shonen stereotype. For one he is an evil sociopath with fascist tendencies. Despite that you will find that rooting for him is an almost guilty-less pleasure. L is an equally mad nerd with a holier than thou persona who is a similar personality to Light. The two very much make up both sides of the same coin. As the series progress new characters are introduced including two new Shinigamis who play important roles in Light's quest.

The localisation by VIZ is above average, though a times some of the dialogue isn't as well conveyed as well as those fan-translation version. You will be pleased to know that they have gone further than most publishers (like TOKYOPOP) and translated the sound effects, though Death Note being a non-action manga contains very few sound effects in the first place. It is nice to find that the official translator did not attempt to personalise the manga by inserting witty slang into it (though I found Ryuk's "humans are a riot" comments out of place). You will be pleased that I have not found any evidence of censorship either. There are however no colour pages within, but this isn't surprising considering the release is in the cheaper tankōbon format.

There are major issues on discussion with morality with Death Note. There are times when Light (when he loses his memory a third through the series), seems like a genuine good guy who refuses to even succumb to the method that L prescribes (who is willing to let others die in order to obtain evidence). But when he regains his god-like power, he immediately transform into a mass murderer. When Light's intricate plan to subvert the police becomes apparent and his attempt and failure to control Amane Misa, a celebrity who also happens to own a death notebook; it is far obvious to anyone that Light is a pathetic Angel of Death whose agenda to clean the world is often sidetracked by his thirst for more power.

Death Note isn't the most mature manga to have left Japan. It is a Shonen manga after all whose target demographic is still the teen market. But it is still an amazing thriller to read with extremely smart writing, wonderful plot and great artistic design by Obata Takeshi. At 12 volumes, it isn't too expensive to own either and makes up for a good light reading during weekends. While crafted in a way to provide a thrilling read, Death Note's obvious draw isn't as obvious as what was printed on the sheets of paper. Like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Deus Vitae and other equivalent mangas, Ohba Tsugumi challenge the reader to raise moral and ethical questions in the Death Note world that is parallel to our real world.


Thanks to Amazon UK for despatching our order through a next day courier service despite us opting for the free super saver delivery (normally delivered 2nd class by Royal Mail posties taking 3-4 days). This goodwill is very much in contrast to the CWU and Adam Crozier for mucking about.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria review

Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria takes place hundreds of years before the events of Valkyrie Profile, originally released on the PlayStation (but recently remade for the PSP as Lenneth - so make sure you pick that version up). It is based on the events surrounding Silmeria, one of the three Valkyrie sisters, banished by Odin because of her disloyalty to Midgard only to be reincarnated in the body of Alicia, the Princess of Dipan. Alicia exists two souls, herself and the awakened soul of an exiled Valkyrie Silmeria. When words reached Odin of the reawakening he immediately dispatch the Valkyrie Hrist to capture her back to Valhalla. As you will have no doubt guessed, Silmeria is based on Norse mythology, a popular source of material for many Japanese RPG developers.

The gameplay is divided into two sections, exploration and combat. The exploration bit is unique because while the world is rendered in polygons, the gameplay is essentially a 2D side-stroller which evokes the sensibility of the first game. 2.5D may initially feel restrictive as the lack of freedom can be frustrating, but in Simeria, the decision to reintroduce 2D plane into a RPG title happens to introduce platforming puzzles into it. Which is certainly unique for a RPG title.

Similar to the original Valkyrie Profile, there are no random battles in Silmeria. When the party dungeon crawls, all enemies are visible similar to what we had in Final Fantasy XII and many recent jRPGs like Rogue Galaxy and Digital Devil Saga 2. Alicia has a power known as Photons which has the ability to temporarily freeze an enemy. This can be used to the party's advantage by switching places with the frozen object by performing another Photon on it. This allows the player a wide variety of platforming strategies as they progress through tall dungeons.

The battle system is complex and utterly enjoyable (though it may be off putting to newcomers), and unlike exploration occurs in 3-dimensional, allowing a wide array of strategy to be employed. The four face buttons on the PS2 controller controls each party member's action with up to four in a party at a single time. Button mashing works but planning ahead with combats will yield bonuses and combo attacks. A must if you desire impressive attack forms. During an initiated battle 100 Attack Points will be given. This gives the player a tactical advantage as the AP can be used for a large variety of tactical gameplay such as casting spells or attacking from the back or side.

This is one of the most unique titles to have appeared from Square-Enix's label for quite a while, which isn't surprising considering the developer tri-Ace, the makers behind Star Ocean and Radiata Stories. The EU port seems to be pretty good too though I have no NTSC copy to compare it to but there are no visible squish around and frame rates are decent. It is easily one of the most beautiful games to have ever graced the PlayStation 2 format, a testaments to the console's staying power. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria is a solid action RPG with gorgeous visuals, fantastic gameplay and exciting storyline which any jRPG fans should no miss.


Euro PS2 owners should purchase the game here. NTSC owners can import it from Play-Asia.

Update: A review of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a faithful port to the original VP PS1 classic has just been posted.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Disgaea 3 trailer to make you smile (PS3)

So what if the visuals are more PS2 than PS3? It is a new Disgaea. Which means 150 hours of gameplay excitement.

The game's hero is Mao (the demon in glasses with the red cape), an honour student at Maritsu Evil Academy in the Netherworld because he skips classes and does experiments on humans through video games and mangas. He decides to become a hero (a definition he gained from mangas) by defeating his father the overlord and taking the throne for himself, despite hating heroes. His childhood friend, Raspberyl (the female demon with pink hair) a delinquent (because who she does her homework and other good deeds that goes against the rules), is threatened by this because if Mao is to become a hero he would take the title of delinquent from her.

Some new gameplay mechanism are shown in the trailer including Mao's demon change where demons can morph into weapons (in his case, the uber massive sword seen at the end). Some of the new attacks are crazy. You can trust Nippon Ichi to deliver the goods.

Speaking of Nippon Ichi, I am having so much fun with GrimGrimoire right now. Much more than Phantom Hourglass (which is a huge disappointment). So many RPGs to play and Persona 3 isn't even out here yet...

via GAF

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cheek greeting

A kiss or two on the cheek(s) is starting to become normal, but BBC Magazine asks, just how many kisses is enough?

This is a problem that I sometimes face especially when greeting European or Middle Eastern friends. Is one air kiss on the side enough? I have even mastered the art of avoiding head bumps because of this (head butting your friends isn't something you should be doing). Sometimes I give a cheek kiss then moved backwards only to notice the person in front preparing for a second one.

Then there are those that demand more, or weren't even expecting it. It is awkward and embarrassing because different European etiquette demands different amount of kisses or none at all. And even if an air kiss is expected, you have to decide which cheek to peck first (right seems to be the rule).

Suffice to say that I think handshakes, one or two cheek kisses or hugs should be enough, but again it is a cultural and social mine field out there. So beware not to offend anyone if you decide to go extreme. However note that cheek greeting is here to stay and we have even started greeting non-Europeans this way. It is the modern way and we find it friendlier.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Heroes "Kindred" recap

I really hope that the producers will kill of West soon. His courting scene with Claire is just so corny it makes me cringe just to watch it. I have a sneaky suspicion that West is a bad guy (the hooded killer maybe?), but Nick D'Agosto's going all Peter Pan was so cheesy I believe that they really should just get rid of him. Also Claire's realisation of her dad's ruthlessness seems to hit her quite badly, but wasn't those already explored in the first season? Claire going all moody with her dad isn't something I really wanted out of this season.

D.L. is now resting in peace(?) inside a tombstone. Finally. He and Nikki's relationship has been explored for far too long in season one. Not too sure about Nikki but her joining The Company is bound to be interesting. More Jessica, less Nikki please. Meanwhile Nikki dumps Micah with his aunt Uhura (!!!). Now we only need Spock to guest as a father to one of the heroes.

Still not sure about David Anders as Takezo Kensei, but unless he is one of the main villains, Hiro's adventure in ancient Japan can't end soon enough as I can't wait till he returns to Ando. James Kyson-Lee was upgraded to the main cast for season two so I expect more adventures between his character Ando and Hiro. We need more future Hiro and less romantic one. Don't forget Charlie, Hiro!

Another thing that I have so far unable to get into is the Maya and Alejandro storyline. So far three episodes has been shown and all we know is they are trying to get into North America and Maya cries black goo when she is upset, and kills people with it. They keep escaping of course, this time with Claire's stolen Nissan Rogue (ugh, product placement). It is getting far too annoying to care about their plight.

It is pretty great seeing Peter Petrelli in a villainous position (albeit as a petty criminal!). Hope that he eventually equals Sylar in terms of badness, but who knows, he may yet find another reason to save the world. Speaking of Sylar, he is back and what a great way to make a return. He has lost his ability and the first thing he does is lose his patience and smash Candice's head in order to gain hers! Go Sylar! Too bad he is probably stuck on the Lost island.

Plenty of villains to look forward to in season two: Bob, West (rumoured), Kenzei (rumoured), Sylar, Peter, Molly's bogeyman etc. Notice also that almost all the main characters are in their opposite spectrum to their season one's personality.

Not a bad episode, but a bit too cramped. You can tell that they really wanted to squeeze in the twins despite it not forwarding the plot much.


I would like to take the opportunity to rant a bit here. The first half of Heroes season one DVD boxset was recently released here. Guess how much the suggested retail price is? 35 quid. And that is just for the first half. If you want the whole season you will have to wait till December when it will be priced for £60. Amazon UK will be selling it for £42, but even that isn't a consolation considering that Amazon USA is selling the complete boxset for US$40 (£20)! Daylight robbery indeed. And what is up with the trend on spiting DVD releases into two halves? It happened with Lost, CSI, Prison Break, Supernatural and now Heroes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Manga Review: Bleach

So about a month ago I finally got down to reading Bleach, the manga. My sister has been raving about it this shonen manga all the time so I bought the first two volumes from Borders some 1 1/2 year ago. I just never summoned the interest to pick it up since. In fact I have even played the game first before attempting to make sense of the plot. Well I finally started reading it last month and it got me hooked.

The story revolves around a teenager known as Ichigo Kurosaki, who happens to be able to see ghosts and other supernatural beings. One day he met Rukia Kuchiki, a shinigami who happens to be wondering through his room looking for a hollow (a corrupted soul). After kicking her, much to her shock, she lost her powers. The power is transferred to Ichigo and thus he is recruited by Rukia to take over her place temporarily. The manga series is still on going and has reached 30 volumes so far. It involves four major arcs, the first being Ichigo's discovery of his power in his home town. The second, the Soul Society arc where Ichigo goes of to the Soul Society in order save Rukia, is slightly longer. When I mean slightly long I mean it spawned 11 volumes (13 volumes if you include the moment from when Rukia is captured).

The formula is simplistic - Ichigo is strong, but often over-estimate his opponents. Often he would find himself defeated only to return stronger after harnessing his inner strength again. It is like Dragon Ball series I suppose, and for most of it Son Goku and Ichigo more often than not, shares the same ability of determination as well as having the desire to help his friends. His sidekick, Rukia, is comparable to Bulma too, though I find Rukia actually more useful than merely a comedy sidekick.

The thing I like about Bleach is while predictable, the characters are likeable. Even the villains. The supporting casts aren't your average filler characters. Everyone has a background that is thoroughly explore (which explains why the Soul Society arc went on for so long, as it not only focuses on the rescuer's attempt, but also on an internal conflict within Soul Society). In fact I can't remember a manga series where the main character isn't on the front cover after just one volume.

I am happy to finally pick the book up and read it. It has a fascinating storyline that explores the destiny of not only the protagonist, but his fellow friends acceptance to fate as well as their enemies. The writer Kubo Tite has a real knack of writing up good story laced with appropriate humour, as well as drawing great art with clean lines. It may have taken me years to join the party, but it is still truly recommended.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Resistance nomination rubs salt into CoE's wound, probably hurts like hell

Nice to see that the BAFTA isn't relenting to the Church of England's propaganda effort. Already managing to get two apologies from Sony who did nothing wrong by including a polygonised version of Manchester Cathedral (which design is in the public domain) in Insomniac's console FPS Resistance: Fall of Man, an upset Church yesterday demanded that Sony sign up to some sort of weird digital something, attempting to police a self regulating industry. The church is also demanding a substantial 'donation' for their silence troubles.

Meanwhile the UK government has launched a new study of the effect of video games with violent content on children who should never have played them in the first place. The ELSPA said that it would co-operate, but echoing other gamers views, it has also stated that our hobbies has too often been blamed for society's ills.

Take the Beeb's The One Show for example, which was recently aired here. The programme highlights the easiness in which young children were able to obtained 18 certificate video games from entertainment stores. But rather than blaming the stores for lack of enforcement, the programme went on to chastise video games and how easily it can corrupt the young minds and even lead to murder (the Manhunt case was cited, with wrong facts).

Why are video games made scapegoats then when stores are also floating the law by selling 18 rated DVDs to minors? It is simple. As a media format, like the web, it is still new and young. Remember when books, genre music, even films, were made scapegoats by morally oppressive regimes? As genre music and films become more acceptable in mainstream media, something has to take the fall whenever a sensationalist headline needs to be crafted for middle England. New media has often been made scapegoats, and video games is facing a similar situation first with violent content, pretty soon in general.

Let's hope not. On the other hand I can't wait for 23 October. Maybe, just maybe (however unlikely), Resistance will win an award.

Monday, October 8, 2007

McD to offer free internet access to UK fatties...

Still have no intention of visiting McDonalds for 'meals' (okay, maybe once a year for a 'treat'), but at least they are now moving towards offering free internet access via Wi-Fi by the end of the year for their greasy laptop going customers. Starbucks on the other hand still insist of sticking through with T-mobile with its ridiculous five quid an hour for wireless access.

On the other hand my favourite cafe, Natural Cafe , has always provided unlimited free Wi-Fi internet access, and actually serve proper coffee and food. Shame that the big multi nationals super chains can't even get their act together.

via allaboutsymbian

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Death Note

Death Note. No doubt you have all heard about it, if not shame on you. It is one of the more intelligent mangas to have ever left Japan that spawned two DS video games, two life action films and anime series. After reading it through my notebook for like the sixth time, we think it would be better of to just order the official mangas as we really do think that the auteur deserve their due. Also Jennifer hates reading comics on LCDs. So maybe this will get her hook too.

I've already read the fan translated version of it and found it so good, that six months later we decided that it is best to order the official translated books (book 4-12, we already have the first official three overpriced books from a comic store) published by VIZ media, from Amazon UK. It is far far cheaper than the prices that the high street stores wanted (double the VIZ listed American price) anyway. Early birthday present. ^^

Damn posties.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Ugly Betty "How Betty Got Her Grieve Back"

Just caught the opener to Ugly Betty season two on C4. What a downer. The episode was just too busy, way more than even the messy Heroes's S2 opener 'Four Months Later' and rivalling that of Bionic Woman.

The plot between Amanda and her finding out her real parents was something that probably should have been taken more seriously by the producers. Both me and Jenni agreed that the cheap gags felt out of place. We know that Ugly Betty (Channel 4, Friday 9pm) in essence is a black comedy, but to resort to slapstick comedy early on and in the frequency in which it was done, indicates writers block - which isn't something reassuring as this is only the season opener!

Plenty of plots were cramped into the episode which some could have been deferred to later episodes. For example the whole 'dream' thing with Hilda went a bit too far and Betty's love problem with Henry could have been dealt later. Three major plots were set up in this episode. Amanda's search for the real father. Alexis waking up from her coma and forgetting that she had a sex change. And Claire Meade's attempt to stop Wilhelmina from wrestling her husband away from her.

Then there are the minor plots like Betty's relationship with Henry, Justin running away from school, Ignacio still stuck in Mexico and Hilda not being able to move on... Like I say the episode just drag on and on. It was a messy affair. They could have taken it slowly but judging by current trends, they just love to make a big bang during the first episode of any series. And let us not forget the other minor plot left hanging from season one where me thinks somebody is out to get Ignacio. Season two will get pretty complex.

The one thing that pisses us off with the opener was seeing Santos walk out the bathroom apparently alive. It could have been a dream sequence, but the producers decided to play around a little while. Dream sequence in TV programmes usually last just one scene, but not this. It just drags on and on, with scenes after scenes, until bam - they reveal it was a dream.

I am sure it will get better. Already the producers of Heroes redeemed themselves with "Lizards" so who knows, maybe Ugly Betty will get right back on track.

Friday, October 5, 2007

£299 PS3 a move in the right direction

Sony today announced the release of the 40GB PS3 at £299. While it does lose the backward compatibility with PlayStation 2 software as well as minor stuff like two USB ports (out of four) and memory card reader, it should prove no concern to the many existing PS2 owners who just want to get the PS3. £299 is still a tad too expensive, but at least it is a pretty significant drop from the original price of £425 when the PS3 launched here just six months ago.

The 60GB PS3 with software backward compatibility, memory card reader and an extra two USB ports will receive a price cut to £350 (and then phased out - most likely to make way for a more expensive variant), which may prove valuable to people who does not own a PS2 or has since sold theirs. BluRay, HDMI, WiFi and the removable none-proprietary harddrive will of course remain in both models.

With the next Team ICO game confirmed to be in development, Metal Gear Solid 4 debuting early next year plus other great triple-A games (Little Big Planet, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction etc.) I think the time to finally jump on the PS3 bandwagon is getting nearer.

Anyone wants to buy a Wii?

Crossrail finally gets the go-ahead...

...but will only begin construction in 2010, at the earliest.

You may remember this project from the early 1990s when the west-east underground railway line was first rejected by the Tories and has since been given numerous green lights only to be dodged by 'funding issues' and political and local opposition. So after almost twenty years in limbo, Crossrail will finally be built with cost ballooning from the initial £10bn estimate in 2003 to the current £16bn (BBC News). O_o

Crossrail, when built, will be similar to the current north-south commuter service by Thameslink and will be run with similar frequency comparable to the RER line in Paris. Crossrail line 1 will connect a new network that will connect Shenfield, Essex to Maidenhead down in West of London. It will require a new central east-west tunnels between Paddington and Whitechapel and the creation of new underground stations at Bond Street, TCR, Paddington, Farringdon, Whitechapel, Liverpool St. and Isle of Dogs; which will provide interchange with existing Tube, overground and DLR lines.

If all goes to plan the first Crossrail train will begin service in 2015. At its peak it will provide up to 24 trains an hour between Maidenhead and Essex so fingers-crossed that the scheme won't fall victim to yet more red-tape and lord forbid, the PFI.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sony Ericsson K800i mini-review

My aunt recently upgraded from her mobile phone, the classic Ericsson T28m which was previously mine when I was with Vodafone some eight years ago. After some much deliberation in the Carphone Warehouse in Brent Cross we decided on the Sony Ericsson K800i.

It was between this or the sexy Nokia 6300, but because the K800i was £10 cheaper than the 6300 and had more features despite being fatter, she decided that the K800i was technologically the better purchase. She uses a fresh pay as you go sim card but we bought the 'O2 version' as it was the cheapest. It costed £80 in total which I consider a bargain because it wasn't branded with the operator logo and it was unlocked. In fact this was what I found out with the excursion, apparently all Carphone Warehouse PAYG phones are unlocked. You will still need to get a PAYS sim-free for them to subsidise the phone for you, but that is like a ten quid top up. In a shifting industry where a so-called fruit sue-happy company is attempting to wrestle control from consumers and retailers, it is a breath of fresh air to find a retailer who gives customers a choice.

I haven't had much chance to play around with the phone. It is a pretty old model, but the camera works very well with auto focus and macro mode. The feature phone OS works fine and is speedy. The keypad needs getting used to due to its rubbery feel. The UI is the same as from my old K700i which is a mixture of grid, tabbed and list based. The 320x240 resolution screen is a joy to look at. Colours are vibrant but the screen isn't too bright even at the highest setting. The phone is pretty light too, but made it felt 'cheap' due to the thickness. The Nokia 6300 with a thinner body felt more 'expensive'. For only £80 (this already includes the £10 mandatory top-up), this is a fine purchase that I recommend, considering it is factory unlocked.

Here are some pictures with my XDA Orbit and the classic super slim Ericsson T28m:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Final Fantasy IV DS trailer!

Final Fantasy IV is one of my favourite old school RPGs game so it shouldn't surprised anyone that I am looking forward to the DS remake by Matrix Software (who also did Final Fantasy III DS). Check out the recent TGS trailer above. The in-game engine used for cut scenes is simply stunning and can be considered a massive improvement over Final Fantasy III. Cecil and Kain just look amazing. While the trailer does not feature any gameplay footages the visuals should be similar to III DS gameplay, but with added Active Time Battle combat system.

I hope they keep the Japanese voices cast for western releases.

In a related news check out this Final Fantasy IV trading art figures. Cute eh? There are other Final Fantasy related trading arts too like the recently released Tactics as well as a compilation of Final Fantasy main protagonists.

Related post: Final Fantasy IV Advance review

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

For the non-gamers

US$18 million is the estimate that Nintendo would be spending getting this ugly environmentally unfriendly junk to non-gamer's hands. Just imagine if they actually took 10% of that to fund an official translation to MOTHER 3? Nintendo, there are people out there who are willing to pay good money for a good vi-de-o game.

Sigh... Remember the time when it is your fault if you break your own things?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hellgate London: Tube Tours

Hellgate: London is one of my most anticipated video games ever since I found out how accurate London would be represented in the game, particularly the London Underground. The developers, Flagship Studios (of Diablo fame) has recently released a bunch of videos titled the "Hellgate London: Tube Tours".

First up is Covent Garden station, which is the first 'hub' you will come across in the game. Hubs are like towns in normal RPGs where you can rest, shop and receive quests. As a person who frequently shops at Covent Garden I can attest to the accuracy of polygon'ed Covent Garden tube station and its surrounding areas (e.g. Covent Garden Market, British Museum) is bloody accurate (minus the wondering demons). Other places to visit includes Bloomsbury and hopefully Soho.

The next video introduces us to Charing Cross. Charing Cross is officially known as the centre part of London since the early 19th century. The station here would be the third stop in the game, and like Covent Garden, it acts as a hub that allows the gamer to replenish his or her supplies. However while Covent Garden is well protected, Charing Cross apparently is well within the edge of the danger zone where places like Piccadilly Circus and probably Soho has since fallen to demon control.

A pretty accurate 1992 Central Line stock

So there you go. Other locations confirmed to appear includes the Tower of London and the swaying Millennium Bridge. Graphics aren't that impressive but I could easily overlook it as the visual style is fantastic. At least it gives my two year graphic card a chance. Combined with the talented developers who made Diablo and our favourite London Underground, this should be a game to get next month.