Category Archives: Random Wibble

No Moore

Roger Moore died today.

When I was growing up, he was James Bond. Sean Connery may have been “Bond as I envisaged him“, according to Ian Fleming, but Roger Moore’s portrayal was… well, fun. His laconic demeanor and deadpan delivery informed my own sense of humour.

You know that you are getting old when the icons of your youth are dropping like flies. Freddie, Michael, Whitney, Madonna*, Prince, George… and now Roger.

 

 

 

*She’s still around? Guess there is no justice in the Universe.

If men *really* ruled the world

With tongue only partly in cheek…

  • Most of the world’s shopping malls would go out of business.
  • Hallmark wouldn’t exist.
  • Every girl between sixteen and twenty-two would be required to wear miniskirts in public.
  • From twenty-two to twenty-eight, they would be required to wear dresses.
  • Throw pillows and cushions would be made illegal.
  • Cats would be an endangered species.
  • Dogs would be doubly tax-deductible, since they are both home Security devices and dependents.
  • As a public health measure, overweight women would not be allowed in restaurants unless they worked there.
  • They would also be banned from wearing yoga pants.
  • She won’t stop talking” would be grounds for divorce.
  • So would a fractious mother-in-law.
  • The 14th of February would be just another day.
  • Superbowl Sunday and the 14th of March would be national holidays.
  • Nagging would be considered as a form of domestic violence.
  • No laundry hamper would ever have a lid.

The Farce A-weakens

I finally got around to seeing the latest episode of the Star Wars saga, Episode VII, The Force Awakens. Frankly, I  left feeling disappointed and underwhelmed.

To start with, the plot. Let me explain:

Kid from backwater desert world meets cute little droid containing secret plans, teams up with older man, and together they go looking for adventure, pursued by bad guy wearing a black mask (who betrayed his master and murdered the Jedi), who is obsessed with capturing said plans. Kid becomes aware of the Force, and inherits a lightsabre. Meanwhile, bad guys have completed a super-weapon capable of destroying a planet, and demonstrate it in action doing exactly that. Good guys attack said super-weapon with X-Wings, damage its weak point – some thermal wossname – and blow it to smithereens. The End.

Sound familiar? It should – it’s a straight ripoff of Episode IV!

The thing that bothered me most was Rey’s sudden mastery at all things: She was able to pick up the knack of flying the Millennium Falcon in just a few moments. To put this into perspective, Lando Calrissian, who had owned the Falcon before Han Solo, required a support crew during the attack on the second Death Star in Episode 6. Yes, Anakin Skywalker had superhuman reflexes and was the only human to podrace – but let us not forget that he *built* his podracer (along with C3PO), so one can safely assume that he was familiar with the mechanics of flying one – and even he made some massive screw-ups in Episode I that almost cost him the race.

But Rey’s expertise didn’t just end with flying; oh no…she was also able to master using a lightsabre in a matter of minutes, a task that took Luke Skywalker three whole movies – and the loss of his hand. But Rey not only fought like a dervish, but just the mention of the Force suddenly and mysteriously gave her the upper hand in the final climactic battle. I have read some accounts that there was a hidden feminist message here; that excellence takes diligence, discipline, duty and devotion – but only if you are a guy. If you are a girl, all you have to do is show up and be awesome. At the time, I was skeptical of this claim – I don’t like conspiracy theories – but now I’m not so sure…

And so to the actors:

  • To her credit, Daisy Ridley was excellent as Rey, but the victim of poor scripting and directing.
  • The black dude, however, was seriously unconvincing as the cowardly lion… er… stormtrooper, and it didn’t help that his nostrils reminded me of the wheel arches of a ’78 Trans Am.
  • The Bad Guy General/Admiral looked like a kid trying on Daddy’s Uniform, and his “Hitler moment” (you’ll know it when you see it) is eye-rollingly pathetic.
  • Han Solo stole the show, but the chain of coincidences that the screenwriters used to bring him into it was too bizarre to be believable.
  • Leia did not look like Leia; Carrie Fisher has not aged well at all: her voice was an octave lower than it needed to be, and she reminded me more of Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway than General Leia Organa Solo.
  • Kylo Ren was unconvincing. when he took off the mask, his voice went up an octave, and I almost laughed out loud at that ridiculous hair (was I the only one who thought he was Severus Snape’s younger brother?).

The Plot simply does not makes sense, and raises more questions than it answers. At the very beginning, we are told that Luke Skywalker has vanished. Why would he need to do that? Why would he hide from his own sister? And having done all that, why the heck would he then leave behind a map? And why are Jedi masters always running away? Both Yoda and Obi-Wan did it in earlier episodes, now Luke is doing it as well. It is beginning to look like some kind of Jedi tradition…

Why would his protege who turned to the Dark Side revere Darth Vader, when Luke – and therefore, presumably, the protege – must have known for a fact that he turned back to the Good side before he died. If Luke was supposed to bring balance to the force, why is the Dark Side still so tempting and terrifying? And if he was familiar with both sides of the force, why would his protege’s defection cause him to run away?

Why did Kylo Ren need to change his name – and if so, why not Darth Something? The need for a name change never really made sense. And while we’re on the subject of names, what fool came up with a stupid name like “Supreme Leader Snoke”? Sounds like a teddy-bear or an Ewok princeling than the most evil creature in the universe. And when did X-Wings acquire Hyperspace capability? I always thought that they were supposed to be “short-range snub fighters”.

The Force Awakens

Yes, the special effects were awesome, Yes, the scenery was stunning. Yes, the space/air battles were heart-stopping. Yes, the aliens were convincing – particularly those tentacled man-eating horrors that get loose aboard Han’s ship. And yes, there were a good few “AHA!” moments. But for sheer nonsensicality, this one ranks down there with Attack of the Clones. After seeing that one in the theater, I said “that was the best film that I have ever seen”, to which my wife sagely replied “No it wasn’t”. And she was right; my mind had been so thoroughly blown by the last thirty minutes that I had forgotten the glacial pace of the first half of the movie. And this one made me want to see Episode 2 again, cos it was better.

Finally, like “The Phantom Menace”, “The Force Awakens” is an exceptionally poor title. Here are some of my suggestions.

  • The Force Hits Snooze
  • Luke Skywalker Runs Away for No Adequately Explored Reason
  • Oh No Another Bad Guy in a Black Mask
  • Disney Does It Again
  • J. J Abrams Has Fallen Over and Can’t Get Up.

Coming up in mid -2017: Star Wars VIII: The Quest For More Dollars.

Goodbye Old Friend

One of our favorite German restaurants is closing today.

20150328_142759

We happened to stop in today for lunch, only to find that the place was bare, and the menu was limited, but the food was good.

According to our waitress, the removal of troops from Fort Knox was a blow from which they could not recover.

Goodbye Caroline’s Alpine Haus, you will be missed.

I’m back!

I haven’t posted in over a month. This is because I have been working on my first book.

The book is entitled “Assassin’s Creed: Pirates – Game Guide”, and is a distillation of everything that I have learned from playing this game for several months. There is a free version and a paid version ($4.99, but discounted to $1.99 for a limited time). You can find more information about it here.

Tell your friends!

More weird stuff coming soon.

Fat of the Land

Earlier this week, I walked over to a nearby eatery to get some breakfast. As I reached the door of the establishment, I noticed a couple of women coming up behind me. Being the chivalrous fellow that I am, I held the door open for them and let them go before me.

Big mistake. They made a beeline for the counter, then stopped and started chatting with each other about something inconsequential. Then they checked their phones while the sole cashier looked apologetically at me.

A couple of minutes went by while these two women – who happened to be white and somewhat large – yattered on about something-or-other and tried to make up their minds about what they wanted to eat. I knew what I wanted. The cashier smiled at me, I nodded back.

Finally I could bear it no longer. I turned on my heel and left. No fuss, no bother, I just walked out, thinking to myself that these women had no business being in a restaurant unless they worked there, given the extra poundage that they were carrying.

In entirely unrelated news, I just realized that this week was Fat Shaming Week. Who knew?

Arrrr!

Assassin’s Creed: Pirates reviewed

I never intended to buy this game. At $4.99, it was more than I am normally prepared to pay for a phone/tablet game. Funny how that works: we spend huge sums of money on hardware and phone data plans, then balk at spending a few bucks on a game. This seems particularly odd given that PC and Xbox games generally cost $20 to $60, while the vast majority of Android/iPhone games cost less than $5.

I remember when in bygone years game publishers used to bleat about how piracy was the reason that games were so expensive. That was before they abandoned the PC as a gaming platform, switched to Consoles, and piracy pretty much disappeared — and the prices stayed high. But I digress; that is another story for another time.

Fast-forward to the present, and at the other end of the playing field, the bottom has dropped out of the phone/tablet gaming market. My guess is that with the staggering number of free and freemium titles on offer, the idea of paying up front for a phone/tablet game seemed ridiculous.

This point was apparently not lost on UbiSoft, publishers of Assassin’s Creed: Pirates (ASP). Recently, they decided to lower the cost of entry from $4.99 to just ten cents. Naturally, I decided to give it a try. The experiment must have been a success, as they eventually made it now free-to-play; it is available in the Android Play Store or the Apple App Store.

The initial download is 7MB, but then it downloads a gigabyte or so of data before the game begins, so make sure that you are connected to wi-fi if you have to pay for bandwidth. This may seem like a lot, but it is worth it if you have the space, as you will find out later.

You play the part of one Alonzo Batilla, who starts the game as a prisoner tied up in the hold of a trading ship. He is unexpectedly liberated by a pirate named La Buse (“The Buzzard”) and promptly starts down the well-worn path towards piracy, plunder etc.

Now the first thing that any wannabe pirate needs is… a ship. La Buse gives him one — a pathetic little gunship with a few miserable peashooters for guns. Before long, however, he gets to upgrade to a bigger ship: a schooner named “The Wanderer”. There are bigger, more powerful ships available, from the aforementioned gunships and schooners to brigs, frigates, to the mighty Man O’ War. But those are expensive and at the start you don’t have the money.

Some ships — such as the schooner HMS Drake — are unlocked by completing a mission. Others like a brig with red sails called “The Dragon” can be acquired as part of an in-app-purchase. But most of them require the expenditure of good old-fashioned gold coins.

Big-ass Ship Ahoy!

Ah, Gold… beloved of dwarves, dragons and pirates. Gold can be earned by completing missions, sifting through the flotsam and jetsam of vanquished enemies, or just sailing around and picking up objects bobbing around in the water.

Even the best ship in a pirate fleet is nothing without a crew of scalawags, ruffians, ne’er-do-wells and other dregs of the sea. They can be found in the Tavern end pressed into service in return for then requisite number of gold coins, and range in skills — and price levels — from the humble ship’s boy (what’s his job, I wonder? Don’t ask…) to the First Mate. Each bring with them special abilities called “Perks”, which may be normal, rare, epic or legendary. The perks may then be equipped to various parts of your ship, and provide useful features like extra speed, repair, instant reload of all weapons, and advantageous changes in various game parameters, such as number/power/width of shots, area of influence, cooldowns and timers. Most perks can be upgraded in return for more of your hard-earned cash

A minor irritation: before you can play the game you have to navigate (geddit?) no less than three separate loading screens. When you start the program, you are presented with a video that can be skipped (but cannot be disabled), then on to the “Home” screen.

You then click on a “Play” button, which takes you to a map screen. Then you select the location, and finally board your ship to shiver your timbers and swash your buckle. The entire process takes a minimum of X seconds on my Nexus 7.

The first thing that I have to say about this game is that it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The screenshots do not begin to capture the fluid elegance of your ship gliding across the water; the lush tropical scenery; the reflection of the land in the water; the water-running-down-the-screen-when-it’s-raining effect; your scurvy crew walking about on the ship… it really does feel like you are in a movie. Different types of weather are faithfully and lovingly recreated; from the mirror-like seas on a calm day to rough seas, storms and lightning in the middle of the night. Kudos to the programmers for doing such a beautiful job. How they managed to fit it all into about a gigabyte of data storage is beyond me.

The sound is also beautifully done. The creaking of the ship, the roar of the cannons. The symphonic soundtrack is nicely done, and reminds me of the music in a certain pirate movie franchise I would mention, but *ahem* won’t. Even when just sailing along, the crew are prone to break into song. This is quite pleasing at first, but after a few weeks of playing, it can get quite irritating.

The gameplay itself involves sailing around — either interactively or by dragging your ship in map view, completing various types of missions. Each region on the map has a “primary” mission, that forms part of the back-story. Completing the primary mission at one location unlocks one at the next. However, in addition, each map has a bunch of secondary missions, which include Assassination, Races, Fetch-the-Treasure, Survival, Supership and Search-and-Rescue.

In addition to those missions, you can go fishing, whale hunting, attacking slavers (they always escape, but they throw the slaves overboard, and you can pick them up to complete the mission) picking fights with Merchants or Naval Vessels, hunting for treasure, or just sailing around picking up flotsam and jetsam.

Stuff Ahoy!

Stuff Ahoy!

The combat model is turn-based, but very nicely done; enemy ships either fire cannons (which you must dodge) or lob explosives at you (which you must dispatch with a tap or a swipe).

Here Comes Trouble

Here Comes Trouble

Once it is your turn, you start with Round Shot, Swivel shot, and canister shot, and later upgrades and ships unlock the Mortar and Heavy Shot. The ships dance around in front of you, and when using the slower weapons such as Round Shot and Mortar it is important to remember to aim where the enemy ship is heading, not where it currently is.

This leads me to biggest criticism of the game — the lack of a cloud save feature. Given that the game encourages you to log in to FakesBook and Google Play, this is an egregious omission. Let me be clear: If your game supports In-App Purchases (IAPs), the ability to save your progress in the cloud is an absolute necessity.

For those of us who are geeks, this is not a problem: if you have a rooted device (all of mine are), Titanium backup can save the game and the data, thus safeguarding your investment of time, effort, and, possibly, cash.

A cloud-save feature also makes it possible to port your progress from one device to another; a highly desirable feature, as this game is something of a battery-killer, and can kill a typical smartphone or tablet battery in less than three hours.

A close second to the lack of a cloud-save feature is the support… or more specifically, the lack of it. UbiSoft has a dedicated support board for this game, but the extent of their participation seems to be limited to setting the board up; there is very little in the way of moderators answering technical or gameplay questions. Bloody useless in my opinion, and the sort of thing that large software houses are (in)famous for.

Another feature that I would like to see is the ability to get in the first shot is you engage an enemy first. The way things currently are, you get to open fire first when engaging a merchant ship, but Navy ships always attack first, regardless of who initiates the engagement.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • I would like to see a “Quickstart” option that will pick up the game at the last location instead of having to navigate all those loading screens.
  • Either add some extra sea shanties to relieve the monotony, or add an option to turn them off — as they soon become maddening — Independently of the musical soundtrack.
  • The first mate has a tendency to sing out “Stay out of their range Captain!” when there is nobody around. Will somebody please keel-haul him or make him walk the plank or something?
  • If you should get a pop-up (like when you enter a fishing area for which you do not have a hook, or pass into engagement range of a naval ship), you are interrupted and your ship stops dead. This is annoying enough, but on a drowning-sailor mission, If this happens, the delay means that the sailor almost invariably drowns before you can get to him, making the Drowning Sailor missions among the most frustrating and difficult to complete, even thought they are not that difficult.

Drowning Man

To conclude, a lovely game with a few irritating lack-of-features. But that said, I recently spent $7.99 on a pack (100,000 gold pieces, a Double-XP perk and a cute-but-almost-useless ship with cool-looking red sails). Even though I do not need any of those goodies, I like to support good coding, and therefore consider it money well spent. Seeing the same pack on sale for $1.99 a few weeks later was a little annoying though…

But this game is in dire need of a cloud-save feature. And some decent support (I am thinking of writing a hints and tips guide). And some additional configuration options.

Sailing into the Sunset

Sailing into the Sunset

Beard

From time to time I try to grow a beard.

This is what I am aiming for.

The Most Interesting Beard In The World

The Most Interesting Beard In The World

This is what I end up with:

The Ugliest Beard In The World

The Ugliest Beard In The World

I guess I’m going to go clean-shaven…

Resolute

It is the time of the year when most of us make New Year’s Resolutions, promises to improve ourselves in some way, way, whether it is to lose weight, eat right, work out, and generally do what we know to be right.

It doesn’t work. By the end of January, most resolutions will have been broken or quietly forgotten. By the end of February, almost all of them will have been consigned to the ash-heap of history.

So I am not doing any of this that this year. Instead, I am keeping it simple and implementing a two-word creed for this year.

Embrace Kindness

There is too much cynicism and not enough kindness in the world.

Reboot

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

I rebooted my phone last night. This would not be noteworthy, except that right before the reboot I checked the status screen.

Up Time

That’s right, it has been up and running for 51 days.

Can your iPhone do that?