January 31, 2005

Blue Monday

A clear Winter sky heralds my Mother's move to the newly opened £750,000 brain injuries unit at her nursing home. This will provide a high level of care and social stimulation. Last Friday's edition of The Express & Echo newspaper covered the opening.

January 30, 2005

Number Six

Tired of waiting for an R2 DVD release of My So-Called Life (1994), in 2002 I purchased a Toshiba SD220 Multi-region DVD Player, and cannot recommend its successor highly enough for anyone tempted to dip a toe into the expansive R1 market. MSCL was never released outside the US and, following the withdrawal of the 5-disc box set, is listed as £250 on eBay.

Yesterday, I received Battlestar Galactica (2003 mini-series). I opted for the R1 DVD release for both technical and content reasons. The disc is authored to DVD18 specification (double-sided, dual-layer, 18GB) and 480p encoding. The advantage of the increased capacity (against the R2 DVD9) is a higher bit rate for both the feature and bonus material - detail is everything.

The mini-series has far exceeded my expectations (admittedly very low). The Cylons are a complex enemy. Prior to the bombardment and subjugation of Caprica, Number Six (Tricia Helfer), cursed with duality, chillingly breaks the neck of a baby and shows tearful remorse. In a Universe devoid of meaning it is the Cylons who believe that they are God's children whilst we battle with the guilt of knowing that they are our creation. The new series sports a strong cast and haunting ethereal score. By your command...

January 28, 2005

Chez Fred

Dad missed my birthday this year. So, he treated me to KFC tonight. Brought back memories of eating like a 'barbarian' with longtime friend and fellow Bournemouth alumni Sunil Chamund. In 1996 Sunil arranged an unforgettable - and genuine - surprise party. And Nick Smith, Natasha Gann et al went to Chez Fred. That evening Bournemouth's award-winning Chez Fred restaurant was closed to the public. I don't drink alcohol, but the proprietor very generously donated a bottle of wine. A cherished birthday memory and a reminder of far less complicated times.

Tonight Amazon UK started accepting pre-orders for Nintendo DS (£99.99 or €149). Maestro Shigeru Miyamoto oversaw the development of the successor to the Game Boy brand. The dual screen concept will doubtlessly shape the future of gaming. The DS hardware package will come bundled with Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt, as it did in the USA.

January 26, 2005

Connect Four

The European release of Sony PSP will be supported by a new download service. The PlayStation-branded download platform will initially be used as a marketing tool to offer PSP users free additional game levels and upgrades. Music and movies will follow. I'm wondering if the service will be a retooled Connect? Connect has yet to emerge from the shadow of iTMS and iPod. The latter has displaced the Walkman and forced Sony to repackage existing hardware and software (VAIO Pocket Music Player) to very limited success.

Universal Media Disc (UMD) leads the HDD and Memory Stick Duo technological triumvirate. Whether or not consumers have an appetite for yet another optical format remains to be seen.

Sony has already confirmed that a browser, email client, word processor and spreadsheet update is in development for PSP. These applications were withheld from last month's Japanese release and may debut with the US and European launch. The XMB GUI looks intuitive and owes a stylistic debt to Mac OS X Aqua.



Whilst Apple and Sony are commercial competitors an alliance has been forged concerning high-definition DVD. Following the enigmatic appearance of Sony President Kunitake Ando, at Macworld, industry observers speculate that there maybe more going on than meets the eye!

After an exhaustive search on various forums, I've decided to order Sony's small wonder (it can serve as an external USB HDD/portable media centre and automounts on Mac OS X). And, as a fan of Capcom, I'm eager for a slice of Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower (incorporating characters from Darkstalkers and Vampire Savior arcade franchises).

January 25, 2005

Saga of a Star World

Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part II was shown last night on sky one. Battlestar Galactica's S1 finale is of Buffy/24/Alias calibre. The audacious twists and turns, culminating in Adama's 'assassination' by a Boomer Cylon replica, were irresistible. The exploration of Cylon religion (ideology) provided the production with an opportunity to reprise the cinema of Stanley Kubrick and intellectual concepts penned by Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick. Whilst the biomechanical Basestar interior evoked the designs of fabled surrealist H.R. Giger.

Turning back to the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. In Europe three feature-length episodes were released theatrically (in alternate form):

*Battlestar Galactica (1978)
Abridged version of Saga of a Star World. Includes Baltar's execution, which was deemed too violent for TV audiences.

*Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack (1978)
The Living Legend Part I & Part II and Fire in Space.

*Galactica III: Conquest of the Earth (1980)
Galactica Discovers Earth, The Night the Cylons Landed Part I & Part II, The Young Lords and stock footage taken from the movie Earthquake (1974).

We didn't own cable (Rediffusion television was one of the earliest providers). So, I only viewed the first theatrically and the 'sequels' on video rental (Sony Betamax). Baltar's execution (in the theatrical version) is confusing and his return is never explained. It would be nearly a decade before I had an opportunity to see the entire Battlestar Galactica series including the risible Galactica 80.

I've ordered the 2003 mini-series (R1 DVD) from Play. Compare and contrast R1, R2 and R4 releases here.

On an unrelated note. Some iDisk users are experiencing service problems following scheduled maintenance (at the weekend). I'm very happy to report that none of the purported issues have afflicted my account. Again, this only serves to underscore the importance of archiving data on a regular basis.

January 24, 2005

Goodies

On my Birthday I went with friends to Pizza Hut (a personal favourite) and dined on BBQ Chicken Wings, Garlic Bread, Potato Wedges, Chicken Feast Pan Pizza, New York Style Baked Cheesecake and Pepsi. We usually opt for commercial cousin KFC.

A fabulous day was rounded-off with a Neo-Geo 2.5D fighting fix.



SNK's Advanced Entertainment System (AES, 1990), promoted by its hugely successful arcade incarnation Multi-Video System (MVS, 1989), failed to set the home gaming arena ablaze. This was due to the forbiddingly expensive hardware (£100+ cartridges) and the Nintendo/Sega duopoly. However, Neo-Geo plays attractive host to Fatal Fury, Metal Slug and The King of Fighters franchises. Memory card interoperability allowed gamers to save progress between AES and MVS, a feature that has never been duplicated. Neo-Geo is the longest officially supported games platform eclipsing Nintendo's original Game Boy.

This March Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are expected to launch in Europe.

January 22, 2005

System 16

An arcade game hobbyist since my teens, I'm following, with great interest, the development of MAME (a modular and portable driver oriented architecture). Programmer Aaron Giles, whose resume takes in the sights and sounds of LucasArts and Microsoft, continues to rewrite the Sega driver for MAME. His recent accomplishments warrant technical comparison with THX! Both projects are directed at the preservation of popular entertainment mediums (albeit MAME is a not-for-profit document).

I for one can't wait to replay Sega's Turbo Out Run, Space Harrier and Super Hang On with 100% accuracy in the near future. For further reading may I suggest System 16.

January 19, 2005

Ice Ice Baby

This will come as no shocking revelation to anyone who knows me. I've ordered iLife '05 and an iPod shuffle (1GB), which will form part of my birthday present. There's already a 3 - 6 week waiting period and emerging eBay market for those keen to exploit availability of the feted solid state portable.



Reviews will be forthcoming.

Well, the original keyboard and mouse diagnosis was correct. Replacements arrived today and all is now well. With hindsight, and given the relatively inexpensive cost, I should have 'junked' the old hardware last year and not spent hours reinstalling software!

January 18, 2005

Daily Planet star grabs Globe

Congratulations to Teri Hatcher on her Golden Globe win. A decade ago Teri's visage adorned the walls of many an undergraduates room. Mine was no exception.



Natalie Portman scooped an award sans force too.

January 13, 2005

A Magpie's tale

After years of accumulating text and image files across 3" floppy, iOmega Zip and CD-ROM formats, today I decided to complete the transfer of my remaining data to a readable format. Document files dating back to 1988 appeared indecipherable until selecting the extract text option in Word 2004. The translator did an impressive job and all that remains is to correct minor formatting errors and the 'restoration and archive' project is complete.

In the battle against e-mail spam Microsoft yesterday distributed Entourage 2004 Junk E-mail Filter Update 1. This is a new service and further updates are to follow. On the subject of e-mail clients, I tend to use both Mail 1.3.9 and Entourage 2004 as neither application delivers an all in one solution to my mailing needs at time of writing.

Further to the release of the Mac mini. To all intents and purposes it is an iBook in a new form factor. Whilst the specs are below par (GPU and RAM remain Apple's Achilles' heel) for 'hardware intensive' tasks such as HD editing and playing Unreal Tournament 2004, this Trojan Horse is dynamite. Mac 'to go' please.

January 12, 2005

Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan

As an adjunct to a post from May 2004. Towards the end of my final year of undergraduate study at Bournemouth University, I once again braved the deck of USS Excalibur*. An ILM speaker, model maker Chris Boyd, was scheduled to appear. Amidst a torrent of name drops an amusing anecdote involved Marina Sirtis (Counselor Deanna Troi) on the set of Star Trek movie Generations (1994). She allegedly suffered from serious 'gas' following a restaurant meal and...

Later in the Q&A the subject of the Star Wars prequels arose. Chris confirmed that the title was Shadows of the Empire! The assembled Trek throng raved in their complicity. However, knowing that this was not the case, having read the edge magazine, I pointed out to the embarrassed ILM speaker that SOTE was a multi-platform marketing project centered on the launch of Nintendo's upcoming 64-bit games console. My comments were met with derision. History would suggest otherwise...

[*Excalibur emerged from Vintage video where I made the acquaintance of friend and novelist Nick Smith.]

January 11, 2005

Mini size me

E4 will be showing the first of two The OC specials before the UK premiere of S2 tonight. And Warner Bros is set to release the show on Mini-DVD in Q1. Mini-DVD was originally developed for the US children's market and intended to compete with Hasbro's VideoNow. The idea has caught-on and mainstream electronics companies are releasing players for a wider customer base. The 3" discs (remember CD singles from Japan?) and Gameboy Advance SP scale hardware is the epitome of an always-on-the-move lifestyle! The format will also go head-to-head with Sony's proprietary PSP.



Today's Macworld Keynote from Steve Jobs may be considered historic in years to come. The feted 'headless' iMac emerged as Mac mini. A miniature marvel with a pedigree that matches the coveted Cube (2000) sans confusing marketing and prohibitive price! The SuperDrive option, coupled with Airport Express and Bluetooth, equates to a scalable A/V blockbuster beneath your TV (via Mini DVI to Video Adapter).

The zealous emulation community has dubbed the Mac mini a 'super console' when used in conjunction with MacMAME, SNES9x and PCSX (amongst others). From this Mac User's perspective the Mac mini evoked memories of the Apple/Bandai Pippin (1995) games console. The Pippin was essentially a stripped down computer (see Microsoft's XBOX) and predicted the popularity of online play (repeat income from subscription services).

The petite package includes iLife '05 (iDVD 5, iMovie HD, iPhoto 5, iTunes 4.7 and Garageband 2) and Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. I'd recommend considering iWorks if your budget precludes Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac (further upgrades are imminent and I'll post any significant changes).

In summary. It's easy to envisage these selling like hot cakes on Amazon UK and I'll most certainly purchase a Mac mini sometime this year.

And don't get me started on the ubiquitous iPod franchise. The iPod shuffle is the perfect impulse purchase and birthday gift (casual hint to family and friends). How long before both show up in hit television dramas and pop videos? Apple is the new Sony...

Although there was no official announcement regarding the release date of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. 10.3 Panther continues to reap the rewards of further development as Apple begins seeding 10.3.8. This has ignited speculation that existing hardware (PowerBook, iBook and iMac G5) will be refreshed later in the month or early February.

January 10, 2005

In the blinkx of an eye

I'd like to point your attention towards the award-winning animation series Star Wars Clone Wars! Unlike its live action inspiration or the overtly cynical Shadows of the Empire (1996), Clone Wars conjures exciting episodic exploits in the spirit of the original trilogy. It deserves pride of place on any collectors bookshelf. Fox is releasing S1 in March replete with worthy extras. The merchandise is cool too.

Tomorrow Apple/PIXAR CEO Steve Jobs takes to the Macworld stage to introduce new hardware and software products. And I'll post an editorial as soon as practicable. At the moment third party developers, including blinkx and Opera, are lifting the wraps off their new beta applications.

January 09, 2005

Theatre of Dreams

Yesterday's wonderful FA Cup third round draw (0-0) between Cup holders Manchester United and Exeter FC (my home club) underscores the current synchronicity in my life! The look on Sir Alex Ferguson's face was one of unabriged fury at such a 'preposterous' result. His reserve team (an estimated £10 million worth of talent) were deadlocked by Conference League 'high fliers' - an achievement that has alluded many high ranking clubs.

In a stroke of delicious irony, mainstream broadcasters decided not to cover the draw live. This resulted in an editorial scramble to the detriment of an overshadowed Plymouth vs Everton. Here's to the replay at St James Park. I'll be there... Along with BBC.

January 08, 2005

Attic Attack

In our attic I discovered (in a scene reminiscent of The Goonies) my Mattel Battlestar Galactica Space Alert LCD game! This novelty dates from 1978 and is, in actuality, a repackaged Missile Command. Mattel earnestly needed to maximize its investment in the license (arch rival Kenner had Star Wars) and slapped BG branding on existing lines alongside action figures. Out of curiosity I inserted a single 9-volt battery and, hey presto, Cylon carnage.

The toy and game odyssey didn't end there! Milton Bradley's StarBird, StarBird Intruder and Command Base still reside in a darkened corner. The Command Base often served as an Imperial outpost (for my Star Wars figures) and Intruder, with its small footprint, acted as a Martian flying machine!

Boxed M.A.S.K. (Rhino was the signature toy of Kenner's The Transformers/G.I. Joe hybrid), Masters of the Universe, Micronauts*, Action Force/G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Transformers, Zoids and a walking Twiki (from Buck Rogers) occupy the remaining attic space reserved for bygone boyhood adventures.

Perhaps I should consider opening a Generation X museum?

[*Micronauts was the international name for Takara's Microman. Palisades Toys expended quite considerable energy on reviving the Micronaut brand between 2002 - 2003. Due to poor production values and market conditions, only two (three if you include the 1.5 set, which I own) collections were released in very limited quantities. Incidentally, the most famous incarnation of Microman are the Transformers (Hasbro licensed Diaclone and Micro Change toys).]

January 07, 2005

Sins of the Stepford Wives

Channel 4's premiere of smash hit US series Desperate Housewives garnered one of the highest ratings in the network's history. On Wednesday evening I tuned in to observe what all the fuss was about.

The impish main theme, composed by longtime Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman (drawing on his compositions for The Simpsons and Edward Scissorshands - Ballet de Suburbia springs to mind), introduced the dysfunctional inhabitants of Wisteria Lane. The principal cast, spearheaded by Teri Hatcher (Lois & Clark), provides the requisite eye candy and the sharp script food for the brain!

A darkly compelling cocktail of The Stepford Wives meets Picket Fences and Sex and the City. Desperate Housewives is Twins Peeks for generation net. Can't wait for episode two...

January 05, 2005

The Third Space

Last November I speculated about the possible implications of PS3, XBOX 2 and Apple's shared G5 hardware DNA. Since Sony purchased and, predictably, ceased development (and support) of Connectix Virtual Gamestation (following a protracted legal battle in the 90's), Mac OS X gamers have been denied a means to play legally purchased PlayStation CD-ROMs sans Virtual PC. Now with the advent of PCSX (Public Beta) Mac Users can play their PSOne games 'Cocoa style'. I've not used the application, so cannot comment on GUI, performance or the level of compatibility, which is sure to improve as it undergoes further testing. I'll keep tabs on the development of PCSX and dutifully report here.

With the renewed speculation that Apple is about to release a Media Centre, and abundance of high quality emulators available for OS X, it is tempting to posit that the Mac is fast becoming the gaming platform of choice for the digerati! In the words of Homer Simpson "Mmm, MacMAME machine..."



Alias S4 starts tonight and you'd be a fool to miss it. Another Jennifer worthy of a mention is JLo! Get Right has the distinction of being my first downloaded song from iTMS in 2005! Her fourth studio album, Rebirth, is scheduled for a March release.

January 04, 2005

By the Lords of Kobol!

The notion of Sky's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was, initially, met with derision. Until I started watching S1 (currently airing in the UK ahead of its US debut) and was delighted to discover that the series owes more to the paranoia of the X-Files (Cylons replacing Colonials) and the Vietnam analogy Space: Above and Beyond than its namesake (not dismissing S1).

The Cylons are no longer a cyber-reptilian race (as described in the 1978 Grandreams annual), but are robotic slaves that rebelled and overthrew their human masters - now the Cylon war machine relentlessly pursues the embattled survivors across the galaxy (as in the original premise). The CGI is superlative for episodic television, and the dogfights ape the cinematography of Apocalypse Now (see also Star Wars: Attack of the Clones).

Not all is perfect in this brave new world. Human actors replacing the colourful Cylon variants of the original is too convenient and unimaginative. And the CGI Cylon Centurions are cumbersome a la the Sandtroopers in Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition and DVD release).

As I missed the mini-series* and opening episodes of S1, it remains to be seen if the Cylon Imperious Leader has transferred to the new format (albeit in a radically different guise, for example as a super computer along the lines of Skynet)!

*I may checkout the R1 DVD release and post a review in the future.

January 01, 2005

2005

Happy New Year to all.

Very special thanks to two of my friends, Ben and Michael, for the amazing Star Wars Christmas gifts, which now take pride of place in front of my Plasma television!



The lighting set-up is below par and I don't own a tripod, but this evening's impromptu photographic session was an opportunity to install the firmware 2.0 upgrade (released two years ago) onto my Canon PowerShot A70 camera! And also the updated version of Canon's digital camera utilities for the Macintosh platform, which includes ImageBrowser 5 and CameraWindow 5.

It is my intention to further explore photography this year.