Can I have a Wii please, Bob?

  on September 26th, 2006

It must have been just over a decade since I bought the only Games Console I’ve ever owned – the ill fated Atari Jaguar. It is about time a new one arrived that grabbed my attention. PlayStations, XBoxes, GameCubes, Dreamcasts and others have all come (and most gone) in the intervening time. None tempted me. Now one has and I’m not absolutely sure why. It is the Nintendo Wii.

Yes, that’s a very silly name. I joked about it for a good couple of weeks after the announcement that the final name for this new console wasn’t to be the, rather good, development name of Revolution but instead Wii. I would still be joking about it now if it weren’t quite so, er, stale a joke. I don’t think the Japanese realised the urinary connotations, perhaps it’s a more British than American thing so was a little more obscure to them. Who knows. Reports of embarrassment on the part of the tiny UK Nintendo office added to the amusement factor, that’s for sure!

So, besides the memorably silly name, what takes the Wii (okay, I’m not past the wee jokes!) beyond those others? The graphics? The processor speed(s)? The media (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD) playback? No. If I want HiDef graphics I can get that on my PC. If I want incredible processor speeds I can get that on my PC. If I want media playback I can get that on my PC or, more usually, on a dedicated player. I’ve got a huge stack of PC games. Quite a few of which have had little or, in some cases, no play time at all. PC games are usually involved, designed for you to be sitting no more than 2 foot from a computer screen and have complex interfaces that rely on keyboards and mice. They’re great but installing the game, learning how to play it, finding the time for a proper gaming session and then not finding another need for the precious hard disk space is all tough. It can be done and the rewards are there, for the most part, but it’s not the only type of gaming out there.

Wii in Action!So, the Wii hasn’t got the graphics of an XBox 360, a PlayStation 3 or a modern PC. It doesn’t have the sheer processing power of those either. So, back to my question, what is it that attracts me to the Wii? Certainly not the odour! No, it’s the sense of fun that is lingering around it. Nintendo haven’t even tried to compete with the 360 or the PS3 in terms of computing power. Perhaps they simply couldn’t afford to compete and have tried to make a virtue out of holding the specs back? Worldwide their last console, the GameCube, certainly came third in the market, although if you believe the sales figures on Wikipedia, it wasn’t that far behind the original XBox, certainly not as much as my UK perception would have it. Whatever the reason, design or necessity, the Wii simply cannot compete in the visual ‘wow’ stakes, unlike the other two it doesn’t even support HD. It is smaller, cheaper to run and, perhaps crucially, cheaper to buy. The initial UK price is £179, a bit pricier than initially expected but still a lot cheaper than the 360 (about £299 for the full console, £199 for the starter version but you’ll almost certainly need to buy hardware add-ons to effectively use it) and the PS3 is expected somewhere in the £450 range!

Okay, so it’s the cheapest of the new consoles. Why do I care? Well, I don’t care about the price, other than the hope it will give the console a good userbase, creating a virtuous circle of console owners bringing more games titles bringing more console owners, etc. Given I’ve not shown any interest in consoles for over a decade the price obviously isn’t directly a factor. Price doesn’t make the Wii fun. No. The fun starts with the controller. It’s like a wand. A wand you can wave around to play with your Wii. It’s wireless but that’s not unusual with this new generation of consoles. It’s the waving about part that is the revolution. It has full motion sensing. You can slice through the air with it as if it were a sword and watch your onscreen character do the same. You can use it like a bat to play virtual tennis or rounders. You can point it at on screen enemies and use it like a Star Trek style phaser. You can hold it sideways and use it like an untethered steering wheel. You can even conduct a virtual orchestra with it. What’s more you can plug other devices into it, or it into other devices. With the console you get what they call a Nunchuk, a bulbous controller that you hold in your other hand and connects to the ‘WiiMote’ (as they call it, looking a bit like long thin remote control) by a wire. This nunchuk also has movement sensors (although not as sophisticated) so you can use it to block attacks by bringing your (in my case) left hand up. You can use it to move your character around, keeping your other hand free to interact with the environment. Another WiiMote attachment that is proposed is the zapper adapter. This is probably going to be little more than a plastic gun shell where you slot the WiiMote into the dangerous end and use it like a glorified light gun of old. There’s also a traditional PlayStation-like controller available that connects to the WiiMote but that is intended mainly for playing the back catalogue of GameCube games (the Wii is fully backwards compatible).

WiiMote and NunchukSo that’s it. The controller. That’s where is all starts. The WiiMote and Nunchuk are the only controllers that come prepackaged with the Wii, so that’s all the game creators can be sure the customer has. This is a paradigm shift in game playing. The other two consoles, the XBox 360 and Sony PS3, are just slightly faster and flasher versions of the same old gaming we’ve had for a decade, further back I’m sure. What gameplay advance does either of these give me that I didn’t have on the Jaguar. Online gaming but even that was available on the Jaguar if you knew where to look, primitive but then so were the graphics by todays standards. The Wii is something new. Maybe it will be a gimmick. I really don’t think so but you can never know for sure. The buzz is there. Will it win this next generation console war? Almost certainly not but that doesn’t matter, no to me anyway. Assuming my preorder is honoured, I’ll be there on the 8th of December to take a Wii and see if I can interest anyone in head to head (or, rather, side to side!) virtual tennis! If it’s as much fun as I hope then it should be a good Christmas break!

WiiMote Controller Attacks!



The week from hell…

  on September 23rd, 2006

Wow – what a week…

By the time I got to Friday I was ready to curl up in a ball and whimper the weekend away.

Keith and I should be in Brogdale, supping on the finest ciders, eating bread and cheese and enjoying live music with Jean and Bill. But we’re not…

I shall talk you through my week.

Last Thursday our youngest picked up a headache which wouldn’t shift. He’s not a lad to complain of being ill and when he does it’s usually a doozy – I should have guessed.

Headache was still there on Friday and I noticed he kept tugging at his mouth.

Why? said I.

It feels funny, said he.

I kept an eye on him on Saturday and by Sunday he still had a headache, his mouth “wouldn’t go where it’s meant to be” and when he blinked his left eye wouldn’t close properly and his eyeball did its own thing.

One mad dash to hospital followed.

Now, we only have a walk-in centre (no A&E as the government decided a town of 100,000 people, right next to a major airport, couldn’t possibly need one) but they were brilliant and saw him quickly.

The doctor started to use words like ‘stroke’ and ‘tumour’ and, if it wasn’t for the fact it would have terrified the wee lad, Keith and I would have fallen to pieces.

“He has to go to casualty in Surrey” says the doctor.

“We don’t have a car” says us.

Ohshitohshitohshit – thank you very much, Labour bastards.

In stepped The Godfather (Adam) who didn’t need asking twice and drove us up to Redhill and sat in the hospital (which I know he hates) to wait for us. (I always have said our choice of godparents was top notch).

The boy, uncomplaining, went through a thorough inspection. He was poked, prodded, had things shone in his eyes and ears, answered questions even though he was dog tired and was pretty fantastic.

Turned out he has developed Bells Palsy – a paralysis of the left side of his face. He will have to go to hospital every week until it clears. They reckon three weeks for it to start to clear but it could be months before he’s back to normal.

All he seemed to care about was the fact he can now raise one eyebrow (something he’s always wanted to do). Kids!!

It was nearly 1am by the time we all got home and Keith and the wee one took Monday off.

So, a stressful start to the week.

On Tuesday, just as the paper hit deadline and we were all ready to go home, there was an almighty crash outside and a horrible scream. A young girl had been hit by a car – and it was nasty.

While half the office panicked, the other half ran outside to help. I think 100 people, inside and out, called 999.

Meanwhile, in the next office, the manager had looked out of the window, taken in the sight of the poor girl and the large amount of blood and passed out, whacking his head on the fire extinguisher on the way down.

As first aider I spent the next half hour helping him – he was more embarrassed than hurt – while listening to the sound of the stricken girl crying as the paramedics did their work.

I admit to feeling a little queasy by the time I got home.

But I’m full of praise for the folk of Crawley – we had so many people drop in on Wednesday to ask if we knew how the girl was doing. (She’s hanging in there).

And to add to all that, Andrew hasn’t rung.

Two weeks and the little sod hasn’t checked in!!!

I know that means he’s doing fine and is too busy to worry about his mum and dad, but jeez…

Here’s hoping next week goes smoother, though if Jamie keeps scaring the girls in his class with his freaky eyeball, I’ll probably spend it ‘discussing his behaviour’ with the headteacher…



Pain, Proms, Park

  on September 12th, 2006

What an eventful weekend! What a tiring weekend! What a painful weekend!

Pain. Some will, no doubt, say this was inevitable and they would probably be right. Friday evening I started to experience some nasty and constant pain in my right elbow. Having gotten little sleep I took myself down to the ‘Walk In Centre’ (what used to be Casualty or A&E before the cut backs) at Crawley Hospital first thing on Saturday morning. It was empty! It must be at least 10 years since I’ve been there and it has completely changed, the lack of queue being the most notable difference! That’s probably more a function of the time, though, 9AM on a Saturday! Anyway, tendonitis was the verdict. Too much typing. Rest it for a few days, take ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation. So, here I am typing was one hand, my off hand, and it is frustratingly slow!

Proms. This year Crawley Council, or whoever, decided against holding the now traditional Prom in the Park. Apparently they were starting to lose money on it. I’m not sure how, 12,000+ people paying £15-£20 to sit in Tilgate Park. Yes, they had to hire the stage and sound system but that’s got to be cheaper than the Albert Hall. Tilgate Park must have come for free and has a much bigger capacity than most concert halls. Then there’s the performers and site staff. The orchestra isn’t going to be much more expensive than at an indoor event with only a couple of thousand paying customers, is it? Then there is the money coming in from the concession stalls. I’m clearly missing something if they really couldn’t break even on the Crawley Proms. It’s a big shame but if the Proms aren’t going to come to us we’ll go to them…

Park. Hyde Park. Central London. To coincide with the famous Last Night of the Proms the BBC now organise a set of Proms in the Park concerts across the UK. The biggest, and closest, of which is the Hyde Park one. So up we trooped, on the train, to London Victoria. A ‘communications failure’ had closed the Victoria tube line (isn’t that the first sign you’ve lost an aircraft, spacecraft and so on?) so we braved the Circle and Piccadilly Lines! All was well and we exited the tube right next to the massive park (though we didn’t realise at first and had to ask a policeman…)

That’s when the fun really began! We queued up for about 20 minutes before someone came along the line telling us we were in the disabled only queue. There was almost a lynching! Our group wasn’t happy but we weren’t quite as murderous as some. We trudged off to find a much bigger queue and joined that, obviously 20 minutes later than we could have done if there were decent sign posts. This new queue didn’t stay a queue for very long before some official told us to stop queuing and join the throng that I thought were trying to queue jump ahead. Yes, instead of a neat couple of queues we became a disorganised crowd pushing down a funnel to a series of security check points somewhere at the front. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I imagine people with claustrophobia or crowd issues would have been greatly distressed. So far I was less than impressed with the organisation. Who’d have ever thought that Crawley would be more civilised than a Royal Park?! Fortunately things improved immeasurably once we were through the little more than cursory security.

Whilst we were erroneously in the disabled queue, earlier, another official looking person came along the line and told us we wouldn’t be able to take our fold-up chairs in (but didn’t tell us we were in the wrong queue). Worries on that front turned out to be unfounded and no issue was made as we entered – probably just as well given a large percentage of people had brought chairs, goodness knows what they would have done with them all! We set up camp a little way back, just to make sure no busybodies complained about us taking their view away. With half an hour or so to go we ventured off to find dinner, most of us stopping by the mobile fish and chips concession. At £4 for chicken nuggets and chips it was a little pricey but my hunger was such that it tasted more than worth it!

The venue had three vast screens that relayed images from the stage for those of us a few hundred metres back and before the concert started they gave a good number of trailers for upcoming BBC TV programmes. The new Robin Hood got top billing and CBBC programmes had the bulk of the time. Torchwood was nowhere to be seen. At least one BBC Three programme got a promo but my hopes were dashed. Come on BBC, isn’t it time to start the hype machine?

Anyway, I hadn’t gone there expecting any Torchwood references and nor was I expecting to see Chico or Chas and Dave! As with the old Crawley proms this one opened with an hour or so of pop music before the main event at 19:30. Ken Bruce hosted this warm up part. First up was Madness tribute band, One Step Behind. Next up, I think, was the real Chas ‘n Dave (and neither appear to have aged since the 70s!) The real crowd pleaser was Chico, though. I have to admit the former mountain goat herder isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself for comic effect!

Another man not afraid to make an idiot of himself is the host Terry Wogan who presided over the main part of the Hyde Park Proms to brilliant effect. It was the turn of the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Carl Davis, to entertain us with more traditional Proms material. I even recognised a few of the musicians, by face rather than name, such as Angela Gheorghiu and, later, Nicola Benedetti. They must really be superstars of the classical music world if I recognised them from past front covers of the BBC Music magazine!
That was good stuff and, although not perfect, the sound system used to relay the music from the far away stage was a lot better than at the past couple of Crawley Proms. We had a bit of John Williams with the almost topical Superman theme and also Klaus Badelt‘s excellent Pirates of the Caribbean theme. I didn’t pick up a programme and am useless at remembering names of classical pieces so I can’t tell you what else we heard but most was good indeed.

Then something strange happened. Lionel Richie. Toward the end of the main section of the Proms Wogan announced that Richie had been working with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Interesting, I thought, and immediately imagined this old pop music person had gotten into classical music, like Paul McCartney. I was therefore a little surprised when the Prom in the Park turned into something more like Top of the Pops! Yes, Richie just did some of his old tunes. The crowd certainly liked it, though, but I think we’d already had enough of such music after the likes of Chico and Chas ‘n Dave..! Never mind, it was then onto the live link-up with the Albert Hall for the finale of Last Night of the Proms.

I’m normally of the opinion that over the top nationalism is a bad thing, indeed fanatical nationalism is probably a close second behind fanatical religion (often closely tied) for causing the most death and suffering in the world, past and present. Nonetheless I am willing to suspend those fears a little, for a bit, during the last part of the Proms. God Save the Queen? I don’t believe in the existence of any gods and I don’t believe a monarchy should exist but what the heck – it’s a good tune and it gets a party atmosphere going. You won’t find me waving any Union Flags during these tunes (I’m surprised none of my companions have commented on this in past years, in fact, as I’d happily be waving a flag for all the non-nationalist tunes but not for these). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them because I certainly do. In this case we had the usual tunes but instead of ending on the 1812 with a massive firework display replacing the cannons we ended on the national anthem and a few, rather muted by Crawley Prom standards, fireworks at the end. Maybe that is why Crawley can’t afford to do the Proms anymore – the huge firework display cost too much and they couldn’t get away with reducing to these levels!

All in all it was a very good event. The entry could have been organised better and I think the pop music should probably be left for the warm up but I’m probably in the minority on that one. It was good to see and hear some of the foremost musicians in the world on stage before us, no longer are they just faces! It was also good to have the likes of Ken Bruce and Terry Wogan as the hosts, they are much more entertaining than the average local radio personality that the Crawley Proms managed to dig up! Not that it wouldn’t be much appreciated to see the return of the Crawley event in future years…

Oh, before I finish up I should add that I whole heartedly agree with the Albert Hall conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Mark Elder, who (in an overly long speech before the end) complained about the ridiculous over reaction with recent security clamp downs on air travel. But that’s another blog entry!

Hyde Park Promns



Last Night of the Proms: an adventure

  on September 10th, 2006

Once upon a time there were seven strange people.

Their names were Keith… Keith

Adam… Adam

Karen… Karen

Andy and Jane… Andy and Jane

Andrew… Andrew

and Jamie… Jamie

One day, they decided to get on the train and go to Hyde Park for the Last Night Of The Proms.

But before they even got to the station Andy Andy had a very close call.

He, Jane, Keith and Andrew were driving along in his little car when Keith spotted something scary.

A big, hairy spider was crawling up the back of Andy’s shirt – a VERY big, VERY hairy spider.

scary spider
Keith wondered what to do – should he ignore it and hope it went away or should he alert Andy to his peril and hope he didn’t crash the car whilst trying to deal with the arachnid.

There was a chance of course that Andy would flick the spider into the back of the car and Keith didn’t want that to happen – it really was a scary-looking spider – so he sat back and twiddled his thumbs and watched the spider creep closer and closer to Andy’s ear.

They arrived at the station, parked the car and all got out.

Then, being a good mate, Keith said ‘There’s a little spider on your shoulder, Andy’ and waked off at a very brisk pace with Andrew.

Behind him, Andy was screaming like a woman and flapping madly at his shoulder, hopping from foot to foot while the spider held on for dear life.

Finally Jane picked it up and put it on the ground. It ran away.

Andy puffed his chest out in a manly fashion and tried to look butch, but he had blown it and the others giggled at him behind his back for the rest of the evening.

After an uneventful train journey they arrived in London and trotted off to Hyde Park.

Despite taking a ridiculously long time to get into the park due to the etremely questionable organisation, once they had settled down in their chairs they were feeling very patriotic… patriotic moment

The programme promised that Terry Wogan would be hosting the evening and it was agreed among the group that Big Tel was a good bloke who would be amusing to listen to.

But before Big Tel took to the stage they were forced to endure the ‘talents’ of Chas and Dave and Chico.

Andrew was less than impressed… Less than impressed

But finally The Mighty Wogan took to the stage and the evening became amusing and entertaining with good music aplenty and refreshments within easy reach.

Despite his great age, Lionel Ritchie – he of 80s fame – bounced around the stage and sang some songs. He was very good.

The moon came out… Moon and it got a bit nippy.

Andrew, Jamie and Adam all tried to wrap themselves up in the same blanket because they were wussy’s.

The stage looked very pretty in a spooky, the-aliens-have-landed kind of way… spooky

After much patriotic dancing and flag waving and singing at the tops of their voices during Pomp and Circumstances they all went home.

The train was very VERY crowded and by the time they got back to Crawley Andy was begining to wish the spider had eaten him – it would have been less stressful.

But overall, they all agreed, it had been a fun evening and Terry Wogan is to be admired and not mocked.



Of podcasts and websites

  on September 5th, 2006

Well, here I am again with more time off work. Not a four day weekend this time but a nine day! An entire week off work to catch up with some of those projects that have been festering thanks to a lack of time. So, plenty of website work and listening to podcasts (at the same time, of course!). No lazing around for me!

I had hoped to finish up my new look personal website on Monday morning but that didn’t happen. I realised that the list of CDs/DVDs/Books on the old site were less than up to date and I spent a good part of Monday adding all the new rubbish I’ve bought in the last few months. I really must keep that list up to date in the future. At least from now on each listing gives the last time it was modified. What’s the point of the lists? It’s not so burglars (hamburglars or otherwise) can get an easy listing of my goodies (in fact looking at the lists they will probably be put off!) but mainly so I can carry a copy with me on my Zaurus so I know if I already own something whilst down town!

The primary idea behind reworking my site is to use it as a testbed for CSS experimentations. Later in the week I hope to take another look at the Staggering Stories site and reengineer that for CSS layout (rather than the table based layout we’ve got right now). My only fear is making the site look even worse than it does now! Graphic design is an art I don’t have… You’d be surprised just how hard it is to make a web page look professional. Another thing I’d like to see is my own website being at the top of the Google listings for ‘Adam Purcell’. As of right now I am at the top – in fact I have the top three hits right now but those are for Staggering Stories pages and the Bytemark forum. That’s good but they should be in positions two to four with at the top!

Onto podcasts. While doing all this work I need something to listen to. That’s either been Radio 4’s excellent Listen Again service or one of my favourite podcasts (in no particular order):

  • Skepticality – as mentioned in a previous blog entry this is a light hearted look at science, pseudoscience and the paranormal. In a sceptical way!
  • Star Wars Galaxies with Yivvits and Mr Bubble – I might not be playing SWG at the moment but these two chaps are always entertaining! It tends to be more general Star Wars nonsense than the name suggests and they never take it too seriously.
  • Doctor Who: Podshock – Yes, a Doctor Who podcast. Usually hosted by two Americans and one Brit (crucially – how can a Who podcast be entirely American?!) with occasional input from Canadians, Australians and more. Good stuff but does tend to run quite long!
  • The Babylon Podcast – Yes, a Babylon 5 podcast. Particularly notable for having Jeffrey Willerth on the team, who worked behind the scenes on the production staff of the TV series and also played Kosh (though not the voice!) Thanks to Jeff’s contacts they’ve had many major guests on the show including Bruce Boxleitner, Walter Koenig, Jason Carter, Pat Tallman, etc., etc. Then there’s Summer Brooks’ sexy voice..!
  • Slice of SciFi – Another podcast from the people behind the The Babylon Podcast. This one also appears on a real radio station each week (which somewhat constrains the format). A general Sci Fi podcast, mainly about TV and film, with an American slant but they are also big fans of the new Doctor Who, so they’re not too US centric!
  • Point of Inquiry – Another sceptial podcast sharing many themes with Skepticality but done much more seriously. Due to their associations with academia they’ve have some great guests but it can feel a little overly academic with it.
  • Escape Pod – A wonderful podcast that provides great SF short stories, one a podcast. The chap behind it, Steve Eley, even commissions and pays for original stories (similar to Asimov’s or Analog magazines).
  • The Signal – A Firefly/Serenity podcast. The lack of real news in Firefly is probably hurting this a bit but it is still a good listen.
  • The Galaxy Report – Another Star Wars Galaxies podcast, this one very much concentrating on the game rather than Star Wars in general, so my interest wains rather when I’m not in SWG (as now).
  • SciFiDig – Another general Sci Fi podcast, talking mainly about TV and film. It’s a one man show but works well. Has been concentrating a little too much on comic books for my tastes recently.
  • The Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas – Despite the odd name this is a podcast looking back at old SF/Fantasy films, books and TV series, doing an indepth review of one each episode.
  • LUGRadio – Last but certainly not least is this superb Linux related podcast from four chaps in Wolverhampton. Never too serious and always entertaining. A model podcast for my tastes but, sadly, on a summer break at the moment so there’s no new episodes for me to listen to right now.

I think I’ve missed one or two off there but that’s a pretty good list of what I’m listening to as I work. They all get my recommendation but they may not work for you. If any sound interesting give an episode or two a try. Just imagine, radio on your time, talking about things that interest you. Aren’t podcasts great?