1) Haven't been up to very much recently. I chased up Adecco and Manpower on Friday, but got no great joy from them. Thursday was rather a harder day than I was expecting it would be due to the LJ DDoS attack; I managed to get some minor tidying jobs done but little more. Seems I'm more reliant on LJ than I thought, which is worrying. Had a conversation with family regarding my lack of progress towards the traditional career lifepath, which wasn't fun. The recruitment agencies are at least a small step in the right direction, I suppose.
2) Comic Relief researchers aimed to find out which town in Britain was the happiest by seeing whose inhabitants would return the most smiles. Ingenious and a statistic well worth measuring, but I'm yet to be convinced of the rigour with which the tests were conducted. If they had a standard panel of smilers of mixed attractiveness, smiling in different places under different weather conditions at different times of the day and a standard smile protocol then this would be a remarkable tool for measuring the psyches of the inhabitants of various towns. This would probably take about ten thousand standardised smiles per town rather than one hundred (I'm thinking of a panel of ten smilers each performing one 100-smile test ten times) but the results would be fascinating. How much extra would you pay for the privilege of living in a happy town? Is there a more natural way to measure the happiness of a town than this?
Synthetic trees - what an amazing concept! My view on them is akin to my view on the Segway HT; the first iterations may prove unusably, impractically bulky and expensive, but the second and third generation down the line in 5, 10 or 15 years time is rather likely to have a major impact on society. Incidentally, I do sometimes wonder why DEKA haven't been far more proactive in their dealings with Britain than they appear to have been - surely the device is at least as well suited, probably far better suited, to our big cities than it is to those in the USA. Anyway, certainly things to follow.
3) I recently talked simon_cozens into spending more money than he otherwise would have done on a pair of shoes. There is a tale behind this (based on the fact that we both generally hate buying shoes) and I suspect it's one that I didn't actually share with you folks at the time. So, as I said to Simon:
[...]I went shopping at Christmas for shoes by way of a present from Dad - the sort of present I hate. He invited me to go to Clinkard's (Clinkards'? I don't remember) where there was a half-price sale on. There were some fantastic GBP 120 shoes marked down to GBP 60; even at this half price they were a good 50%-100% more than the most expensive I had bought in the past.There you have it. For my next trick I will persuade Gordon Brown to spend GBP 180,000,000,000 on transport rather than go to war.
I tried them on and they were nicer than any pair of shoes I had ever bought in the past - nicer than I thought shoes could ever be. They just seemed to fit comfortably in a way that no pair of shoes I had ever tried before. I tried walking around in them - and decided they were too big, unfortunately. In the end I got a different pair from Clarks (GBP 45 down to GBP 22.50 - took a bit of wearing-in at the top of the back of the heel, but very comfortable now) but still went back to Clinkard's to try the expensive pair on a second time just in case. (Still too big, still really lovely.)
You may well yet find a pair of shoes more comfortable than any you have ever had and the whole miserable shoe-buying process will suddenly become worthwhile when it happens. Yours might even fit.
I thought of a cynical but amusing 21st-century scam the other day. It's effectively a three-man job. One man sets himself up as a shoe-shiner on the British streets. His first accomplice appears to be holding a TV camera. The scammer claims to be participating in a TV game show in which they have to make some sum of money in some short length of time. He then offers an ordinary shoe-shine for GBP 1 or a comedy shoe-shine for GBP 5. The vast majority of people will go for the comedy shoe-shine, at which point the scammer shines the shoes telling some painfully mediocre jokes, claiming that there might be some footage of the scammer and the scammee on television. The more outlandishly bad the performance, the better. Accomplice number two claims to be a TV company backing up the scammer should there be any complaints. I reckon that this scam could turn over GBP 500 - GBP 1,000 per week in the richer parts of Britain's larger cities, especially if you're prepared to move around quite a bit from day to day and from week to week.
4) Interesting link in rec.games.board to people engaging in the old parlour game of trying to work out which sport has in some sense the "best" athletes. You can see one man's score tables; as usual, these are eccentric for the qualities they choose to rate and for the ratings they award. There are also the Performance Factors Tables of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, who probably ought to know better. Not such a surprise to see American Football top the latter chart, though I'm impressed that joint second on 55/63 come bull-fighting and ballet dancing - a strange juxtaposition seldom seen outside of encyclopedias. I do respect ballet dancers, though I'm not sure if I respect them as much as ballroom dancers and modern dancers put together. I'm not convinced that someone isn't playing the twin sports of trolling and "rolling d4-1" here.
5) Word of the day: sapiosexuality, per dmwcarol's interests list. An extremely intriguing concept, likely to be relatively highly resonant among the LiveJournal community. (Or, as I originally wrote before I decided to gussy it up, "I could go for a bit of that".)
6) The ongoing debate about where to increase the airport capacity of south-east England has taken another couple of turns. There was an agreement in 1979 between the operators of Gatwick Airport (the UK's #2 airport, some way south of London) and the local council that Gatwick would not be expanded before 2019, but it seems that other local councils want this agreement to be broken, not least so that those local councils might not have extra airports in their land. This strikes me as somewhat naughty - a legally binding agreement's a legally binding agreement, after all. (Some parallels with the suggestions that Britain and the US might invade Iraq even if the next Security Council resolution is vetoed by France, which I would find particularly deplorable even relative to nations' conduct in the rest of the campaign.) Nevertheless, there seems to be much to recommend the concept of Gatwick expansion as a workable solution; not sure if there ever could be enough to recommend it to outweigh the negative consequences of breaking legally binding agreements, though.
The ever-sensible, public-transport-positive (sarcasm) Evening Standard suggest other possibilities, though. There have been discussions of a new airport at Cliffe in Kent, generally considered unworkable principally due to the fact it's on a bird sanctuary. One alternative is to build an artificial island in the Thames Estuary and put the airport runways on it, very much in the same style as Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport. The terminal building itself would be on the mainland; after passing through check-in, you would ride a 12-minute high-speed underwater rail link to get to the runways. I love the plans for this so-called Marinairport largely because they are so ambitious but find them instantly laughable as soon as they mention the cost being somewhere around US$ 51,000,000,000. (Odd that they should choose to list it as 51 billion US dollars rather than, say, 31 billion pounds, but they do.) Supposedly they think they have "a firm financial backing commitment of USD 51 Billion" of private money already, but I find this hard to believe.
The new development is a third possible new airport. "The Thames Reach airport would be built on the coast of the Hoo peninsula, and linked to Essex by a £1.5 billion rail and road tunnel." The initial numbers say GBP 6.5 billion, 23 million passengers per year; the latter of these seems rather too little, too late to me, but the second phase quote of 110 million passengers per year seems more enticing. I am not convinced that any of these will ever come to fruition and read these proposals as, essentially, public transport planning fan fiction. Still nice to dream about it, though.
7) Funniest joke all week. Maybe it's funnier if you read the others first.
8) The name-dropping department would like to mention some e-mail received from Simon Singh the other day. Mr. Singh donated his first-edition Philosopher's Stone to a charity auction, where it raised thousands, so I dropped him a respectful thank-you. He modestly replied that the only reason he had it was that his agent used to work with one Christopher Little at the time. "What a smashing bloke", as they say on Banzai.
9) 24 is broadcast in a somewhat cynical way in the UK. The BBC broadcasts two channels full-time through analogue terrestrial services, BBC 1 and BBC 2, and several others through digital services, including BBC 3 and BBC 4. (This is worth saying because BBC 3 only started to exist as such this week; for a few months we had BBCs 1, 2 and 4 without 3.) We have the OnDigital service which is capable of receiving all of these channels and many others too. The BBC broadcast 24 on both BBC 2 and BBC 3, but they show the "next" week's episode on BBC 3 immediately after the "last" week's episode on BBC 2. Therefore you can follow the whole series on BBC 2, the whole series on BBC 3 a week ahead of how it's broadcast on BBC 2, or two consecutive episodes if you watch BBC 2 and then switch over to BBC 3. Now this would sound like a fairly standard sort of incentive to get people to try to watch BBC 3, but both BBC 2 and BBC 3 are free-to-air, non-subscription channels. I'm really not convinced that it's particularly in the BBC's interest to get people to stop watching BBC 2 and start watching BBC 3 instead.
Is this the point where I should take up watching on BBC 3 on the principle of avoiding future spoilers, or is this a reasonable complaint for people who don't have access to BBC 3? (I mean, I can't think of anyone off-hand who I might like to discuss 24 with in this country who doesn't have BBC 3, or at least who couldn't get it if they wanted it. I'm thinking of the cats in Catford here, but I don't think they've yet established any interest in 24.) Does the principle that "when a show is broadcast twice, you really ought to try to see the first showing and treat the second showing strictly as a repeat, regardless of convenience of channels" apply in general these days?
10) In a tremendously happy trend, more and more long-time alt.tv.game-shows posters are finding their way to LiveJournal - for instance, 2ndavemusic is Clay Zambo and teppanyaki is Nick Schneider. Now what we need to do is set up a game whereby people make their own tic-tac-toe grid of old-school ATGS readers to attract to LiveJournal, crossing the names off as they land. First to make a line wins, oh, probably $500 and comes back to face a new challenger tomorrow. Here's my grid:
|Aaron Solomon||Stan Ryckman||Alan Mitsugi|
|Steve Leblang||Jm J. Bullock||Jim Ellwanger|
|David Hammett||Matt Ottinger||Brian Hamburg|
...OK, the campaign to get Jm J. Bullock to have read ATGS for six years starts here, but you've got to have a big star as center square, ain'cha?
11) For someone who talks a lot about games, I don't actually seem to get to play that many.
The vast majority of my gaming effort is either at the Middlesbrough Gamers Club (attendance down to a mere 55-ish this week) or at the sundry board game conventions I attend from time to time. There are swathes of types of games that I used to play and don't play any more. For instance, I started playing games through the post slightly before my twelfth birthday with the (highly pre-teen-unsuitable) 500-player monster It's A Crime!; in the '90s, I played the similarly massive Quest. (I had occasion to look through my old Quest results sheets tonight, looking for a letter I once received from one Stuart N. Hardy. Yes, the famous Stuart N. Hardy of computer magazines and letters pages notoriety - the very one about whom Digitiser often said "Hardy, you have messed up". Couldn't find the letter, alas.) More about postal games and the lovely people who I met through them some other day, though.
Anyway, I used to play a variety of different games with tons of players. For whatever reason, these days, I don't. There have been whole genres of games I've missed out on. From time to time I bill and coo over the immersive games in the style of the Cloudmakers Microsoft A.I. game ("The Beast"), but I've never really got involved. (Would I? Yes, if I could get in on one at the start.) I've never owned collectible/trading card game cards myself and only ever played one when a friend lent me a deck. (Pokémon, final game of 1999. Seemed appropriate, somehow.) I only ever dabbled very lightly with MUDs, though a friend devoted probably slightly over a thousand hours to the Zebedee MUD before it moved to Monochrome. I've never played one of the graphical MUDs - the EverQuests, the Ultima Onlines, the Asheron's Calls or any of the handfuls of other Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games. (Oh, except ProgressQuest, natch.) For someone who would like to think they have a broad understanding of recent developments in the gaming world at large, that's a pretty big gap.
I do enjoy reading about them, though, and they tend to be the topics of the articles that I most enjoy within Games * Design * Art * Culture, the weblog of the estimable Greg Costikyan. (Incidentally, the RSS feed is available on LJ as costikyan; I created that and now it's up to eleven readers, yay!) I've also long pondered the crossover between mainstream board games and the Internet as a facilitator. For instance, about a sixth of you have mentioned playing Literati at Yahoo! Games, which is something I've not yet played. There are purportedly 11,348 playing it right now, so it's probably one of the world's hundred-most played games at this very instant in time. 166,000 at Yahoo! Games, 185,000 at pogo.com, 128,000 at zone.msn.com, these are massive numbers. Large towns of gamers. *happy sigh*
By contrast, there aren't quite the same sorts of communities which gather round to play the weirdo minority board games that I like. The most successful place is probably BrettSpeilWelt, which merges the graphical MUD paradigm with a number of fine games, but it's very, very German indeed and fairly hard to recommend. (I was thinking of trying to organise an online birthday party there for next October 23rd, but I reckon I could get possibly five of you to turn up to it.) If you do want to explore, start from the English reference section at EnglishTown. It's not too bad once you get used to it, but I can see how it would be off-putting if you weren't a large fan of the games in the first place. Alternatives exist in Brett & Komputer (part of Errol Elumir's superb European Board Games and the Toronto Gamer site) - scads of different versions of Settlers of Catan, for instnace, none of which are quite right.
But I digress. Last month, the Greg posted a very cool review of ToonTown, a traditional-toon-style MMORG. Enthusiastic and convincing, a lot of fun to read, though it didn't get me to try it out. Admittedly this may have been because Game Girl Advance (wonderful title! - see also gamegirladvance) had also written a convincing document praising Dark Age of Camelot. At last, a commercial hit MMORG where people actually role-play? Sounds a very tempting prospect to me. Again, not quite tempting enough to take it on somehow, though. (No point being half-arsed about these things; I would be a bit disappointed if a game weren't worth, say, 50 or 100 hours' investment in it. Heck, I probably knocked up 50 hours in my four-day Civ II spell at Christmas alone.)
Back once more to the Greg, who most recently writes about A Tale In The Desert - very interesting indeed, for at last it's a genuinely different MMORG. For a start, there's no combat in it at all. Instead, you grow flax. Greg later summarises the game "Essentially, the core mechanic of A Tale in the Desert is a materials-processing tree tied to a tech tree and a list of skills."
Does this sound fun to you? Well, the description doesn't instantly make it sound like a barrel of laughs. However, compare it with the sorts of things that the games I do enjoy ask you to do and it's starting to look like a very tempting proposition. After all, Bohnanza is a card game about farming beans (OK, it's really about collecting sets, but the bean farming motif is a lot of fun). It's a description which also screams accountancy at you, but there are bits of accountancy which can be really rather fun in a game context. The tech tree motif also sounds like there's a lot of progress to make, a lot of development to be had, a lot to explore. It's actually sounding very much like my sort of game. Greg's review also suggests that it does a lot of other things well; definite reasons for players to interact, a definite storyline, players can propose rule changes. Sounds like a game in a thousand to me and the only way to get a particular set of thrills. I'm tempted. I'm very tempted.
The other nice thing about Greg's weblog is that it attracts comments from lots of interesting people. For instance, one of the people who responded to one of his posts is a developer of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, which aims to be another different sort of MMORG "in which the key elements of gameplay - sailing your vessel, fighting an enemy, or drinking a friend under the table - are determined by playing small, fun, action Puzzle games akin to Tetris®." Sharp intake of breath - I've never really considered games like Tetris to be puzzles, though I suppose I can just about go along with "action puzzle games". How would you describe Columns, Puzzle Bobble/Snood and that class of games? They are the class of games which are effectively defined as being "a bit like Tetris" and no better description exists. The other interesting thing about Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates is that they have stated that they are aiming for a market of ladies aged 30+. Not sure if that's the right constituency for a pirate game, but I do admire them for trying to capture that market. (I would be interested in playing a game which succeeded in capturing it, largely because it would seem to be likely to contain a good crowd of people to play against.)
It's nice to know what the state of the art is, what people are trying. I think that if the much-threatened Star Wars MMORG is a success then it's probably just a matter of time before we get an official Lord of the Rings MMORG, an official The Matrix MMORG, an official Harry Potter MMORG (do we think JKR would go for that?) and so on. Interesting to compare the Harry Potter RPGs that exist already with what the commercial games might offer; I dare say that the quality of thought that goes in to the HP RPGs on LJ is likely never to be bettered in the future. There's a good survey to be done comparing the techniques used, the playing styles in evidence and the relative success of HP RPGs on LJ, on web-based bulletin boards, through mailing lists and so on, but I wouldn't know where to start with them.
So, all told, lots and lots of interesting games, none of which I play. Next question: why not and what am I doing instead? Well, this goes back to the start - not the start of this point eleven, but the start of this whole post. I'm filling a lot of my time and a lot of my thought patterns with this LJ; any extra games I take up will come from that proportion of my time, emotion and self-recognition that I devote to LJ at the moment. This is my game and I am trying to play it as well as I can. I think I'm slowly getting a little better at it, too; clearing the list of topics that I want to write about some day will be my first end-of-level boss monster. :-) I also have a feeling that playing other games is unlikely to produce any positive permanent record of your achievements, whereas LJ at least produces some a weblog as a memorial to your efforts. Last, but by no means least, LJ also produces friendships in a way that MMORGs possibly can't - though, of course, I can't say that for certain until I've tried one for myself.
Besides, who'd want to give up the LJ game once they finally felt that they were starting to get somewhere with it? :-)