Ashley Zoch

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Giggity Giggity

It's odd how life imitates art.

Last night I watched 'documentary comedian' Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure. It's a very entertaining one-man show about his travels using the Googlewhack game as a theme. One of the main premises of his show are the astounding coincidences that occur on his journey.

A less exciting coincidence is that Google have just recently included portions of Australia in their Google Maps site and I spent the last hour finding my house so that I could stick a red arrow pointing to it and upload it here :

I am here.

It surprised me how long it took to locate my house. I even had to resort to tracing the roads from a recognisable landmark to my house using a copy of the Melways. For those who have been to my house, that's the Leisure Centre at the bottom of the street and there's High Street, Kew running roughly horizontal under it. Note also the enormous tree in my back yard that appears to be 3 times the size of my house!

Unfortunately the resolution for much of the east of Melbourne is quite poor, so depending on where you live you might not have much luck. Here's the West Gate Bridge though.

It's quite remarkable how hard it is to recognise landmarks from aerial photos. I've traveled the same route to work for almost 10 years but I was unable to trace it on the map without street names. I even thought the maps might have been 30+ years old at one point due to the amount of open green space on the maps.

I don't think I made it very clear but the amusing coincidence is that I watched a show about Google last night and then used Google today. Imagine that...using Google.

It's also amusing that the spell-checker on the Google owned Blogger site does not recognise the name Google.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Or maybe they should be...

Swinburne Alumini and buddy of mine Paul Bird is curing Cancer. He's not working in a lab, but he is throwing himself off Guy's Tower in support of Cancer Research UK. Although this sounds all very Le Parkour (he even eludes to it with the picture on his website) he's abseiling and he's never one to pass up the opportunity to have a crack at his surname :

I threw him an Ayrton Senna.
(which I'm told with confidence is slang for Ten Pounds)

This next fellow isn't raising any money (as far as I know) but he has done something equally as silly. His commitment to a good costume and a good laugh deserves to be saluted. I wonder if he abstained?

(which I'm told with confidence is slang for Spunk)

Revenge of the Sith

I don't remember the first time I saw Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back. I think I may have seen both on TV. I do remember seeing Return of the Jedi when it was released theatrically in 1983 at the Palace Theater on Flinders St, Melbourne. I would have been 10 years old. We waited in a line that ran around the block into Russell St for 2 hours.

Like every 10 year old boy I was obsessed with Star Wars. I spent hours playing with "Star Wars Men" and we obsessed over any little factoid in the school playground. I remember one kid returning from a trip to the USA with news that the 3rd film was to be called "Revenge of the Jedi". It turned out that he was right - George Lucas later changed the title to Return of the Jedi deciding that revenge wasn't in a Jedi's nature.

Most every friend I've had has been obsessed with Star Wars. Even at University we were elated by the news that a new trilogy was to be made. We willingly purchased box set after box set of original Trilogy videos. THX Editions, Special Editions, Hong Kong Silver DVD Editions. We even sat through Star Wars with a sheet of paper discovering all the bloopers. Star Wars fans indeed.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck when I heard the first brass fanfare for The Phantom Menace at midnight on the day of it's theatrical release. I didn't form much of an opinion of the movie until I saw it a few more times and it became clear that most folks didn't think it held a candle to the original trilogy. My opinion is this : "Bitter and jaded 30 year old Star Wars obsessives are not the target audience for these films - 10 year old kids are". Sure George Lucas destroyed your childhood with these new films, but he also made plenty of 10 year old's favourite new movies.

I saw Attack of the Clones at it's midnight showing as well. This was the movie that the 30 year olds (with their new collections / investments of still boxed Star Wars Action Figures) pretended was better than the first one and held as a hope that Lucas really was making these movies for them. In reality this movie just had more light sabre action and some big battles that made them think they were 10 again for a bit. The computer generated graphics in this film really were (and still are) quite outstanding.

I don't understand why George Lucas made Revenge of the Sith a Mature (recommended for 15+) rated film. He did get to finally use 'revenge' in a title though. I guess he had to do something pretty unpleasant to turn Anakin into Dark Vader and it couldn't be done in a PG film. I wonder if this effected the Box Office? Since it's not restricted to 15+ like an MA rated film, I suspect not. I wonder how many parents actually knew it wasn't rated PG going in. I think this one will be viewed by the 30 year olds in the same way as the previous one - passable. Some parts of the graphics in the first battle were beautiful.

A handful of thoughts on the whole Star Wars phenomenon :
  • On Filmbuffs Forecast on 3RRR they pondered the order in which these 6 films are intended to be watched. The new prequel trilogy gives up the main plot twists of the original films. It was a big deal to find out Darth Vader was Luke's father in Empire when I was a kid. Now you know going in. This guy watched the films in chronological order with his 7 year old, who raised quite a few concerns.
  • Another radio station questioned why many fast food restaurants had Revenge of the Sith tie in "Kid's Meals". Based on it's rating this film isn't aimed at children.
  • My own conspiracy of the Star Wars galaxy is this : George Lucas never anticipated more than one film when he made the original Star Wars. The signs pointing to this are considerable and would fill their own blog post. I do love to see my cranky 30 year old fan buddies fire up about it though. He made the whole mythos up as he went. There was never a coherent story to be told over 6 films.
  • Every kid I have every asked thinks Jar Jark Binks is great!

The Star Wars trivia continues and rumours of 3D releases and television programs abound. My interest level diminished some years ago, but I like to keep up with the odd bit of news. The most interesting tidbit of late is that George Lucas now wants to make the "arthouse films that no-one will watch" that he intended to make before Star Wars became a phenomenon. I wonder what a billion dollar arthouse project would look like.

I still have a healthy collection of Star Wars Men, but they haven't been buried in the back yard for some years.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Can I have a Mountain Dew?

I'd hate to do that Geek Code test at the moment. I fear I would score far too well (or too poorly - you decide). We recently started up a D&D campaign. It's the first time I've played in 15+ years, but it's still a lot of nerdy, nerdy fun.

We're playing in the Eberron campaign world which our DM describes as a mix of Indiana Jones and the Maltese Falcon. So far the main traits of this world are the War-Forged race (wooden / steel robots powered by magic) and the use of Action Dice (limited bonus dice used to perform otherwise impossible feats). It's nerdy as hell and I love it.

Our party consists of my Halfing Sorcerer Felden, Tom's Cleric Vestinio, Pete's Barbarian Hashish, Michelle's Ninja Nira and Mark's Druid Nirek (along with his pet badger Badge). So far we've sauntered through one adventure - recovering a Schema from a rather shallow dungeon for a lady of one of the city's many noble Houses. We made it through by the skin of our teeth and most of us managed to level our characters. No 'level 10 in 4 hours' in this type of gaming.

Mark (Raj) is a wonderful DM. He's quite the roleplaying veteran (even doing a stint at Mind Games) and it shows. His ability to adlib and grasp of the campaign world are both very refined, and add immensely to the gaming experience. His slightly shonky voicings don't hurt either. I should give his business Gamer's Lair a plug as well.

A good portion of the group are new to the game (or very rusty like myself) so it's been slow going to date. Lots of DM help looking up Saving Throws or Armour Classes. The rules have changed quite a bit since I played Edition 2 (we're at Edition 3.5 now). Wizards of the Coast have 'open sourced' the basic d20 ruleset and simplified it considerably. It's still incredibly detailed for the serious nerds, but the mechanics aren't as esoteric as they once were. Basically you use a 20 sided dice for most elements of chance (hence the d20 name). We're getting there, and the less conscious of the rules we become, the more engrossing the game is.

Back to memorising my Magic Missiles...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Damn Your Worlds of Warcrafts

I've been enjoying frequent business lunches with the boys at Darebin council lately. They've slowly been chipping away at my resolve to get me to join them in the multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. Much to my surprise Mark finally cracked and I decided it was an opportunity for me to try it out with partner of equal n00bness (n00bism? n00bliness? Who knows).

We fired it up (after much patching and restarting) and joined the guild. Shortly after, we were slaughtering level 1 Rattlecage Skeletons and Dusk-Bats (much to our glee). I selected a nice zombie looking Undead Warrior called Mortyss and Mark has a pale bald Undead Mage called Dracombe (much better names than the common 13 year old's fair - Imgunnaslayya, Gnomekilla or BillyGatessux).

We've been pumping through quest and dungeon alike and are currently teetering around the high 20s in level. We're fortunate in that quite a few other folks got suckered in at the same time so we have a good bunch of friends to 'party' with (never has party meant something as far from the common use as in role-playing). It beats playing with childish and unpredictable strangers by a long shot.

We've run a few dungeons using the guild's Teamspeak server for communication. It's a lot of fun and involves enough strategy to keep the mind interested. It's warming to see teamwork occurring without the need for someone to act as boss. Folks know their roles and perform them willingly for the benefit of the group. It works well.

The mechanics of the game are very well put together. It's basically Diablo with a bunch of other people playing, but it's big enough not to feel like you're being led through a linear plot. It seems that Blizzard has put some effort into keeping players of wildly disparate levels away from each other and this is good. It's nice that everyone's level 60 (the maximum) friends aren't rushing them through dungeons to level their characters in a couple of days.

The looting (collecting treasure from monsters) could use some more fine tuning. There's some options there, but everyone I have played with has their own additional policies on the distribution of treasure. I've seen many mistakes and the odd bit of bad blood from folks grabbing stuff their shouldn't have. It's a minor annoyance.

Blizzard have carefully placed milestones as your character levels to maintain your interest. As you become stronger you can visit more locations, make use of more convenient (and exotic) transport and delve deeper into your character's chosen skills. I guess that's common in a lot of games, but it's well spaced in WoW - just enough to keep the addiction going.

That all feels a bit like a review. I was a bit hesitant to play a long term subscription based game due to my plans to head overseas. WoW is rich enough in content that I'm satisfied with the amount I have played already. My concern now is what will happen to my poor Mortyss when I do go...

Thursday, June 16, 2005


A regular, effective sleep schedule continues to elude me.

The tale of 'time traveler' John Titor and my recent viewing of Carl Sagan's Cosmos television series got my brain ticking on the topic of time travel.

Take your average lazy and self-centred 21st century individual and arm them with the means to travel back in time (say an Uncle Rico style time machine).

I suspect their first action would be to grant themselves financial independence and free up their time for more leisurely pursuits (maybe by putting a little money on the Cubbies). Easy enough to do with foreknowledge of the stock market or sporting events. With the problem of money taken care of, one's thoughts may turn to correcting regretted decisions or catching 'the one that got away'. Pretty easy going so far.

Now that we have our own lives in order, it's time to save the world. Let's pick the most well known atrocity of the 20th century and take Adolf Hitler out of the picture. It would only take a moment to come up with a handful of (hopefully peaceful) ways of stopping his rise to power. This is where it gets interesting - in order to do this you would require a set of skills that the average person doesn't possess. For example : you would need a detailed understanding of the period in history (events, locations, transport) and even the German language.

The further back you go, the less detailed our historical records become and the harder it would be to prepare yourself for the mission. There's no common field of expertise either, so you'd be learning new languages, etc for each trip. I wonder if it would just be too hard...

On a different tangent - would the wide spread availability of time travel devices turn them into accidental suicide machines as people inadvertently remove themselves from existence while trying to improve their lot?

Or even more disturbing - become their own grandfather like poor Phillip J. Fry.

Anyone interested in the topic of time travel should take the trouble to locate Shane Carruth's excellent independent film Primer.