Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cheap 'n' Nasty Games

Are you a Nintendo Man or a Sony Man? Maybe you're a girl! Whatever you are, if you choose fancy graphics and sound over gameplay you're wrong, simple as that.

Nintendo are the gameplay masters and the Super Mario series of games boasts some of the best gameplay anywhere, ever. All of which explains my bitter disappointment when I failed to find Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for my Game Boy in the shops yesterday.

It's actually quite hard to find genuine video games in Riyadh: even supermarket chains like Carrefour carry pirated copies. You can tell a pirated cartridge by the cheap, over-colourful printing on the box, the lack of a manual, and the fact that 9 out of 10 cartridges don't work properly -- but at least they're cheap.

The last shop I went in had hundreds of titles for Game Boy, XBox, PlayStation (1 & 2), and all were phoney. By the time the Indian shopkeeper had told me he didn't have my game of choice I was emotionally committed to making a purchase, so settled on The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, which is one of the few Zelda games I haven't played. I tested it in the shop and it seemed to work fine so I handed over my 35 Riyals (about £5).

Of course once I got it home I found I couldn't save my progress, which is kind of important in a massive role-playing adventure.

I took it back to the shop this morning and the man disappeared for a few minutes, then came back with -- joy! -- a copy of Mario & Luigi! He'd obviously knocked this one up sometime yesterday afternoon on the off chance that I came back. My joy was short-lived however when I tested the game out: this one wouldn't save either. I did find two games I fancied and that worked properly: DK King of Swing and Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land. Well, sometimes you have to blow into the cartridge and knock it on the table before loading it in your Game Boy to get it load, but THEN it works properly.

Fair play, the guy let me have both games in exchange for Zelda so I left feeling quite pleased with myself. At the next shop I found another copy of M&L, and this one worked just fine so I bought that too.

Today's haul

Three Game Boy games for around £10: bargain. I don't normally agree with buying pirated stuff, but when you can't get the originals and you need it there and then what choice do you have?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cloud Atlas

One of the problems with trying to be a writer is that you have to spend a lot of time reading. Now if you're reading a book just for the pleasure of it then reading is no problem at all but one of life's greatest joys, but if you're a budding writer then reading the work of others can be quite demoralising.

The novel I'm currently reading is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and while the Reader in me is enjoying it immensely the Writer is being punched to the ground and savegely kicked where he lies. Reading stunningly good writing like this makes me realise how high and steep is the hill I have chosen to attempt.

Cloud Atlas is a series of six stories, all set in different times yet interconnected in sometimes simple, sometimes ingenious ways. The book begins with the first story, which is set in the nineteenth century, and moves through the stories (and jumps forward in time) until the sixth story is introduced in the middle of the book. That's the point I'm at right now but I was intrigued to see how the second half of the book would be handled so I flicked ahead and discovered that we have only the first half of each story, and that each will be revisited and finished in the latter half, travelling backward in time in the process.

What we have here is a mountain of a book whose peak I'm about to reach before beginning the descent to base camp. It makes me wonder how one can come up with such a multi-layered idea in the first place, let alone map it out to the required level of detail.

The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2004, the prize that year being won by The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst.

I won't comment on the novel's merits until I've finished it but I will say that I am finding it a fascinating read and a maddening showcase of just how inventive and compelling writers can be. I look at my own scribblings to date and slump with dejection at the comparison.

Still, I bet even David Mitchell had to start somewhere and has some early drafts that he's not too proud of. Please say it's true!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sites about sites

Don't get me wrong, the world wide web is a wonderful thing, but lately I've been feeling a little swamped by all the sites, directories, blog search engines, and community portals that are supposed to make your life on-line easier, but have lately been having the opposite effect on me.

These are coming at me from a couple of different directions. Firstly there are those sites that help you promote your blog(s), propogating content around the internet in RSS feeds, indexing content for blog search engines, and those that gather statistics about your readership. Sites I've found/use in this category are:-
  • ClustrMaps - See map on left. They capture info about the geographical location of people hitting your site, the upshot being that over time your little world map is peppered with red blobs showing you where your readers are. I am currently a ClustrMaps User of the Month, which is nice.
  • Feedburner - RSS aggregator that captures your content and sends it to various hubs where people who use RSS readers can pick up their subcribed content. Essentially RSS feeds let you gather all the blogs you read into one place and read the content there instead of having to go to each site individually, and some RSS readers even have an off-line mode, so you can read Bloody Marvellous! on the plane :-)
  • Technorati - is a blog about blogs. They have rankings and log every time somebody adds your blog to their (Technorati) favourites. You can also search every registered blog here.
  • Statcounter - this is the latest one I've been playing with and it's very cool. It's a free service that gathers stats about all my visitors: not just location but also what operating system and web browser they're using, their screen resolution, and something called the "referring page". With this I can see when people land on my blogs as the result of a Google search, complete with the search term they typed in. If you have a blog of your own I recommend this service.
Then there are those famous ones I haven't tried yet:
  • del.ici.ous - no idea what this site is about but I see references to it everywhere
  • Digg - ditto
The second area where I'm feeling like a victim of the web firehose is in those sites aimed at teen networking and on-line discussion. Sites like MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, MSN Spaces, and Tagged are all about teenagers creating their own spaces and linking to all their friends. My two kids are obsessed with these, which means I have to be too if I'm to monitor what they're doing on-line and keep them out of harm's way. So I have to accept when Abigail invites me to be a Facebook buddy or Elliot creates a new Bebo page so I can make sure their on-line behaviour is as exemplary as in the real world.

Of course the result of all this is, not only do I have about twenty userid's and passwords to remember, I spend at least half my time on-line checking stats, accepting invitations, reading teen comments tht r all wrtn lk ths kwl lol (gives me a headache) and scanning my blog stats logs.

It's a good job I've got nothing better to do!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lost in Translation: Episode 8

More Riyadh signs that don't quite make the journey from Arabic to English unscathed:

"Please use other door"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Boneless Girl

Here she is, the star of iGoogle's game gadgets, it's Boneless Girl!
(code hacked to make her appear here without kind permission of TheWeather.TK: I hope they don't mind!)

If you're ever stuck for something to do just come back here and watch Boneless Girl fall about for a while. Actually she's not boneless at all, just floppy really (and a bit double-jointed), but Floppy Girl doesn't sound so good does it? You can watch idly as she plummets through the sky, and go "Ouch!" and "Eewww!" as her limbs get bashed into all sort of unnatural positions.


If she gets stuck you can grab any part of her anatomy (Oo-er!) with your mouse and either drag her through impossibly small gaps or fling her spinning up into the sky.

If you have iGoogle (and if you don't, get it!), you can add Boneless Girl to your page by clicking here.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

iGoogle: fun and easier than writing

Continuing my informal series on things you can do to put off doing any creative writing, this morning I discovered the web's perfect diversion for anyone wishing to further their procrastinating career: iGoogle.

Here's my iGoogle home page. You can add and delete gadgets with a couple of clicks, and rearrange them on the page by dragging 'n' dropping.

iGoogle is the new name for Google Homepage, and it's basically a fully customisable page which you can use instead of the regular or Once you have a Google account you can populate your iGoogle page with Gadgets -- small programs that each do one specific thing like givea weather forecast or show the BBC news headlines. There are all sorts of gadgets including games, and once your page is full of stuff you can just create a new tab and start filling up again. One really neat thing is the option to let Google fill your new tab automatically based on its name. Elliot, for example, created a tab called "Guitar" and Google filled it with guitar chord gadgets, tabulature finders, and other things a guitarist would want to have at their fingertips.

When you create a new tab you can have Google populate it with relevant content to the tab name. Here's my Writing tab.

By far and away the best gadget I've found so far is Boneless Girl: a completely pointless desktop diversion featuring a bikini-clad girl with no bones falling through a sky filled with large bubbles. As she hits each bubble or group of bubbles her body twists and turns in the kind of improbable positions you'd expect a girl with no bones to get into. It might not sound that interesting but the animation is so good I just can't stop watching it. I've put Boneless Girl on my Games tab in iGoogle and can happily waste half an hour watching her bounce around, dragging her out of tight spots with my mouse and flinging her across the sky for more painful-looking bouncing.

When I'm feeling really lazy I can head on over to my Games tab and work through a Sudoku while playing Deal Or No Deal and watching Boneless Girl go through her paces all at the same time. I've only been at it a day and already I've forgotten how I used to waste time before iGoogle.

It's one of those things you've just got to see to understand. To get your own iGoogle go to (or, your local Google) and create an account, then click iGoogle to get started.

It's fun, and a great way to not write.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lost In Translation: Episode 7

Went supermarket shopping in Carrefour the other day: an excursion that is incomplete without roaming the children's clothing dept for garments bearing nonsensical slogans. They are an attempt to "be cool" by sporting slogans in English, but in reality they are designed, made, distributed, retailed, bought and worn by people who have no idea what the slogans say, let alone that they don't actually make any sense:

...then the other day I saw this new cafe in the Diplomatic Quarter.

My "Sandwish" is that it wouldn't get in my eyes, mouth and hair when I'm quadbiking!