Dork Geek Nerd

"Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist"

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So I flicked two switches...

And now anyone posting comments will have to go through a trivial-for-humans word verification step to prevent auto-spam.

Also, my entries should be stamped with the correct time/date I'm uploading them in Emerald City, Oz...ahem, Sydney, Australia.

"Hello John, got a new motor?"

No, but I've just done the Sydney Motor Show. Like I do every year. Some of my acquaintances reckon it's only worth attending bi- or triennially, that not enough changes in the Australian auto market in 12 months. Rubbish! I arrived at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre at 6.45pm and only left a whisker before the 10pm close. Granted, I was waylaid for 20 minutes by an enthusiastic Hyundai salesman (possibly spurred on by his company's logo on the side of my Newcastle United Jets cap), but there really was stacks to see - and I'm not just talking about the plunging necklines of former "Big Brother" housemate Tilly and the other ladies on the Mitsubishi stand.

For three hours, I worked my way betwixt manufacturers, noting innovations, asking dumb questions (that strange intake on the roof of rally cars is simply to let air into the cabin as they can't very well wind down the windows), checking prices, collecting brochures, testing out front seats, complaining when they didn't easily accommodate a 6'5" frame, and imagining what various new models would be like on an empty road. Funny thing was, amid all the top-of-the-line and concept cars, the vehicle that impressed me most was in the Shannon's auction section - a 1930 Cadillac with a V16 engine, the aerodynamics of a garden shed and as much class as the day it was completed.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Family ties

Not just an unmissable 80s sitcom starring Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton, the title of this blog entry sums up my latest weekend in Newcastle with my mother and father, and my sister AC and two-year-old nephew Z.

Some things don't change... When she's not fattening me up with delicious home cooking, Mum and I like to go shopping at the local supermarket, watch crime shows (which I don't normally enjoy, but I do with her) and chat at length.

Dad and I also have a tradition where we get the horse racing form guide early Saturday morning, make hyphothetical each-way selections in the major meetings, then listen to or watch the races. He usually out-tips me in Melbourne, but this Cox Plate I finished in front with three firsts and a second (out of 10 races) - for a small hypothetical profit.

I only see my sis every couple of years as she lives in Japan with her hubby. Even while visiting us, most of her time was taken up with Z., who demands to be entertained for much of the day and part of the night. Good thing he's adorable! I did my best to invent games for the little bloke (surprisingly, I still remember the words to "Bananas In Pyjamas"!) as my sister and I caught up. We always had similar outlooks and senses of humour and I think, despite our very different situations, we always will.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Work's for jerks

I've been jerked about like a multi-limbed marionette since I resumed mine on Monday, not escaping the office until after 8pm the past three nights.

A to-do list task that I am looking forward to is writing up my e-mail interview with Lemmy from Motorhead. His responses were terse and wryly amusing.

My favourite -

ME: Can you recommend any good hangover cures?
LEMMY: Don't stop drinking!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wumpus season!

One of my greatest joys as a kid was visiting my cousins TH and GH, whose life seemed a series of boys' own adventures (not that I was familiar with the phrase back then) and who always had toys/games that were different to mine.

At a time when I was still contentedly numbing my thumb playing the Atari 2600, they acquired a "proper" computer - a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. I couldn't yet see the appeal of a games machine with a keyboard but had to admit some of the carts were mighty playable - especially "Hunt The Wumpus".

In "H/T/W", you are an adventurer making his way through a maze the size of the screen, revealing another tunnel or cave (which then stays "lit") with each step. Your goal is to slay the titular beast with your crossbow - the catch being that if your first bolt misses, the monster uses you as topping on its toast.

All caves within ONE OR TWO MOVES of the Wumpus contain tell-tale bloodstains, which probably makes it sound like an easy target. However, there are other hazards. Walking into a pit - indicated by slime splashes in caves ONE MOVE away - means instant death. There are also bats who, if you disturb their slumber, may teleport you to a random location - which could be a pit or even the Wumpus's lair!

This elegant, addicting game has stayed with me over the years and it clearly lodged in the memories of some Wizards Of The Coast staff, too, as the 1999 Mercadian Masques expansion for "Magic: The Gathering" contained a nasty pair of creatures named Hunted Wumpus and Thrashing Wumpus.

You may ask where all this nostalgic blood and slime is leading.

Well, while perusing retro gaming web sites earlier today, I happened upon a freeware PC remake of "H/T/W". I installed it lickety-split and didn't stop playing till I'd slain the fell beast on "easy", "hard" and "pro".

I won't embarrass myself by revealing how many attempts it took to beat that last difficulty level. Suffice it to say the "pro" tunnels are mega-twisty and some mazes require risk-taking - either walking blindly into possible pit caves or allowing a bat to teleport you in the hope of opening up a "safe" new area.

Those who've never had the pleasure of hunting a Wumpus, or those who have but feel like dusting off their torch and crossbow, can find the aforementioned faithful recreation at Enjoy!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bris Vegas wrap-up

How I got there: Hitched a lift with the oldies in their trusty Ford Falcon. We drove to Coffs Harbour, stayed overnight in a budget Formule 1 motel (our three-person room saw me sleeping in a top bunk for the first time in probably 25 years), then drove the rest of the way the next day.

How I got back: XPT train. 'Twas scheduled to leave the Brisbane Transit Centre at 7.30am but rail congestion delayed our departure an hour. We eventually arrived at Central Station, Sydney at 10.45pm! During that time - when not gazing at the countryside, eating or napping - I managed to read: the "Courier-Mail" newspaper (and do a crossword and sudoku), the latest "ABC Cricket" magazine, "Knights Of The Dinner Table" #119 (the only US comic I can't give up) and half of Michael Frayn's excellently excellent novel "Spies" (a mystery of childhood imaginings in WW2 England). I also played through a large chunk of the RPG "Lunar Genesis" on the Nintendo DS.

What I did: Spent the first two days at a classy convention centre (in an outlying suburb) for my sister EW's wedding to TM. Day one saw the menfolk attempting to out-drink and out-anecdote each other as always happens on the rare occasions when our clan gather. Late that night, I had to forcibly separate two of my uncles when a drunken argument escalated beyond the verbal, but all was forgiven with a handshake at breakfast and the marriage and reception went swimmingly. It really was great to see everyone - doesn't happen often enough. I felt a terrible sense of loss when it was over. As the bride and groom flew to Vanuatu, I transferred to a motel overlooking the CBD for five days of playing tourist.

Sightseeing: Local dorkgeeknerd shops, Conrad Treasury Casino (I've now gambled in every state/territory capital in Oz!), Chinatown (had a meat-heavy yum cha at the biblical-sounding King Of Kings), "City Sights" bus tour x2 (so good I did it twice and, as expected, the second driver pointed out stuff the first hadn't), Museum Of Brisbane (nice mix - especially liked the history of the Miss Australia pageant), Royal Botanic Gardens (ho-hum), Queensland University of Technology (picturesque campus where I thought my scientist sis had worked - I later found it was UQ) and their Art Museum (96% crap), Qld Maritime Museum (compares favourably to Sydney's; highlights were touring the river frigate HMAS Diamantina and a collection of boat/ship paintings entered in a national competition), Qld Museum (surprisingly narrow range; the immersive Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander exhibits were the most memorable), the artificial sandy beach (beside the Brisbane River at South Bank), Old/New Parliament House (basically, they built the new one onto the old. I could happily live in the library room!), XXXX Brewery (the second best tour I took), 'Gabba cricket/AFL ground (the best; saw every bit and got to walk across the hallowed turf until the Bulls came out for a practice session. Have now visited all the major krikkit grounds in Oz*.).

Notable gut-stuffing: "Ancient" lentil soup at Ahmet's Turkish restaurant (tasted fresh to me), visne suyu (sour cherry juice from same), Beef and Carbine Stout pie and can't-get-it-anywhere-else XXX Bitter (yes, three ex) at the XXXX Ale House.

Final word: Brisbane is a pretty city in which old sandstone buildings, radical-looking skyscrapers and tropical parklands share the space. From a tourist perspective, it's well laid out, maintained and, most importantly, signposted (I walked almost everywhere). As to whether I could live there...the tanglible feelings of potential and local pride are certainly appealing. It's possible I'll return in a few years as the Qld Art Gallery and (most of) the State Library were closed this time, I also didn't get around to visiting the observatory and it'd be beaut to see some sport played at either the 'Gabba or the gigantic glass box that is Suncorp Stadium.

*Watched matches at the SCG (heaps), Adelaide Oval and the WACCA, and toured Bellerive (Hobart) in the off-season. But, to my shame, I've so far only admired the MCG from the outside.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dear Reader

I head off on vacation tomorrow. It's possible I'll update this blog along the way, at Internet cafes, etc., but then again maybe not. In the latter case, you won't hear from me for more than a week. Until then, in the words of Hulk Hogan, "Train, say your prayers and eat your vitamins!"

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Socceroos 2 - Bahrain 0

It was nice just to get a win after last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Paraguay due to a late-game own goal. (Such a debacle would never have happened under Guus!)

CM, AM, PB2 and I were among the 36,000 there at Aussie Stadium to see it, clad in green'n'gold, fortified with Thai food and nursing our plastic cups of Vile Brew.

I thought all the Socceroos squad played OK, with John Aloisi and Marco Bresciano knocking in our two goals and Mile Sterjovski being unlucky not to make it 3-0.

Bahrain, on the other hand... Well, they had their chances, thanks mainly to the efforts of #28 and #52, but were generally too busy spoiling and wasting time.

I know they only sent over the reserve side, that they were playing in front of a partisan crowd and that the weather/pitch/facilities might not have suited. But...

I haven't seen such a bunch of diving, injury-faking, shirt-tugging, dodgy-tackling players since the lads and I went to Oz's "friendly" against Turkey in 2004.

They deserved to lose 10-0.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

You (may have) heard it here first

Aussie pay TV is getting a dedicated science-fiction channel, which is scheduled to begin broadcasting December 1. On the Foxtel service, it will supposedly be part of the "My Escape" package.

Although it'll be called the Sci Fi Channel like the famous US network and appears to be using the same logo, the two reportedly won't be connected.

The people behind it are the same ones responsible for TV1. Draw your own conclusions about the contemporaneity and diversity of programming from that.

Of the list of possible shows I read, there was nothing I hadn't watched (or at least had the opportunity to do so). I admit my intial vibe's a negative one, but I'm ready and willing to be proven wrong.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Carlito is cool

Today, I conducted a face-to-face interview with visiting WWE Superstar Carlito (daunting), in a swanky conference room at the Sheraton On The Park (double daunting), under the scrutiny of his two minders and a paparazzo we'd hired for the occasion (daunting cubed).

I needn't have worried as it was glitch-free. I've already transcribed the recording and written up the article. I'm getting the pics tomorrow and hopefully there'll be at least two or three shots of us together where I'm not gurning.

But back to Carlito...

Beneath the woolly hair, behind the apple-spitting antics and away from the rasslin' ring, he came across as thoughtful and sincere - a genuinely cool dude.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


If you haven't watched the teaser trailer for "300" yet, surf to and follow the link posthaste. I can't string together enough superlatives to do it justice.

Looks like they've stuck to the plot of Frank Miller's original graphic novel (which I read, of all places, in a public library in Perth), while improving on the visuals.

If the movie lives up to the preview's potential, we could be in for another comic adaptation of "Sin City" or "V For Vendetta" quality. Go you Spartans!

B-grade conditions at the A-League

When Sydney FC defeated Adelaide United 4-1 last week, their latest import Benito Carbone set up two goals and scored a late one of his own, instantly impressing me more than previous "marquee" players Dwight Yorke or the hard-working Kazuyoshi "Kazu" Miura. I was keen as a condiment to see him play live.

Fast-forward to today, when I'd arranged to meet CM, AM and PB2 at Aussie Stadium to watch SFC take on Queensland Roar. (My own team, the Newcastle United Jets, were at home to Melbourne Victory, but there was zero chance of me making the trek up there when I'd have to return the same night.)

It was 30 degrees as I was preparing to leave, so I applied sunscreen for the first time in months. Unfortunately, no sooner had I met the lads and we taken our seats in the stadium than the weather went topsy-turvy. By the end of the game, it was overcast, extremely windy and <20 degrees.

And me in a Hawaiian shirt! :-)

To cut a long whinge short, a combination of the inclement conditions, poor play from second stringers filling in (sometimes out of position) for team-mates in the Socceroos squad or injured, plus inconsistent refereeing, made the 1-1 draw forgettable apart from Alvin Ceccoli's cannon blast of an equaliser for Sydney.

I've no doubt Benito will achieve more before he farewells the A-League, however, this wasn't to be his arvo. He was on the receiving end of some shocking rulings, such as when he was fouled just outside the Roar box and should have been awarded a free kick - only to be yellow carded for diving!

Undiscerning palate

Lunching at Sushi Train as I'm wont, I tried a new plate - plain rice bases topped with slices of mollusc identified on the menu as "hokki surf clam". The rubbery flesh was white with a bright orange-red edge and I'm guessing by the name came from either what I know as a pippi or something very similar. So how were they? To be honest, all I could taste was the wasabi underneath. Must be one of those acquired thingies :-)

Autograph huntering

Betwixt a manga-buying splurge ("Fullmetal Alchemist", "Hikaru No Go", "Return To Labyrinth", "Fruits Basket") and a menial-labour surge (the only thing worse than doing housework on Saturday is leaving it till Sunday!), I spent a couple of hours spectating at the Grand Prix Sydney Magic tournament, at the Masonic Centre.

Back in '02, when the Worlds were held here at Fox Studios, I took a week off work so as not to miss a minute. I played in several side events, including an "Iron Man" draft where you ripped up every card that went to the graveyard (I was snapped by a Wizards Of The Coast photographer shredding a popular rare).

In '06, I'm no longer interested in competing against strangers, or watching the pros play all day long; I just like to drop in briefly at major tournaments to get a "feel" for the metagame, see a few famous faces I've read about on the Net and, ideally, get cards signed by the guest artists.

The illustrators present today were Mark Poole and Warren Mahy. Both were friendly, grounded guys - and part-time social gamers - who I enjoyed yakking with. Mark's a Yank who's been painting Magic cards since the beginning (we're talking Alpha!). Warren, a Kiwi, is a relative newcomer with a very distinctive, fantasy-horror style.

WM was kind enough to sign four Blind Hunters from my Ravnica block league cards. For those who don't know, this bad-boy bat is a 2/2 flyer for BW2. When it comes into play, your opponent loses 2 life and you gain 2. Also, when it dies, it "haunts" another creature. When that critter expires (assuming it goes to the graveyard), your opponent loses another 2 and you gain 2 more life. Not bad, eh?

A Gatherer database-assisted search this morning had failed to unearth four of any single card by MP in my collection, but I was confident I'd be able to pick some up from one of the dealers present. My old friend KO from the Sydney Games Centre came to my rescue with four cheap, mint Cancels - counter target spell for UU1. While inferior to the original Counterspell (the mana cost having been "fixed" by WOTC), its a cool card in that the bald, goateed mage pictured closely resembles Mark himself. He was happy to sign the quartet.

If I may be allowed to boast, I now have sets of four cards (worth using) signed by Warren Mahy, Mark Poole, Ben Thompson (Chainer's Edict), Matt Cavota (Skywing Aven), Terese Nielsen (Sonic Seizure, along with her original pencil sketch for the piece - I had a rush of blood to the wallet that day) and Mark Tedin (Gallantry).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Florence and a four-way battle

Didn't do so well in yesternight's gaming...

Carlton Draughts in hand and gourmet pizzas ordered, SC, TC, LPO and I sunk the slipper into proceedings with the boardgame "The Princes Of Florence". In story terms, you design a medieval Italian city, then attract various professions to festoon it with great works.

In game terms, this involves holding auctions, creating synergies between resources, finding a balance between scoring points and refilling your coffers, and even a bit of "Tetris"-ing as you place your natural features and oddly shaped buildings onto individual grids.

Despite botching my final turn with a risk that didn't pay off and finishing dead last (SC narrowly pipped LPO for the win), I had a blast. I'd never played "T/P/O/F" before, but wouldn't mind giving it another crack - especially now I have some idea of the strategies required.

Our city-making had taken a good few hours, so the second game had to be quick and easy.

LPO came up with the idea of opening three boosters of the "Magic: The Gathering" expansion Guildpact each, shuffling them without looking, then placing them face down as our "decks". SC rounded up a pile of each land type and these were put in the middle of the table. We then had a four-player duel where you attacked left and defended right (but could target all three opponents with other spells). On your go, you either drew from your deck or from a land pile.

It worked exceedingly well - eventually reaching a point where SC was on 2 life, TC on 2, LPO on 3 and me on 3. As LPO sent an unblockable beast across my border, guaranteeing my demise, I used an instant effect to kill TC and steal third place. LPO then gained a modicum of revenge for his "T/P/O/F" loss by eliminating SC with direct damage on the same turn.

From the post-game discussion, it was obvious everyone's jonesing for some role-playing, so expect to read about that next time...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mildly taxing

I must be getting lazier 'cos I've never left my tax return this late before. Yeah, I could get it done professionally, but as the son of a former bookkeeper, that just doesn't seem right. Besides, my situation's pretty simple - one source of income, negligible interest, one health fund and a bunch of deductable donations.

This year, the ATO made things easier for me - I qualified to use the special short version of the form, the details of which I was able to submit via a new 24-hour automated phone line (while watching a basketball game on TV :-) ).

It worked OK. I cracked the shizznits at one point after I accidentally skipped ahead a question and the system errored and abruptly hung up. Thankfully, when I stopped swearing and called back, it allowed me to restart from the same place.

Once I'd rattled off all the data, I was given a receipt number and an estimate of my refund. I always expect slightly more than I receive and, assuming the figure the pre-recorded voice gave is correct, 2005-2006 will be no exception. I don't mind - whenever the cheque turns up, it'll come in handy for something.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Our new place of business is at the Asian end of town and has opened up a continent of culinary opportunities. This arvo, SC and I - ostensibly taking a break to prevent eye strain - paid a visit to a nearby bakery where I sampled a savoury pastry that doesn't sound very unusual... However, Breadtop's idea of a "sausage bun" ain't a sizzled snag wrapped in a slice of buttered white bread. It's a cocktail frankfurt baked into the centre of a kind of cheese croissant - joined to its Siamese twin. Now, I'm not saying it tasted awful or made me ill, but I do think a more truthful title for this delicacy would be "two deceptively oily, ludicrously sugary sausage buns you'll regret as soon as you finish them - if not before".

Monday, October 02, 2006

Madness cured?

The Animania convention, held at Sydney's Town Hall, didn't thrill me this year. Sure, I rocked up after lunch on Sunday, but as events were scheduled well into the evening, it couldn't have wound down *that* much since Saturday morning.

My main complaint is the lack of interesting material in the screening room. In '04 and '05, I'd been introduced to cool new shows like ".hack", "Gravion Zwei" and "Fullmetal Alchemist" (just started the manga - tres beaut). In '06, there was nothing whose blurb in the con handbook made me go, "I gotta see this!"

Next whinge: the altered layout. Why were the artist's stands moved from the room where the panels took place to the rear of the main auditorium? It's difficult to chat to someone about their work ("Got any pics of 'Death Note' characters?") when there's a bloody karaoke duet going on at the other end of the hall!

And another thing... The gaming section. Whose idea was it to scale down the exciting-to-watch beat-'em-up tournaments in favour of a "Nintendo chill-out zone"? I don't wanna see four kids playing "Mario Kart" on Gamecube - bring back the ridiculous martial arts combos! As for the dancing games, the sound of the players (and over-enthusiastic spectators) jumping up and down on the wood floor assaulted my ears like the buffalo stampede from "Dances With Wolves".

In previous years, the only money I spent at Animania was my entry fee. This time, I had to buy a few bits'n'bobs - badges, bookmarks, stickers - just to keep myself amused. The highlights were a nice colour print of Momo from "Bleach" and a badge with a picture of a bearded, middle-aged man dressed as a Sailor Scout giving the peace sign. Caption: "Friends don't let friends do cosplay."

Speaking of which, my final gripe is with the cosplay competition. A past favourite, it seemed too drawn out and a couple of tedious skits saw me off within half an hour (of the allocated three!) to revisit the dealers' tables. I hope that Generic Tentacle Beast guy turned up again.

Despite all those negatives, I'm still glad I attended as I'd hate Animania to disappear and it did give me an idea of what's "hot" in the local scene. The weird thing is, I'm madder than ever about the genre. Can you say "spoilt for choice"? :-)

Games people play

In between two nights at my parents' place in Newcastle (mmm...home cooking), I spent the day at PG and DG's farmhouse in Port Stephens. GH and I caught the bus there with three goals in mind:

* Catching up with our friends (obviously)
* Getting GH's brand-new secondhand Xbox soft-modded
* Playing some board-/video-games

These objectives were achieved with just minutes to spare before the last bus back to Newie. It was good to see P+D, who gave us a glimpse at their current (hush-hush) writing project, shouted pizza for lunch and played good hosts as always.

The modding was a success and afforded this non-technical blogger the opportunity conquer "Poker 2x" (Texas Hold 'Em) on PG's GP2X handheld. I claim I did it first go, although in fact the batteries died with me as chip leader, having knocked out four opponents. Slipping in some freshly charged ones, I systematically cleaned house - even jagging four kings in one hand (something I've never done in real life without the help of wild cards).

Our three-player gaming for the day consisted of conquering "Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows" on Xbox and a tabletop tussle using Marvel Heroclix figurines.

The first...

After longish sessions on two previous visits, we were 81% of the way through "G:S/S" and the remaining levels proved no sweat - our characters (I played a barbarian named Thrud, in honour of the ancient "White Dwarf" comic strip) were super-strong by this stage. The ending's awesome and sees you powering up ballistae to fire at a gigantic lava demon while simultaneously suppressing his legion of minions using your "standard" weaponry and avoiding deadly molten rain.

The second...

PG concocted a wild 'Clix scenario in which Hank Pym had lost control of his Pym Particles, gone mad and accidentally killed Professor X. He played the West Coast Avengers, who were trying to protect their mate till he calmed down. GH was the X-Men, out for Pym's blood. I took control of the New Mutants (I still love those early issues), gunning for the WCA.

This was ridiculously close. When G's MVP Storm dealt Pym the coup de grace, I was one turn (and two clicks - I checked later) away from nailing the last Avenger (Tigra). At the same time, P was only two more goes from defusing the situation.

Can't wait for the rematch on our next trip to P+D's!