Dork Geek Nerd

"Rational romantic mystic cynical idealist"

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A right plonker

On paper, "Dr Plonk" is a low-budget, black-and-white, silent*, "name"-free (exception: Magda Szubanski), slapstick comedy about a clownish Aussie scientist living a century ago who invents a ridiculous time machine (the capsule's a pine box), zips forward to 2007, becomes convinced the end is nigh and struggles to alert the powers that be.

In reality, "Dr Plonk" is an amusing idea for a film-making exercise that at 83 minutes could do with having at least 70 minutes cut (I was nodding off halfway). There's no denying it's artfully constructed, with plenty of background detail, but homage taken this far is self-indulgence - an unnecessary rehash of tired routines and a waste of grant money.

After the exemplary "Ten Canoes", I expected better from writer/director/producer Rolf De Heer.

Yes, DL, your prediction was right :-)

*In the traditional sense, ie. no dialogue, but musical accompaniment throughout. Mainly piano, with violin, piano accordion and double bass.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Panda, giraffe, hippo, elephant, crocodile, lion, rabbit and monkey magic

If "Zoo Keeper" was a person, I’d wanna give them a great big hug. As it's a Nintendo DS cart, I'll settle for a metaphorical embrace.

A puzzler of the genus "Bejeweled", "Z/K" involves switching the positions of cute animal heads on an 8x8 grid in order to form identical lines of three or more. These then disappear and critters fall from the top of the screen to fill the abhorrent vacuum. (Ideally, triggering a chain reaction.) Play continues until you capture a set amount of animals and progress to the next level, or else the time limit expires, it's game over and you weep blood while screaming white noise.

OK, that last part was an exaggeration.

Anyhoo, I tried each of the modes once, hated the guts of "Quest" and took an immediate shine to "Tokoton 100", in which you've gotta bag 100 of any beast to complete each stage. After three games (they take about half an hour!), my highest score's 707,960 (level 20).

According to the entry, that's the final stage and is followed by a story about the keeper. If only I could have captured a few extra monkeys!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


"Magic: The Gathering"'s 10th or X Edition is the first core set to be printed with black borders since Beta and the only one to include legendary creatures. I think it's the best mix since Revised, with the highest standard of artwork.

So far, I've only purchased the five theme decks. Perhaps in response to the heroes of the trendy "World Of Warcraft" CCG, each is based around a legend, as is evident in their titles: Evincar's Tyranny (black), Arcanis's Guile (blue), Molimo's Might (green), Kamahl's Temper (red) and Cho-Manno's Resolve (white).

After nine hours of testing - five with SC and four solo* - I feel confident in ranking the decks. For the third edition running, white is No. 1, controlling the battlefield with first strike and critter removal. It's combo of Cho-Manno (all damage reduced to zero) and Pariah (damage directed at you is instead dealt to enchanted creature) is an auto-win versus green, and can be a lock against black or red depending on the spells left in their library. What were Wizards Of The Coast's R&D department smoking?

Here are the results of the round robin:

White - 4 match wins/9 game wins
Blue - 3/8
Green - 2/5
Black - 1/4
Red - 0/4

(Note that even when a best-of-three match had been won 2-0, the third game was still played.)

Overall, the decks are moderately balanced as there were only two 3-0 sweeps (blue over green, white over black). Last-placed red still managed to take a game off each other colour, though its only chance was to "steamroll" and pray the opposition faltered. White further asserted its dominance by winning a multiplayer melee (not counted in the nine hours) that I played with SC, TC and LPO.

*All while listening to Velvet Revolver's "Libertad" album, which in my opinion falls short of "Contraband". In martial arts terms, it demonstrates more techniques than the band's debut disc but doesn't hit as hard.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

When you see "The Simpsons Movie"...

Don't arrive late or leave early! It's chockers with in-jokes, from the 20th Century Fox logo until the theatre curtains are closing.


I was raised on steak and potatoes, but Mrs W. never offered them with a blue cheese and vodka sauce. Ablaze Grill + Bar at Fox Studios does - hence my visit at lunchtime today.

I chose to sample the curious condiment with a 750g rump and chips. Before I get to the sauce, I warn readers not to tackle that quantity of meat unless you happen to be a growing leopard. Four hours and a waddle around Centennial Park later, the word "appetite" hasn't reappeared in my vocabulary. Also, with such a huge slab of cow, you won't get consistency; order "medium" as I did and it's inevitable thinner outer areas will approach "well done".

Enough about the steak, how was the topping? Less pungent than I expected, but just as thick and creamy. It had a complex salty taste that actually went best on the garden salad (an unlisted extra). The vodka was undetectable to me. Apparently, it's in there as an enhancer, to release flavour from the cheese and add sweetness.

While I won't be venturing above the 500g mark again, I wouldn't hesitate to try another vodka-based sauce. Maybe a tomato one on homemade pasta...mmmmm, I think I'm getting hungry again.

The new "Civ"?

"Conquest Of The Empire" has the most gorgeous gameboard this ancient history buff has beheld - a massive, richly coloured map of the known world during the Roman Empire (circa 200 AD).

SC, TC, LPO and I played rival caesars vying for ultimate power. Our generals led armies into new provinces, boosting silver and gold reserves which were then used to purchase infantry, cavalry, catapults and galleys. Or, for the peaceable, to build cities, fortifications and roads. Or when generals were taken hostage, to ransom them back.

While not up to "Nexus Ops" standard, the pieces were attractive. I liked the way the cities slotted into their fortifications.

Conflicts were resolved with simultaneous dice rolls by attacker and defender (factoring in number and variety of troops). This step was repeated until one side was vanquished or fled the field.

When an empire reached a certain size, inflation kicked in and the costs of everything doubled.

"C/O/T/E" reminded me of the games of "Civilization" I played at JH's and PG's places in college. After hours of to-ing and fro-ing, there was no clear winner and we were too tired to continue. But as with "Civ", the streamlined rules and strategic scope should keep us returning.

Our tabletop war was fuelled by the de rigueur beer and pizza. Maltida Bay's Rooftop Red Lager and Bohemian Pilsener proved popular, especially the pils. Y'know, it's amazing how many jalapenos a would-be Roman Emperor can consume while inebriated :-)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Sleazy street

There was an unmarked, sealed envelope in my mailbox. "Stealth advertising," I deduced - incorrectly. Inside was a letter from Trolley Tracker. Seems someone has contacted a resident in our street under the company's name, accusing them of nicking supermarket trolleys and threatening to have them evicted! Now T/T's reputation has been besmirched, they're anxious to track down the culprit. Personally, I hope they succeed. Such mean-spirited behaviour deserves to be punished. While you do see shopping carts abandoned on the pavement from time to time, they're soon collected by a bloke with a van and trailer. I bet there's more to this, like a feud between neighbours.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DVD review: "Sealab 2021 - Season One"

Aussies with Foxtel may have flipped onto this odd show late at night, when the Cartoon Network morphs into the mature-viewer madness of [adult swim]. It's based on Hanna-Barbera's unsuccessful 70s animation "Sealab 2020", but with the original enviro-friendly message forgotten, some new footage and all-new voice-overs.

This double-disc set contains the entire 13-episode first season as well as the "pitch pilot" (used to sell the concept to TV execs), deleted and uncensored scenes, and alternate endings. The eps are only 12 minutes long and heaps easier to watch on DVD, where you're not interrupted by thousands of annoying adverts for other toons.

As the name suggests, the action takes place in a futuristic underwater facility. The humour derives from the fact that each crew member is an idiot in their own way, especially Captain Hazel "Hank" Murphy, who bakes cupcakes in a toy oven, constantly assaults people, and longs to have his brain transplated into a female robot body.

One recurring gag is that Sealab itself keeps getting destroyed, only to reappear unscathed in the next episode. It's kinda like Kenny being repeatedly killed on "South Park", except this band of incompetent loonies deserve their fate.

Final word: The opening theme, by US indie popsters Calamine, is catchier than chicken pox. "If you're looking for me, you better check under the sea..."

[Australian release date: August 15]

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Why did the Wallabies, Knights and Socceroos all have to lose? The Swans as well. I'm too depressed even to make excuses.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


A dainty dish was set before this knave at the Bird Cow Fish cafe/restaurant in Surry Hills: a duck leg; slices of duck neck sausage; celeriac, apple and fennel salad (I'd call it a 'slaw); and celeriac and apple puree. Like pork, duck can be the best or worst meat in the world depending on how it's done. Here, it was spot-on - succulent flesh falling off the bone, the skin slightly fatty and crispy. The puree was ethereal. Did I mention the fine sauce? As someone accustomed to jumbo dinners that leave me patting a lucky Buddha tummy, the delicate balance of familiar and uncommon ingredients was a marvel.

Meanwhile...I'm ploughing through "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows" (pre-ordered from Dymocks and picked up post-rush) before an overheard snatch of conversation or media report can ruin the ending.

Friday, July 20, 2007

In other booze...

We had staff drinks at preferred CBD watering hole Paddy Maguire's, so I took the opportunity to try Magners Irish Cider, which comes in an impressive bottle with gold foil around the top. I expected it to be richer in flavour than Strongbow or Mercury Draught, but that wasn't the case. It was bland. I ordered a second just to be sure (to be sure) and, though I admit it rendered me merrier, my palate was in Dullsville.

Six hours later, I was at Randwick Rugby Club for the launch of Jeffery Sayle Ale (he being the patron). While cheap and inoffensive, it was nothing new - merely a custom label job from I sank a couple to support the club, sitting in a padded armchair, watching British Open golf and listening to one of those protracted raffles that systematically eliminate losers until a single winning ticket remains.

I can't believe I attended staff drinks and a beer launch on the same day and only had four bevvies. Nightcap, anyone?

Happy birthday, AK

Hope you and yours are enjoying the artistic splendour of Rome. Lots of photos, please :-)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A gut forever voyaging

The Uighur ("wee-ger") are a Turkic people who live in parts of China, Russia and half a dozen 'stans. Uighur Cuisine is a self-explanatory restaurant that lives at the newer end of Dixon St, between Goulburn and Liverpool. XS praised it and that was enough to get me and my appetite through the door.

Taking a seat, I declined a golden pot of gratis tea in favour of bottled water as I hadn't drunk anything since brekkie. The menu was lamb-heavy but pork-free as the Uighur are mostly Muslim. The dishes were familiar yet alien; combining aspects of Chinese, Turkish and, unless I'm mistaken, Indian cooking.

For my entree, I had a radish salad. It was a mound of long, white, red and green shreds (the last two capsicum) dressed with vinegar and spices. Even as a kid, when my friend MD farmed radishes, and I adored TV's "Fraggle Rock" on which they were the staple food, I never felt so close to the vegie.

I ordered two mains, deceived by their low prices into thinking the serving sizes would be modest. The first was "meat bread". Imagine two circles of soft pastry sandwiching thin slices of lamb, spinach(?) and spices. Fry until crispy, divide into segments like a pizza, then prepare for tastebud fireworks.

The second was listed as a "vegetarian specialty"; a simple dish of braised rice with carrot. And by dish I mean platter heaped with enough of the stuff to feed a nuclear family! It was surprisingly sweet and delicious, if shiny with oil, and in a blur of chopsticks I scoffed all but the most elusive grains.

XS gave me the tip and now I'm paying it forward: Uighur Cuisine is an unusual, worthwhile and stomach-stretching eating experience. Three dishes plus a Mount Franklin cost me a trifling $20.50 - and it would have been less if I was in the mood for tea. Go there. Hell, gimme a call and I'll come with you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Some days rock

Tried a 650ml can of Japanese beer Sapporo Silver (and saw it was manufactured in Canada!), went to a preview showing of teen comedy "Superbad" (far-fetched, filth-talkin' fun) and polished off "Who" novel "The Nightmare Of Black Island" by Mike Tucker (an agreeable, vaguely Lovecraftian mish-mash). In that order.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unreliable narrator

I e-mailed Vision Australia, briefly introducing myself and volunteering to read books, newspapers, etc. onto tapes (or whatever they use) for the blind. A week later, I received a thanks but no thanks. Not 'cos they didn't like the cut of my jib. We never reached the jib-inspecting stage. I was informed that as all "narration" (at least in Sydney) is done during business hours, my full-time job would prevent me taking part. My disappointment is now tinged with curiosity. Does that mean most readers are retirees? Are there any young voices? And when do the weekend papers get recorded?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Small steps

There's no reason why any sane person should want to learn about my paltry efforts at getting more physical exercise...except that I'm presently employing a technique wot you might not have thunk of: trudging three-four bus stops in the *wrong* direction before boarding one of the blue beasts to the city, and alighting at the same place on the return journey. Obviously, doing this on the morning leg requires that I not be running hideously late. And the evening leg is subject to immediate cancellation in the event of heavy rain and/or high winds. Hey, I said they were small steps :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The disorder of the phoenixes

I caught "Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix" at the Randwick Ritz today. While I still get giddy seeing JK Rowling's creations made film, I exited stage left thinking this was the weakest of the five adaptations thus far. David Yates' direction was terribly unsubtle and saved only by the source material and constellation of a cast (welcome and well done, Helena Bonham Carter). I'm sorry to read he's also helming "Half-Blood Prince". If only "Prisoner Of Azkaban"'s Alfonso Cuaron could have stayed for the rest of the series.

On to a real-life Phoenix - the villain (for want of a greyer term) of "Hackers: The Hunt For Australia's Most Infamous Computer Cracker" (2005) by Bill Apro and Graeme Hammond, which I completed today. It's a cheeky title given that the seminal work on the subject will forever be Steven Levy's "Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution" (1984). I should know, having written my English honours thesis on "Computer Hacking In Fiction And Non-fiction" and scrutinised nearly every major account published since. Toe-treading aside, Apro and Hammond's book is late on the scene, with the exploits of Melbourne cracker Phoenix and his pals Electron and Nom already extensively covered in Suelette Dreyfuss's "Underground" (1997) and the oft-repeated-on-the-ABC doco "In The Realm Of The Hackers" (2003). However, "H:T/H/F/A/M/I/C/C" does offer one significant new insight: Apro not only busted Phoenix, he formed the (now-defunct) Australian Federal Police Computer Crime Unit in the process, the difficulties of which he documents in detail. Shame the last 20-30 pages are a mess of less successful cases and bitterness at the politics that forced him out of the job.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

You lose some, you win some

I spent 10+ hours gaming today. About 5.5 in Engadine with TC, LPO and SC2 (brother of TC). The other 4.5 or more in Campsie with AP, DL, CM and AM. Doing so was quite the logistical feat and required a trio of bus trips, two train rides, three lifts from three different people and one cab! Thankfully, I have a weekly travel ticket and obliging friends.

My results in daylight hours were up'n'down - "World Of Warcraft" CCG (2nd, but they went easy on me 'cos I was a newbie); "The Simpsons Slam Dunk" card game (1st, then last); the elegant 1971 Waddington's boardgame "Buccaneer" (2nd); "Cave Troll" b/g (last); "Incan Gold" c/g (1st, 2nd, =last on 0 treasure!).

Things improved after dark at the poker table. In our regular Texas Hold'em tourney, I was runner-up to CM (and made a $10 profit). It was "dealer's choice" for the rest of the night and I finished with the tallest stack ($30 profit). We used the nudie playing cards RS got me from Hawaii - they obviously helped :-)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ships, sport, sci-fi

I swung by HMA Garden Island Naval Dockyard yesterday for a stickybeak at the supercarrier USS Kitty Hawk and the missile cruiser USS Cowpens. The former was ultra-impressive - I wish they still conducted on-board tours. An RAN Dental Branch caravan was parked on the dock and I was amused to note even they have a cool motto ("Fit to bite - fit to fight") and logo (twin toothy sharks).

From there, I headed across the bridge to North Sydney Oval, where I met up with PB to drink beer in plastic cups and support Randwick against Norths in the Shute Shield elimination semi-final. The Wix made things hard for themselves by missing three or four kicks and, after a tense 80 minutes, it was 15-all. Two 10-minute halves of extra time were ordered and thanks to our superior conditioning, we sealed the deal 29-20. Former Australian coach Eddie Jones was in the grandstand - I'm told he may have been scouting on behalf of UK club Saracens.

I returned home to meet Mum, who'd travelled to Sydney for a friend's birthday. We ordered gourmet pizza, but then I shamelessly (just call me Frank Gallagher) left her watching telly while I skedaddled to my local for additional ales and rugby in the company of other rowdy drunks. The Wallabies bumbled to a 0-17 deficit, but maintained their composure and scored 25 unanswered points to down the pesky Springboks. I had an interesting chat with a bloke who works for Customs about when they will and won't punish people for undeclared items.

Somewhat weary, my sole plan for today is to play lounge lizard and watch season three "Doctor Who" until my eyelids slam shut. Thanks to JH, I have DVDs of the entire series, plus several eps of "D/W Confidential". Onya, champ!

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Event 55 at the 38th annual World Series Of Poker is under way in the USA. It's the biggy - the No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em World Championship.

Follow the progress from now until July 17 on, or

The first gambler eliminated (within 10 minutes) had pocket aces and was on a nut flush draw. He didn't get a fifth heart...but his opponent did :-)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Winter cleaning

Culling unwanted titles from my DVD collection led to repacking the bookcases in which its housed, then boxing away old VHS videos to free up further space. The next thing I knew there was a feather duster in my hand and I was in Monica Geller from "Friends" mode, rearranging every shelf in the joint. The cleaning'n'tidying frenzy's over now, but there's no time to type any more tonight.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Foreign food

Treats From Home on level two of the Skygarden Arcade (off the Pitt St Mall) is a store that sells imported British groceries and souvenirs. The emphasis is heavily on junk food, which explains why CM and I make a pilgrimage there approximately once a month. His faves are fixed as he spent his early childhood in England; mine are gradually taking shape. A beverage I've developed a fondness for is Ben Shaws Dandelion & Burdock. Soft drink made from a flower and a thistle - genius! The numerous crisps also seem to pack more of a wallop than our local equivalents. After a healthy dinner tonight, while tuning in to rugby league's State Of Origin III, I treated myself to bags of Flamin' Hot Monster Munch and Salt & Vinegar Squares (both by Walkers). They were delish. If you live in Sydney and fancy sampling some new snacks or sodas, I recommend paying this shop a visit.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Here's to you, Mr Robinson!

While getting ready in the mornings, I've been listening to the audiobook of Terry Pratchett's "A Hat Full Of Sky" ($33->$8 in the Galaxy stocktake sale), narrated/acted with typical enthusiasm by Tony Robinson. It's got me thinking about how many wonderful TV projects he's been involved with - "Who Dares Wins", "The Black Adder" (and its sequels), "Tales From Fat Tulip's Garden", "Maid Marian And Her Merry Men", "The Worst Jobs In History" (plus various other documentaries) and not forgetting "Time Team", which I hurried home to watch today.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gastropod gastronomy

Someone asked about the escargot I ate on Saturday, so I thought I'd print the response here for the edification of the masses :-)

They weren't your, ahem, garden variety snails. The shells were predominantly off-white with caramel stripes, while the molluscs inside were slate grey and slightly bubbly (boiling in your own juices will do that). Special tongs were used to hold the shell and a small fork to remove the ball of meat. It was chewy like octopus and earthy like mushroom; appetising without much danger of being habit-forming.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

That was the weekend that was

* Saw many beautiful, ancient Qur'ans at the new "Arts Of Islam" exhibition at the Art Gallery Of NSW.

* Had a dozen snails in garlic butter for an entree at The Little Snail (where else?) in Pyrmont.

* Followed my local rugger side (Randwick) to Sydney Uni where we lost by a single point at the death.

* Purchased and hooked up a bottom-of-the-range DVD recorder with which to "archive" pay-per-views.

* Got a copy of "The Aristocrats" for a tenner and haven't laughed so much since [insert filthy story].