I recently got my hands on a netbook. An Eee PC 901 (Linux) to be exact. Not only is it my first foray into the world of portable computing, it is also the first time I’ve used a Linux distribution in a serious fashion.

$1 coin and standard power plug included for size reference.
Apologies for mobile-quality photo.

As you can see, this is a small device. I thought this would have caused more problems than it has, but luckily it was surprisingly easy to get used to. The keyboard feels solid and isn’t as ‘floaty’ as other laptop keyboards I’ve used. I’m struggling to get used to the trackpad, but that most likely has more to do with my lack of experience with them, rather than any particular shortcoming with the device itself.

If you’re not a tech-head, skip this paragraph.
The specs of the machine are as follows: 1.6Ghz Intel Atom Processor, 2gb of RAM (after market upgrade from 1gb), 8.9 inch widescreen @ 1024×600, 20gb SSD, 6 cell battery, Wifi b/g/n, Bluetooth, 1.3M Pixel webcam, 3x USB, VGA output, RJ45 Ethernet, Mic in, audio out, SD Card reader.
This all weighs in at a very portable 1.2kg.

Those of you with good eyes will have noticed that I’m not running the standard Asus-stamped Xandros distribution of Linux which ships with this product. I have installed an Ubuntu variant known as eeebuntu. I stumbled across a link to it in an article from Gizmodo, a blog which I highly recommend that you have a look at if you like tech.

The disadvantage to using eeebuntu is that you suffer a reasonable performance hit, most notably during boot. The boot time goes from around five seconds, to twentyish. The advantages easily outweigh this small problem as eeebuntu is vastly more functional than Xandros due to its extensibility and stability afforded to it by the Array kernel.

The beauty of the 901 over the 900 series is the fact that Asus have addressed the controversial battery issues. I thought I’d test this using my super-scientific method: I played a looped DVD quality video in fullscreen at normal brightness with the battery charged to 100%. The machine was able to sustain this for about 4:45 before the battery went completely dead. Please note that I did not take into account the fact that I had left the wifi and bluetooth adaptors on during this test. It would be reasonable to assume that this performance would be enhanced by using the original Xandros operating system.

I think the thing that excites me most about this technological acquisition isn’t the acquisition itself, but the ‘connectedness’ it affords. I spend the vast majority of my time within range of wireless networks. Internet connectivity is something to which I have become accustomed and do not enjoy being without. Having a machine which has a full keyboard, internet access, work applications and excellent portability, all without having to rely on our horrendous 3G network makes me a happy geek indeed.

In conclusion I highly recommend this system if you are after a low-power/low-cost laptop. They are portable, usable, quiet, cheap and reliable.

Expect more posts of a ‘liveblogging’ nature in the future.


Or, Why you should be playing Left 4 Dead.

Warning – this is my longest post to date – more of an article I guess?

Co-operative play is Something that we have desired for a very long time. PC gamers have long been jealous of the ease of access to co-operative experiences which console owners enjoy.

There have not been many games that have been released for PC which have co-operative play as their primary aim. Typically, PC gamers are required to wrestle co-operative experiences from games like a farmhand attempting to milk a surly cow. We have been required to utilise third party mods, laborious multi-player AI or to endure lazy first-party implementations which subject the players to a disjointed mish-mash of play due to the developer’s inability to work out how to get certain levels and cutscenes to work with two simultaneous viewers.

I’m going to put aside Real Time Strategy (RTS) games and team-based multiplayer titles for the moment. I am focusing specifically on games which are carefully crafted by the developers to give a group of players a co-operative experience against the game environment.

My first positive Co-op memories are of playing X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter over Parallel Serial/LPT cables at Nozz’s place. We had so much fun playing a game co-operatively for once that we just had to find more games which offered the feature.
We found other titles like Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Quake II, MOO 2, Diablo II etc. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves running out of options. There were other titles available to us yes, but these required us to use unreliable (at the time) third-party patches like Sven Co-op for Half Life or strange contortions in order to fluke a level or two of co-operative fun.

The driving force in co-op games these days seem to be the consoles. Due to their nature, co-op is almost a requirement. “There are four controllers on there, so we’d better make games that utilise them”. Unfortunately, this means that PC gamers have to rely on dodgy ports in order to get a taste of sweet sweet co-op play.
Gears of War is a good example of this. Ported to the PC in July 2007, Gears landed on PC hard drives with a small amount of fanfare. The port was usable, but riddled with phrases like “Press A to continue” – not to mention the awful implementation of Windows (read:Xbox-Lite) Live. All this, after a full eight-month development cycle following the the Xbox 360 release!

Things were not looking good.

Then came Left 4 Dead.
Valve Corporation are a force to be reckoned with. The producers of arguably the best first person shooter (FPS) of all time, Half-Life, Valve have come to the market with great game after great game. I own the entire Valve back-catalog and I have not been disappointed with any of the games on the list. Most notably, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Left 4 Dead is a four-player co-operative FPS set during the Zombie Apocalypse. Do I even need to finish this post? How does that not sound awesome?!

The basic premise of the game is four human players join together as the Survivors. Their goal is simple: Get from one Safe Room to the next without being killed by HORDES OF THE LIVING DEAD. Sounds easy right? I mean, you get guns and zombies are just slow, shambling things aren’t they? Not true. The zombies in L4D are subscribers to 28 Days Later School of Incredibly Fast Locomotion.
If that wasn’t bad enough, add to this the inclusion of the Special Infected. This band of gory malcontents include:

  • The Hunter – a zombie with the ability to leap great distances and pounce on a Survivor’s chest, pinning them to the ground to await rescue from a team-mate,
  • The Smoker – A slow-moving zombie with an incredibly long, prehensile tongue that it uses to grab, drag and constrict survivors again necessitating intervention from a team-mate,
  • The Boomer – a bloated sack of bile which excels at projectile-vomiting on the Survivors, coating them in its sickly goo, or exploding in a spray of the same substance. The kicker (as the Americans say) is that any Survivors coated in goop attract a horde of the undead to their position.
  • The Tank: A huge, hulking monstrosity which moves very fast, punches survivors off into the distance in order to separate them and can tear up huge chunks of masonry to throw as a ranged attack. Tanks have an incredible amount of hitpoints and require the firepower of a full compliment of Survivors to take down.
  • The Witch: What you might consider to be an non-threatening emo-kid crying in the corner is in fact one of the most threatening zombies in the game. She sits in place, minding her own business unless startled. Once she is peeved, she will doggedly chase the offending Survivor until she reaches them and swipes at them with her huge claws. This will usually incapacitate a Survivor in one hit, or outright kill them on higher difficulties.

The beauty of this game is the fact that it requires you to work together. A group of Survivors who are greedy with health packs/painkillers, separate, or do nothing to protect each other are not long for this world. The inclusion of inherent voice communication means that players can communicate almost instantaneously, giving them all of the tools they need to work together. Incidentally, I highly recommend playing this in the same room as the other players, or changing your voice settings to always-on. This adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game as you hear every shriek and freak-out from the other Survivors.

I could go on. I could mention the fact that you can drop in and out at will using the (ever-improving) matchmaking system, take breaks without ruining the experience for the others by going to Idle and allowing the AI to take over for you, or the included eight-player Versus mode in which four other players take on the roll of the Special Infected(!) – but I won’t. This post just hit 1033 words so I’ll leave it there.

Long story short: Go and buy Left 4 Dead.


Blogging is interesting.

So far I’ve received both positive and negative (yet, constructive) criticism of my blog. Most of the positive comments have been along the lines of “Its good to see that you’ve started a blog!” and “I’m glad that the blog is a source of creative output for you”. The negative comments have been varied, too much simple linking that can be found on any number of sites like Digg, Google Reader, Kotaku etc. ‘Oh, I thought it was going to be a blog about you and Amy’, etc.

I’d just like to take a moment to give you a better look at my initial idea for this blog;
The plan is to post about things that I find interesting, exciting, fun or annoying. The fact that I do tend to read quite a few tech/gaming blogs will mean that I will be posting about material that is readily available from many sources. In the spirit of working with constructive criticism, I will be endeavouring to add my own spin to these sort of articles in the future in order to avoid simply linking other sites. I would like to do some product/game/book/movie reviews at some stage.

I also plan to post about my life with Amy and what we’re up to, but I’ve yet to decide how to tackle this. I’m not sure how comfortable I/we are with the idea of posting about our personal life and events. I will make a decision about this in the coming months.

I should also note that I read a lot of webcomics. Subsequently, I will most likely be linking to ones that I find particularly funny. As has been evidenced, Penny Arcade is by far my favourite. Expect to see more as we move on.

The long and the short of it is that this blog is quite simply a list of thoughts that crossed my mind. If I see something cool, I’ll post about it. If something fun or interesting happens in my day-to-day life, I’ll post about it. If I do something that other people might benefit from, I’ll post about it.
If I have an idea about how something should be done, I’ll post about it. Actually, I probably won’t post about it. I don’t know that I have the cojones required to authoritatively post an opinion on something and be able to back up my thoughts in the comments. We’ll see.

Also, please keep the (constructive) comments coming. It is quite common for your peers, friends and family to know you better than you know yourself. If there is something that you’d like to see me post about, please let me know.


Ah, digital distribution.
We had such high hopes for you. You were the prophesied platform heralded by the ill-fated Phantom system. The saviour-like service which would spell the end of long lead times on game releases in Australia and Europe, incredible price increases which were allegedly due to shipping costs to our respective countries and the window through which we could access a wider spectrum of games.

Steam, you were the first major platform that supported our countries, not to mention the fact that you were exclusively for PC gamers.
You were released in time for Half Life 2 – something else that we had been waiting a long time for. Unfortunately, even after the release we were forced to wait a long time to play the game. This wasn’t entirely your fault: the fact that broadband connections weren’t reasonably priced at the time was not something you could do anything about, but the stability problems which plagued you at your inception were.
You burned us, as steam is wont to do. The healing process is slow. It has taken a long time for you to return to your place, inscribed in our good-books.

Once again, the time has come for you to be torn from its pages.

Please indulge me in some role-playing:
(Note: This has nothing to do with my previous post on the subject…)
Steampowered – New Additions RSS feed: *Ding* Apr 22, 2008 2:12 AM Assassin’s Creed has been released on the Steam service!
Me: Woo! *Clicky*
Steampowered – New Additions RSS feed: *NOPE* This item is currently unavailable in your region.
Me: Noooooo!

Once again, Australia finds itself at the mercy of cold-hearted games distributors. What possible reason could there be for them to not want the game digitally distributed in our country? Isn’t our money good enough? It is certainly worth a lot. Take the situation with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for instance.
On the day of release on Steam, it was labelled at the normal American price for a New Release AAA title: $49.99USD.
The very next day the prices was increased to $89.99USD in Australia and Europe.

Make sense of that? Steam group Rest of World certainly cannot.

If you want my advice, it is time for us to show them that we will not stand for this sort of crap.
Australia (and Europe) – Vote with your wallets.

Finally on a positive note, the excellent Beyond Good and Evil was just released for little ol’ us.

Well, everybody’s favourite acerbic game reviewer is at it again.
Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Crowshaw and his mates Yog and Matt have started a new full-length (read: ~20 minute) games show. It features previews, reviews, skits and other stuff.
Yahtzee brings his usual brand of vitriol coated asides and segments which are surprisingly well tempered by the other hosts.

The pilot is below, or you can toddle off to the high quality version at their site.

If you happen to be a highfalutin TV network executive, go watch it and take it on.

In my opinion, Yahtzee is at his best at Zero Punctuation. His persona seems somewhat strained in front of a camera. Lets hope this improves with future episodes.

Good luck guys.


As per the title of this blog, you may or may not think this is great.

The above details the major sections of the trip around the Americas that Amy and I made last year.

I’ve been reading back through it in order to refresh my memory on some of the happenings. Its surprising how much you can fit into six weeks if you put your mind, money and feet into it.

New York! Click to embiggen


Penny Arcade have an uncanny knack to be able to sum up my feelings on a topic in three panels.
This gives you an insight into one of my main motivations for playing computer games.

A Trick of Retrospective

Click to embiggen