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Dom Mooney's Website

Aug 2005

Ex Machina - Tri-Stat Cyberpunk

I've just finished reading Ex Machina and very nice it is too. Tri-stat implementation seems good (although I need to do some char-gen and combat to get a feel for the system).

Settings are interesting;

Heaven over Mountain is a biotech closed world orbital beanstalk game. Nicely written but didn't float my boat too much.

Underworld is a dark dystopian future American Empire game that reminds me of a number of B Movie SF films in the late 80s and early 90s. The idea is that the US has large work complexes in occupied territories where civil rights have been removed. Lots of potential. I loved the idea that the corporation which sells neural interface chips also sell surplus cycle time on them for processing exercises.

IOSHI is a very different setting - value is based on skills and talents which are developed by people in a virtual state ('Sparta'). There are dark edges to this which could be interesting, but I couldn't think of an 'in' to run this.

Daedalus is a beauty of a setting. Imagine a world where the government decided to implement a universal ID by implementation of a future development of RFID chips. This is implanted and trackable. Later generations of the chip can administer drugs and further keep people happy. Society is tweaked and increasingly controlled in the ongoing fight against terrorism, and the people in it slowly see it as more and more of a utopia. Emotional responses are moderated to drive society towards someone else's ideal of 2.4 kids and a job for life...

What if one day you woke up in this Utopia to find your chip didn't work anymore and you were an outsider.? Surgery to fix it doesn't work, you loose your citizenship rights, and can only hold a menial job because you have no valid ID that is trusted properly? You become an outsider. What if you find out the truth?

Cats & Board Games

I settled down with my new board-game 'Hammer of the Scots' tonight, half watching the Liverpool match (as it wasn't especially exciting), with the idea of getting to understand the rules.

Sadly, I made the mistake of setting up on the floor. This meant, just as the first game year came to an end – with the Scots in control of the area around Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the English pushed to the extreme north-east – the cat noticed the new game. I'm not sure that his move was legal (encircling and knocking over the English blocks with his paws, and trying to pick up and bite Wallace) but it was quite funny. Perhaps he thinks he's a special UN peacekeeper! He ran off when I challenged whether he was cheating!

Columbia's Block Games

'Hammer of the Scots' and 'Crusader Rex' arrived on Friday. I've not had a chance to play them yet, but the components are very good quality, the rules clear and the map-boards look superb.

I've only tried a basic set-up and followed the rules through to see how they both work, but I think the games are going to be really good fun, and teach me a lot about the geography of Scotland and the Middle East, albeit 700 to 800 years ago!

Compare and Contrast...

Well, firstly, kudos to Symantec. The day after I last posted, they sent me an update saying Norton Anti-Virus X had shipped, and then the package arrived on Tuesday. As it was too big for the mailbox, I went and collected from the Post Office on Wednesday. Once I got home, it was the usual safe boot followed by an hassle-free install. My first impressions are that Norton AV is finally starting to get it together for the OS X. It looks a lot better than either AV8 or AV9.

Anyway, onto compare and contrast. In this case, the US Postal Service / UK Royal Mail, and UPS. Recently, I've ordered two different items from the US, one of each came into the UK via each service. Let's see how they compare.

Item 1 - a case and USB cable set for my Treo 650 Smartphone. I bought from the US because the Treo is established there and only just became available here in the UK. The perils of being an early adopter! Total value was just over £12 and it wasn't VAT exempt, so unfortunately customs charges ensued. UPS arrive with the package, demanding £18 for clearance and VAT payment. No warning, and, no, they don't give change. Not to mention that the VAT total is only around £2 of the £18 charged! The attitude of the driver really sucked. The whole experience compares well to my previous interaction with UPS, and also to my better half's experience of them a few years ago. Sadly, UPS wasn't optional.

Item 2 - two block games total cost of around £60 from Columbia Games in the USA. I bought these direct from the manufacturer as they don't do distribution anymore as they've been stung by collapses too often. The package came via US Postal Service, and then Royal Mail. I got a note through the door with the charge details and went to the local Post Office to collect the same day. The service was polite and helpful, and the clearance handing charge was around £4 plus £10 for the VAT.

So, in this case, the state owned services win over supposedly customer focussed private industry!

Symantec... Why?

I use Macs at home, and have done since 1996 when I got fed up of Windows and all the messing about to keep the system optimised that I used to have to do. It was fun when I was a teenager, but I reached a point where I was fed up and just wanted to focus on using the machine rather than making it work.

Anyway, I'm just about to upgrade our iMac G4 (with a gorgeous 20" screen) from OS X 10.3 Panther to OS X 10.4 Tiger and decided to check that absolutely everything was compatible. As usual, it turned out that most software had patches on line (which would work with the older Panther) with the exception of Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus 9, which needed an upgrade to the new version 10.

Now, I expected this. It'd happened with AV8 when Panther came out, so I went and followed the links to the Symantec site, and selected the upgrade, which would then only give me an option to upgrade to the version I was already on!! After two emails to their support (based in India by the looks of the email) I'd found the correct links. These showed that you could only buy a physical package rather than a download. I was annoyed (I wanted it now!) but ordered it anyway. Three days later I get an email saying it's on backorder. Their *own* software.

It's times like this that I wonder why I bother. So far, in 4 years, there hasn't been a virus on OS X (and I've used all the releases from OS 10.0!) – I mainly have the anti-virus to make sure I don't send on viruses to my PC friends. I know that Norton has a bad reputation now with the Windows world, but it's the most commonly updated and supported version for the Mac. If there was an F-Prot I'd use it as quickly as I could!

So, by my reckoning, there are four reasons to be annoyed with Symantec;

1) Poor website link software for upgrades.
2) Lack of a downloadable version.
3) Poor stock control.
4) Lack of a simple patch to move between versions.

But I guess I'll carry on using them until I can find anything better.

First thoughts...

Well, it's two days since I started trying RapidWeaver, and I've probably spent five hours playing with it to get this far. In reality, that time was split into two hours getting the old files and FTP login details and stripping them out, and three hours actually getting used to the program.

I'm pleased with the result, although the clouds do remind me a little too much of Windows for comfort. The next step will be modifying a theme for my father-in-law to have his societies website. I'm hoping that this first one can be done just by opening the theme package and dropping in a replacement graphic the same size, but if the worst comes to the worst I'll use the CSSEdit program. However, I was hoping to leave that for site number three...

It's a very different feel to web development, using RapidWeaver, compared to GoLive. Mac360 described it 'as a whole new metaphor'. They've got that right on the ball.

I'm waiting to see how long it takes my dad to notice this site has changed!

a|state RPG

Ever since it came out, I've been a big fan of the a|state RPG by Contested Ground Studios. It is a unique game, which reminds me very much of (amongst other things) China Mieville's excellent 'Perdido Street Station'. The system is very like the Chaosium BRP engine, but very rules light. I knocked together a quick reference sheet for the combat rules using OmniGraffle, and sent the PDF to Malc at CGS so they can put it on the website. To my surprise they said that they'd like to use it in their forthcoming GM Screen! So I agreed.

Anyway, if you want to see what all the fuss about a|state is, go to their website and download the free PDF file of the 'lite' rules. In reality, it's all you need to try a game out. Fantastic stuff.

Eager Anticipation

A couple of weeks ago, I finally succumbed to temptation that had been building over the last year and ordered some of Columbia Games blockgames. I'm eagerly waiting for Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex to arrive from across the Atlantic. After they arrive, there's only the challenge of sorting someone to play them with. I hope they don't languish like the copy of Serennisma that I got last year, another one that I really want to play.

Rebuilding from the Ground up.

This website has been dormant for far too long, so I decided to use it as a platform to try out a fantastic looking web package that I recently found called RapidWeaver, written by a small company in Brighton in the UK for Mac OS X. What attracted me to this was that it was theme driven and very simple to use. Until I started this revamp, all the web pages I've built were either hand-coded or made with Adobe's GoLive. GoLive is a fantastic package, but you have to know what you're doing in a techie sense to get the most out of it. RapidWeaver looks to be far simpler, and faster, and certainly up to delivering most of what I need.

It also looked like an excellent tool to rapidly create the website for the Birkenhead History Society that my father-in-law wants. So I decided to give it a whirl. If this works out right, I will migrate the Power Projection and BITS UK websites later on.