Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anger doesn’t even START to cover it

Sometimes things happen that make you unbelievably angry. Then you learn the whole story and somehow get even angrier.

Ok, a few weeks ago, my stepson 'accidentally' took my camera to his girlfriend's house, then his girlfriend moved to another state without telling anyone and took my camera with her.

As you can imagine, I was more than a little pissed off. As well as massive sentimental value, the camera cost me $850 back when I first got it. Also, the memory card had a ton of pictures on it that I really didn't want to lose. Pictures of my parents visit… but most of all, it had a few pictures of Jake on it, the pet Border Collie I'd had since I was 12 years old that died earlier this year.

Now, as mad as I was, I couldn't really blame my stepson for this. It was definitely his fault it went missing, but nothing was exactly deliberate. Sunny had moved the camera onto a chair while looking for something, where it got mixed up into a pile of my stepson's laundry that he came and picked up.

Well a few weeks later his girlfriend shows up again, they get back together and I get my camera back. His girlfriend apparently 'accidentally' packed it by mistake.

To be completely honest, the whole thing sounded fishy, but I got my camera back, so I figured no harm no foul.

Well, yesterday I charged the battery for the first time since getting it back.

It was fucking broken. You turn it on and the screen says 'remove lens cap', even when the lens cap is off. I messed with it for almost an hour and couldn't fix it. It's obviously been dropped or had something spilled on it and the motor that controls the lens is busted. My $850 camera is a fucking paperweight.

Now, here's the part that really takes the fucking cake. The camera is just a thing. It was a very expensive thing and meant almost as much to me as my guitar did before that was stolen…so when I realized it was beyond repair, I took a little comfort in knowing that at the very least I had my pictures back.

So I took out the memory card, put it into the card reader in the front of my computer…

Every…single…fucking…one of my pictures had been deleted, and in their place were about 70+ pictures of my stepson, his girlfriend and a bunch of fucking people I don't know.

So, I was pissed when I just thought it had been stolen. Instead, it turns out that upon discovering they had it, they figured the best course of action wasn't to return it, but to wipe the memory card, take a bunch of fucking pictures and generally treat it badly enough to break it.

Now, I just might be being weird here, but if I accidentally picked up someone's $850 camera and took it to a strangers house with me, when I discovered I had it, I'd do one of two things: Take it straight back, or put it in a safe place until I could return it or its rightful owner could come and get it.

What I wouldn't do is wipe the memory card, use it to take pictures of a family party, and then return it with a broken lens motor without so much as a sorry.

It's really nice to know that someone thinks you and your things are worthy of that level or respect.

I wonder how he'd feel if he left his phone at my house and I deleted all his numbers, all his pictures, games and downloads off it, ran up an $850 bill…then dumped water on it to fry it before returning it to him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Just so you understand…

So earlier today, my mother in law was over to visit, when she produced a generic MP3 player she'd gotten for Christmas, handed it to me and said "Here, show me what to do with this."

I felt my blood freeze. I was about to enter the seventh level of family tech support hell. Now, I've been called a curmudgeon over things like this before and asked why I make such a big deal over someone simply asking for my help. Well, the reason I make such a big deal is that, as a 'computer guy', what I get asked to do is rarely what the person actually wants me to do.

You see, the person thinks they're just asking for help, but what they're really asking me is to take two or three hours worth of information on a topic they know nothing about and condense it into a couple of sentences that they'll grasp instantly with zero effort.

My mother in law 'just wants to listen to music on her mp3 player'… but to teach her how to do that, first I need to teach her how to use a computer (beyond playing solitaire). Then I need to teach her how to use the internet (first showing her how to get internet service, buy a router and set up a wireless network for her laptop). Then I have to each her how to use iTunes, Rhapsody or any other number of online music stores. Then I have to teach her how to install and use the software that came with her player and how to sync her music library with her mp3 player.

…and that's before I've even shown her how to turn her mp3 player on and how to work the device itself.

You see, it's not the helping I have a problem with. If someone's actually willing to learn, I'm more than happy to spend a few hours walking someone through something. Hell, doing just that is how I met my wife. However, as a rule, people don't want to spend a couple of hours learning how something works. They want a quick, thirty second answer…no matter how unreasonable that expectation may be.

What my mother in law wanted, specifically, was for me to say something like "Put the player next to your computer, press the big red button and then all your favorite music is automatically on the player."

The big problem, however, is when you express a reluctance to start this train wreck, the vast majority of people think you're refusing to help them because you just can't be bothered. Then, when you do try to help you get accused of deliberately making things complicated and using 'jargon', even when that jargon is as simple as using a term like 'USB Cable'

Now, here's the big secret. 90% of the time, the 'computer guy' you're asking for help knows as little about the gadget in question as you do. All we do differently is we read the manual and follow the instructions. It really is that simple. You open that book that came with your widget, and follow the step-by-step instructions.

All I ask is that next time you find yourself reaching for the phone or getting in the car you go see your computer guy, ask yourself if you've read the manual…but most of all, ask yourself if you're willing to spend a few hours listening and learning. We're not magic. We can't make something that's complicated into something simple. If you're not willing to put in the time and effort (and most of all, put aside the notion that anything you don't grok immediately is forever beyond you)…just don't bother, take the gadget back to the store or call a professional (read: paid) tech support guy instead.

I'm not saying the professional will make things any easier, but at least they're being paid to deal with you.

One of the Funniest Things I've Read All Year:

"Yo momma's so fat, her Patronus is a cake."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

COD: Modern Warfare 2

This isn't a review exactly. Regular readers will know I was really on the fence as whether to get MW2, but after my amazing wife bought it for me for Christmas, I'm incredibly happy with it, and thought I'd clear up some of the reasons why you may be on the fence too.

The first thing that made me think twice was when I heard the single player campaign was just five hours long. While this is true, it's not exactly fair to call this a short game.

First of all, 5 hours is short, but it's not unforgivable for a straight up shooter…but secondly, once you've finished the single player campaign (which took me almost exactly five hours playing on regular), you can play the 'Special Ops' mode.

'Special Ops' consists of around thirty missions designed mainly for co-op play, but can be played single player as well. The Special Ops missions have a ton of replay value and there's lots of variation. Some are based around stealth (get from A to B without alerting any guides), sniping (successfully hold off 'x' waves of bad guys), straight up shooting (kill 'x' number of bad guys without accidentally killing 'x' number of civilians)…and lots more game types, including a snow-mobile race.

I say these have a ton of replay value because not only do they have multiple difficulty settings (which in turn award you more 'stars' for completion), there's always the drive the beat your old time or kill count. Co-op adds a whole new level, especially on the two or three co-op only missions…my favorite of which is a mission where one player fights on the ground while the other covers him from an AC130 gunship.

Basically, I think the few negative reviews of MW2 come down mostly to the sheer amount of hype that surrounded the game pre-launch. After waiting a month to buy it, and having my expectations lowered below "OMFG this is going to be the best game EVAR!", it really is an awesome, awesome game.

In fact, the only real downside to the whole single player experience is…well…you remember those few awesome set pieces from the first Modern Warfare, such as the ending on the bridge, or the Nuke aftermath? Well, it turns out that Infinity Ward liked those set pieces as well and decided to fit as many in as possible...which means that by 2 hours into the game I was cynically awaiting the next big plot twist, double cross or betrayal.

Having said that, the actual missions are varied and fun, and you get to do a lot of cool stuff.

Oh, and as long as Infinity Ward pulls their finger out and provides some patches to stop the glitching and cheating going on online, there's no reason why the multiplayer shouldn't be a hell of a lot of fun as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


So yesterday afternoon, Sunny and I finished the last of our Christmas shopping and realised that with everything paid for, we had just enough for the fees to rescue a kitten from our local animal shelter.

So we did.

We got a three month old tortoiseshell female that we're either gonna call Lucy or Penny.

Logan, of course, isn't all that happy at a new cat on 'his' territory, but he's showing his displeasure just by ignoring everyone...and luckily the new kitten is completely oblivious. She acts like a puppy in a kitten costume. She's just the most happy, playful 'hug me' kitten I've ever seen.

It's FINALLY put me into the Christmas mood.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Isn’t that kinda pointless?

I just read an article about Prince William secretly spending a night out on the streets sleeping rough in order to 'experience what it's like to be homeless'.

Anyone else think that the whole idea is pointless?

There's only one way to experience what it's like to be homeless and that's to actually be homeless. Quite simply, being 'homeless' doesn't hold any horrors when you know that you'll be back in your nice warm bed, living your lavish, privileged lifestyle within 24 hours. What Prince William actually experienced is what we mere mortals would describe as 'a camping trip'.

It's like going without eating for a day to experience what it's like to starve. It's unpleasant, sure, but I'm sure the real horror of being hungry comes from not knowing when you'll next get to eat…not looking at your watch and planning exactly what you're going to stuff yourself with 24 hours from now.

To be completely honest, I'm sure the whole thing was never intended to be 'secret' and the idea was to draw attention to the homeless problem in London and the charities surrounding it…but I find it incredibly ironic that a member of a family who own numerous mansions, castles…not to mention a freaking 600+ roomed palace is trying to draw attention to and raise money for the homeless.

Here's an idea. How about YOU give away some of the millions that you didn't earn, stop leeching from the British taxpayer and understand how obscene it is for someone living such a privileged lifestyle to try and bring the homeless problem to OUR attention.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Because you people are driving me nuts.

Dear People of the Internet:

Your – Possessive Pronoun. "Is that your bike?"

You're - Contraction of 'You are'. "You're driving me insane."



Nikon Coolpix S570 Review

So I've had a few days with my new Nikon Coolpix S570, so I thought it was about time for a review.

Starting with the bad things about this camera, I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the S570 handles video. As it can record 640x480 video at 30FPS with sound (the same as my RCA Small Wonder pocket camcorder) by slapping an 8gb SD card in there, I was looking forward to having one less device to carry.

However, The S570 can only record video clips of 25 minutes or less, and while this is only a very minor problem, the way the S570 uses video compression…or more accurately, the way it doesn't… is a big problem. According to the manual, you'll get approximately 11 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage space…which is roughly an hour and a half on an 8gig SD card.

I have to be completely fair here and point out that the S570 is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a camcorder. However, considering my pocket camcorder (that also records 640x480 video) can fit almost 15 hours on that same 8 gigabyte card, it makes you wonder why Nikon didn't do anything to compress the video. Having said that, the actual video is very good quality and far better than I expected. Basically, it would be really nice to be able to record a few hours worth of video, but it's far from a deal breaker.

The only other thing that jumped out at me as an obvious problem is the camera's zoom control. My last Coolpix model (albeit a far higher end model) had a really smooth zoom with lots of fine control. Unfortunately, the zoom control on the S570 reacts like a sugared-up five year old, giving no fine control whatsoever. Even though the zoom control is a rocker switch with lots of movement, it doesn't appear to be analogue at all. The S570 appears to always zoom in or out as fast as it can, no matter how lightly you press with the control. While it's fairly easy to use once you get used to it, it's counter-intuitive and takes some getting used to.

The general picture quality of the s570, however, is absolutely top notch for a sub-compact camera and you really would have to go to a good DSLR to get better. I was particularly impressed with how well indoor and night-time shots came out…something my old camera was quite bad at. It's not quite as foolproof as I'd like (for example, setting it to the party/indoor setting can result in pictures with a lot of motion blur), but with a little practice and finesse, it's pretty easy to take a picture in a dimly lit room where the capured image looks almost identical to what the naked eye sees with little or no distortion. For occasions where a slower shutter speed is needed, the very quick and easy to use 2 second self timer completely removes any camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release.

In fact, the only real place where the S570 doesn't deliver what the marketing material promises is its performance at ISO 1600 and 3200 sensitivity. While picture quality is absolutely superb up to ISO 400 and good up to ISO 800, the picture quality drops off rather quickly after that and the images becomes noticeably grainy when viewed at full size. Luckily, you can set the ISO manually, or set the camera to automatically set the ISO within a range (ISO 80-400 or 80-800). The other point I should make is that if you're taking 12 megapixel pictures above 800 ISO, once they are printed at an average 5x7 size, most of the grain isn't all that noticeable…although you do have some noticeable color shift and yellow blotching.

I should also point out that the 'image stabilization' on the S570 is not mechanical stabilization and is totally electronic…meaning the S570 attempts to cancel out camera shake by automatically using a higher ISO and faster shutter speed, meaning it's not as effective as it could be…although this really isn't an issue when taking daytime shots or using the flash.

I was particularly impressed with the smart portrait mode and in particular the skin softening feature. As someone who has a lot of experience with photo retouching in photoshop, I know what an involved process it can be. I honestly expected the skin softening mode to be a gimmick that I'd never use, but the results were surprisingly subtle and natural looking.

In fact, I was quite impressed with a lot of the in-camera retouching features. They're especially great if you're not a person who uses Photoshop, but even if you are, it'll save you a few steps as it does basic contrast curve and color correction quite well. The nice part is that when you retouch a picture on the camera, it's non destructive, saving both your original shot and the retouched copy. Also nice is the ability to zoom and crop your picture in-camera.

As for ease of use, unless you've never touched a digital camera before, using the S570 should be no problem as it has very clear and easy to use menus and, for the most part, the average person can get by with simply setting the camera to auto or auto scene.

Auto scene generally works well in most situations, but when trying to photograph my Christmas tree in a very dimly lit room, the auto scene insisted I was trying to take a 'night landscape' picture…which disables the flash, sets the focus to infinity and sets a long exposure time. Not exactly perfectly set up to photograph something less than eight feet away. However, auto scene mistaking the scene appears to be the exception and not the rule and generally works really well.

One of the things I was particularly impressed with is how quickly the camera wakes up. If you're like me you've missed a good few 'photos of opportunity', by having your camera turned off to save battery power, but with the S570 you can take your first shot within two seconds of turning it on. There are certainly faster cameras out there, but to be completely honest, two seconds is more than fast enough (it's about the time it takes you to move the camera from by your side to your eye-level to frame up a picture). ..and to be completely honest, if you absolutely must have a camera that starts faster than two seconds, you're just 'keeping up with the Joneses'. Also, the S570 has a 'standby' mode which turns off the LCD and puts the camera into power saving mode after a user-set period, and the S570 wakes up from standby almost instantly.

Finally, the LCD screen is big and bright and the metal shell makes the camera feel very sturdy. Also, the build quality is excellent even down to the battery/memory card hatch. Nothing on this camera feels cheap or flimsy.

In conclusion, I think the S570 is simply one of the top cameras in its price range. You'd have to look far and wide for a better camera for around a hundred and seventy bucks. The only other camera I considered buying (after a lot of research) was the Sony Cybershot DSC-W290, as it had very similar performance to the S570 and a few nice extra features like HD video and true image stabilization.

However, the DSC-W290 sells for around $30 to $50 more than the S570, and more importantly, only takes Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which retail for around $50 to $70 for an 8GB card (whereas the S570 takes standard SD or SDHC cards which retail at around $15 - $20 for an 8GB card). Plus, if you actually want to play the HD video from the DSC-W290 on a HDTV, you need to buy a proprietary cable for another $30.

Basically, while I believe the DSC-W290 is a slightly better camera and is certainly worth the extra thirty dollars, once you factor in memory cards and accessories, you're actually talking almost a hundred dollars more.

Long story short, I would highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix S570 and believe it's just about the best deal out there in its class and price range.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cold and Frosty Morning

So I was playing with my new camera, or more precisely, the panorama maker software that came with the camera and the 'panorama assist' setting on the camera itself.

Usually, I've found software that stitches images together to be a little hit or miss, but this turned out perfectly, mostly due to the camera itself. The panorama assist not only locks the exposure and focal length for each picture, but actually gives you a transparent overlay of the last image you took so it can line it up with the next absolutely perfectly.

So here's a lovely panoramic view from my front doorstep:

(Oh, and before some smartass points it out, I know how 'amateurish' it is to allow your own shadow to get into a shot you're taking. Well...I am an amateur, so fuck you, and this image was more about testing the software that making something artistic.)

One of the other nifty little features of the Nikon Coolpix S570 is the in-camera auto retouch feature:

The image on the left is the original image, the image on the right is the result of two button presses on the camera (the other nice this is it's non-destructive, it saves the original and puts the retouched version in another folder). I should also point out that these where originally 12megapixel (4000x3000 pictures), that I shrank the panoramic shot was absolutely huge (around 16,000 pixels across) and almost 40mb. You'll have to trust me when I say the level of detail in the originals was outstanding.

Sure, I know that it's nothing more than a quick contrast curve adjustment in Photoshop, but being able to do this in the camera can save an awful lot of time.

So, would I recommend the Coolpix S570 to anyone wanting a good digital point and shoot? Absolutely.

I'll post a full review either tomorrow or the day after.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

WTF? Spam

Ok, since Obama became President, we've all seen the pop-ups and spam claiming that Obama wants just about everyone to do just about everything, from refinance their homes, go back to school or work from home.

These ads appears to be a basic template with the details filled in randomly. It's basically spam mad-libs.

Well today, I was doing some random surfing when I stumbled across this little jewel. I swear I've not altered it in any way:

Ok, Obama wants Moms to return to school, there's financial aid to those who qualify, and if you earn less that $45,000 a year you can get a grant to do so.

...and just to drive this point home, here's a picture of a bearded homeless-looking dude.

Talk about your non-sequiteurs

Friday, December 18, 2009

I hate you, Paula Deen

So today we went and replaced my camera that got stolen with a new Nikon Coolpix S570 (expect a full review in a few days).

One of the things this camera has that my old one didn't was face detection. Believe it or not, in portrait shooting mode, the camera will detect your face, automatically take the picture when you smile and then smooth out your skin.

...or at least that's the theory. Apparently (and unsurprisingly) it has difficulty when you're wearing glasses, have a full beard and you're trying the camera out at night with just a single lamp on in the room.

So, there I was, holding the camera at arms length, gurning like an idiot with the camera detecting my face but not detecting my smile.

So I turn the camera around and get ready to check the settings to make sure I have it set up correctly, when suddenly the camera beeps and flashes.

Apparently, it can't detect me smiling when I'm holding it at arms length, but it can detect Paula Deen's stupid fat grinning face on the TV about 12 feet away.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An open letter to the world.

Hi, my name's Paulius.

I'm one of the approximate 6 billion people sharing this planet with you, and there's less than a 50/50 chance that if we met, we'd like each other enough to voluntarily spend time with each other.

You see, thanks to where I was born, my upbringing, the things I was taught and the decisions and judgements I've made over my lifetime, I have a particular view of the world and the way people should behave.

For example, I have no problem with Gay marriage because I have gay friends and I'm sane enough to realize that two gay men or women officially being recognized as a couple isn't the end of the world. I have an almost unique view of abortion in that my personal viewpoint is that it's none of my fucking business whether a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy or not.

Here's my most important point, though: If you're one of those people who stand in city centers holding up signs saying 'God Hates Fags', or one of those people who are calling Obama a 'Nazi' over the health-care bill…I think you are totally retarded.

I mean that. I honestly do. If you're against the Healthcare bill, I honestly worry that people as retarded and easily led as you are actually members of society. If you're a Bible-bashing, fire and brimstone 'repent sinners' religious fundamentalist, I wonder how pathetically sad your life must be for you to claw so desperately at such nonsensical fantasy in order to feel like you have power.

I think someone should slap the shit out of the 14 year old moms (and the 14 year old fathers). I think religion is a pointless waste of time that does more harm than good…

Long story short, I believe lots of things that you don't.What *I* consider to be acceptable or unacceptable probably doesn't line up with your views on the subject.

But here's the thing…this is absolutely fine…and we appear to have forgotten that.

There are Six Billion people on this planet. Six billion different people from seven different continents, around 200 different countries and literally thousands of different cultures and sub-cultures.

Then, sometime since World War 2, we decided that when we interact with each other, it's completely and totally unacceptable to disagree or offend each other on any scale.

Basically, we live in a world where you can lose your job for telling that really annoying co-worker that he's really annoying or telling the boss that you think his idea is fucking stupid. Where it's not politically correct for a Christian to wish a fellow Christian a Merry Christmas within earshot of other people, in case one of them isn't Christian.

I think that this should stop. I think we should become a plain speaking society instead of a politically correct one.

Don't get me wrong, one of the things that really fucking annoys me is people who are just rude, assholes who love being dicks by claiming that they're just speaking their mind. Let's just say there's a difference between taking the stinky co-worker aside and saying 'Listen dude, you smell. Buy some deodorant and take a few more showers because people are starting to talk.' Than standing up and shouting "UGH! YOU FUCKING STINK!" in a crowded room.

Secondly, it's time for the world, as a whole, to grow a sense of fucking humor. You can go through the Bill of Rights with a fine tooth comb, but I can tell you right now, there's nothing in there that says you have the right to never be offended. Some of you may be offended by some of the language I am using in his post. Well, I am quite happy to say that if you don't like it, you are more than welcome to go fuck yourselves with that stick you have firmly lodged up your ass and get the fuck over it.…and if it really offends you, you are welcome to stop fucking reading and go read something that doesn't offend you.

So, in this spirit, I hereby proclaim 2010 to be the year of plain speaking, where everyone should speak their fucking minds.

I have news for everyone. You were once pushed headfirst out of someone's vagina, and spent the next couple of years regularly shitting in your pants. You're not special, you don't deserve special treatment and all this talk of 'morality' and 'dignity' is nothing but a rationalization as to why everyone should behave in a way that doesn't offend you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Due to reasons I really don't want to go into, as of three days ago, I no longer own my $850, camera.

As of next week, I get to replace it with a much cheaper one.

First of all, let me take this opportunity to point out once again just what a complete waste of time user-reviews of anything are. You look for reviews of digital cameras and the reviews fall into one of four categories.

Total idiots:

This is a terrible, poorly designed camera and user support is even worse. The camera wouldn't turn on and when I tried to open the back to put the film in (which I ended up needing a chisel to do) the whole camera broke in half. I called the help-line and the idiot on the other end claimed that the camera didn't use film and gave me some cock and bull story about voiding my warranty just because I took a hammer and chisel to the casing.
This level of incompetence is totally unacceptable!

Reviews that give no information what so ever:

"Good camera, I like it."

Reviews by people who have been living under a rock and are dazzled by technology:

"This is the best camera ever! Not only does it not need film, you don't have wind it on to the next exposure and it has a screen so you can see your image immediately, it's like magic!"

Finally, the reviews by the asshole, pseudo-intellectuals who claim that everything that isn't the absolute top of the line is totally shit:

"This camera is consumer grade trash. I don't know why anyone would ever consider owning one. I looked at this then bought the imager from the Hubble Space Telescope instead."

To be complete honest though, the main reason I decided to write this post was after looking at some of the 'features' available on the latest digital cameras. I won't deny that some of them are very useful and handy (I personally have always preferred a totally manual SLR, but some of these features are great for just regular snaps)…but one or two made my jaw drop open.

For example, one of the cameras I'm considering buying has a 'skin softening' feature. Basically, you take your picture, the camera detects the face and then softens out the skin to remove blemishes, etc in the camera before saving the image.

Are we really that vain?

You see, while I'm definitely just a hobbyist when it comes to cameras, when I started out in my teens, I was using a film camera, black and white film and used my dad's darkroom equipment in a blacked out bathroom to develop my own pictures. While I definitely embraced digital technology, and just adore photoshop…there's something just a little off to me about a camera that does its own photo manipulation.

I mean, what's the point in a camera that doesn't really capture what's actually there. We're going to have to change the saying from 'The camera never lies' to 'The camera is one lying son of a bitch'.

In all serious, what's next? A camera that automatically softens your skin, makes you look taller, whitens your teeth and gives you a six-pack?

If 'auto skin softening' is a feature on just a mid-range camera today, it's going to be on every new camera within a few years.

I can't help but wonder what it will be like when the aliens discover the remains of the internet after we've blown ourselves up in a hundred years and report back:

"They're all dead, sir. They appear to have been a very war-like, savage race…but they all looked amazing."***king...God

This is literally just about the funniest damn thing I've ever seen:

Monday, December 07, 2009

Take your time, do your research

In a previous post I talked about how much I was dreading having to fix my kitchen faucet, in a comment on that post, fellow blogger and talented writer Mr. MC Etcher said:

"Despite your protest that you don't know anything about plumbing, you're attempting the repair yourself nonetheless.

I too know nothing about plumbing - but I would rather start with all new, clean, definitely functional parts than attempting to replace questionable components.

My method is wasteful, but you're likely to spend less in the end on individual parts and repeated trips to the hardware store."

Well, fixing the faucet in question taught me something, and not just things about plumbing.

You see, a few days ago I would have completely agreed with Etcher, but considering that we also had to do another roof repair and had a lot of Christmas presents to buy, we just didn't have fifty bucks to spend on an all new faucet…so I was forced to try and fix it instead of replacing it. In the end, I'm really glad I did.

You can find all the instructions, help and tips you need free on the internet, and it turns out that the average faucet isn't all that complicated.

In simplest terms, a faucet is basically a screw with a stopper on the end. You turn the screw one way and it lifts the stopper off the end of your water pipe, when you turn it the other way, it pushes the stopper down and blocks the water flow. The 'valve seat' is simply a brass fitting that screws onto the end of your water pipe to protect it and help make a good seal when the faucet is turned off.

Now, here where my options:

  1. I could call a plumber, pay him at least a hundred dollars for the call out alone, then pay another fifty for labor and way over the odds for the parts.
  2. I could go to Lowes, pay about fifty dollars for a whole new faucet and replace the whole thing myself.
  3. I could dismantle the faucet, see if the diagnosis matched the info from the internet, and if so, spend a grand total of seven dollars on parts and tools and fix it myself.

I won't lie, plumbing is really intimidating when you've never done any before, and the first thing you imagine is attempting this 'simple' job, breaking something and having your kitchen waist deep in water within minutes, but my repair was beyond simple.

Even if you know nothing about plumbing, you probably know how to replace a washer on a faucet. If you're calling out a plumber for that, you really need your head examined. Replacing the valve seat wasn't any more complicated.

First, I turned off the water, unscrewed the faucet handle and removed it. Taking the stem out was next which was as easy as unscrewing it with an adjustable wrench. Then, I took my six-dollar valve seat wrench, slotted it into the valve seat at the top of the pipe, unscrewed the seat (which was pitted and cracked, immediately confirming the diagnosis I got from the internet), then I screwed in the new one. Then, I just put the stem back in place and screwed the handle back on.

All in all, the whole repair took less than ten minutes and cost less than eight dollars (and I don't really count the six-fifty for the seat wrench, because the seats on my other faucets are bound to need replacing sooner or later and that's a one-time expense. IE, next time I need to do this, the whole repair will cost 87 cents.)

Basically, my advice is that when something needs fixing around the house, unless there's actual danger of death if you attempt it yourself (For example, I'd never mess with my houses wiring), get on the internet, research it and work out exactly how hard it's going to be to fix, and if you think you can handle it, go for it.

Here's the thing, I didn't just save myself a couple hundred dollars this time. I saved myself a couple hundred dollars every time this particular bit of maintenance needs doing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Logical Conclusions…

I was sitting at the computer yesterday while Sunny was watching one of those 'true crime' shows. Then I heard this:

"We suspected Billy of committing the murder, but we became especially interested in him when it came to his attention that he and a group of his friends were heavily into Dungeons and Dragons, as there have been cases where people allow the role playing to spill over into real life which results in real violence."

I'm sorry, but did I go to bed and wake up in the mid seventies? Are we still blaming Dungeons and Dragons for turning kids into Satanists and murderers? Did these kids listen to rock and roll music as well? If so, we'd better arrest them right now.

I'd just like to step out for a minute and see if we can use some basic common sense and actual reason will show how ridiculous this idea is.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game you play by using your imagination to take part in an adventure in a fantasy setting. One player writes an overall plot, the other players design and role play as characters in that plot.

Now, by that FBI Agent's reasoning, JRR Tolkien must have been the biggest murderer of all time. He basically laid the foundation for every piece of fantasy fiction ever. What's more, all the actors from the Lord of the Rings movies must also be potential serial killers, because weren't they just doing what the kids were doing? Pretending to be fantasy heroes and villains? Of course, while the kids only had graph paper and dice rolls to simulate the violence, the LotR actors had full costumes, a massive budget, a cast of thousands and the latest in special effects technology.

Now here's the thing, some idiot is bound to point out that the kid from the 'true crime' show actually turned out to have committed the murder, so that makes my argument completely moot.

Well, no, actually.

Millions of people worldwide play Dungeons and Dragons, and the percentage of them who actually kill people make up less than one thousandth of one percent of the group. It's something only the media can do, they take an obvious statistical anomaly and claim that it's proof that the whole thing's bad.

A kid listens to a CD, kills someone and then claims the music influenced him to do it. People call that 'proof', talk about the 'obvious' link… but never ask why a CD that definitely turns kids into souless killers sold twenty million copies but only 'made' one kid go on the rampage.

I could say more, but as this is about my fifteen millionth post on this subject, I'll leave it right here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A (forced) productive day.

A few days ago I replaced the washer in the kitchen faucet for the fifth time in as many weeks, only to have it completely refuse to turn off. Instead of dripping, it was just constantly running as though it had been just barely cracked open.

My regular readers will know I'm not exactly what you'd call 'handy'. For the first 23 years of my life while living at home, things got fixed by me saying "Dad, the <insert object here> is broken." Plumbing, especially, is a completely closed book to me. I try to fix things and consider it a success if I walk away leaving it only slightly more damaged than it was before I started.

Luckily, I have the internet, and a few minutes research told me the problem was likely a worn valve seat, which apparently isn't too difficult to replace. It's either a couple hundred bucks or so to a professional plumber, or about fifteen dollars for tools and materials and the adventure of fixing it yourself.

I went to the DIY route out of necessity, not choice.

Then, yesterday morning at 4.30am as I was getting into bed, I looked up and noticed a damp patch on the ceiling above the bed. That's right, after the major storm we had a few days ago, our flat bedroom roof started leaking again.

After that, I was so stressed out I couldn't even consider going to sleep. I was originally planning on sleeping for a while, getting up, going to get the things I needed to repair the sink then enjoying Sunny's day off with a couple of movies.

Suddenly, I was going to have to fix the sink and then get up on the roof with a couple of buckets of roof goop, which is quite frankly my least favorite thing to do in the world.

So, when Sunny came home, we went to Lowes…and in the run up to Christmas when money is tight anyway, we spent almost seventy dollars we didn't have in our budget on the stuff to fix the roof.

The faucet turned out to be surprisingly cheap and easy to fix. It was one of those jobs that I finished and wondered why anyone would spend hundreds of dollars on a plumber for a job that was about as difficult and complicated as replacing a washer. It turned out the hardest part was locating a matching valve seat. Apparently, the last time the plumbing in our house was upgraded was sometime in the 60's, so not only was the part had to find, it was hard to identify as a match because the old one was so corroded. Luckily, after nearly being forced into buying a whole valve seat, washer and stem set for twelve dollars, we went to a mom and pop hardware store and got the seat for 87 cents. With about seven dollars for the valve seat wrench, it was a nice and cheap repair. I just unscrewed the faucet handle, removed the stem with an adjustable wrench and the old valve seat came off nice and easily. The new one, while being a little fiddly to install (It's a little like keyhole surgery), went on without much trouble.

Of course, we'd budgeted for all that, so it didn't add much to the stress level. Luckily, my stepson is the handiest person in the world, so I knew that if I fucked up and broke something, it would be a little more expensive to fix, he could put right any of my mistakes (which is the usual outcome of my DIY attempts).

The roof, as always, was a bitch. Firstly there was standing water all over it, and with rain forecast for tomorrow, I was up on the roof at 8am in forty degree weather, breaking ice, sweeping it off the roof and soaking up water with an old bedsheet. I fixed the faucet while waiting for it to dry out a little more and by midday… after no sleep and a ton of stress… I was back on the roof.

Just to put the sprinkles on the cupcake, I don't like heights one bit. Well…that's not exactly true. I have no problem with heights as long as I know I'm reasonably safe. I have no problem looking out the window at the top of a small building, I have no problem walking across a high bridge or standing at the edge of a tall building behind a railing. I do, however, have a problem with standing on a slick roof in cold and windy weather where I have to stand close to the edge with nothing but air between me and a twenty foot drop.

Also, twenty feet doesn't sound like a lot. It doesn't even look like a lot when you're on the ground looking up at it…but it seems a lot higher when you're twenty feet high trying to get from a rickety old ladder onto a slick roof.

Now, if you've ever applied roof goop, which is basically a mix of tar, bitumen and fiberglass, you know that stuff gets all over you, ruins any clothing it touches and is an absolute bitch to clean off your skin (it just doesn't clean off clothing at all). There also comes a point in the process where there's so much on your hands that you figure you might as well just scoop the shit out of the bucket and apply it with your hands because it'll be much easier and you can't get much more of it on you than is already there.

Just a hint, when you get to this point and decide to use your hands… don't. Also, when you forget how hard it is to get off your hands and plunge your hand into the bucket anyway, remember to take off your wedding ring. Also, don't try to wipe the sweat off your forehead either.

It took me almost two hours in the shower to get that shit off me. It turns out that a coating on your hands from handling the trowel looks almost as bad, but is a million times easier to clean off that a half inch thick coating. The stuff is designed to be sticky and waterproof, meaning you have to use WD-40, lighter fluid or gasoline to clean it off and you have to use a scrubbing brush to do it.

Let's just say standing in the shower, spraying your own face with WD40 before going crazy on it with a scrubbing brush is not a fun experience.

On the upside, I remembered to wear old clothes and shoes.

On the downside, when I was done, I was so stressed out and pissed off, I wanted a cigarette more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. It took every single ounce of my self control not to buy a pack.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I dislike haikus

They are more word puzzle than

Genuine artform


Over the past year, it appears that the cold faucet in the kitchen just eats washers. The faucet will start dripping again a couple of weeks after the washer is replaced, and finally, just replacing the washer didn't work any more. We have a permanently dripping faucet that actually just runs unless it's turned off just so.

So I finally decided to jump on the net and see what else could be wrong.

Well, it turns out that our valve seat need replacing. This is the bit of the pipe that the washer presses against to stop the water from flowing.

Now, this should be a very simple job. I just need to buy a valve seat wrench (which looks like a big Allen key), unscrew the old seat, slap a bit of pipe-joint compound on the new one and screw it into place.

The problem is, I know exactly what my luck is like…and every time I expect a ten minute, ten dollar job what I end up with is a five hour, fifty dollar job.

Like the time I needed to replace the stop cock in the toilet. All that was supposed to happen was I was supposed to drain the cistern, unscrew one bolt on the underside of the toilet, remove the old stop cock and bolt the new one into place. Instead it took three hours.

Three things worry me. The valve seat hasn't been replaced in almost twenty years so it'll be a bitch to remove, the faucet is so old I don't even know what size/brand of valve seat I need until I can take the old one off…and finally, any unexpected, catastrophic failure which is the usual way things tend to play out.

This is why I’m not sure I want it.

Ok, so like a lot of other gamers out there, I was really excited about the new Call of Duty game. Before we got our new TV, I was seriously considering asking Santa to bring it to me for Christmas.

Since then, my opinion has changed a little.

First of all I heard the single player campaign is really short, as in 'five hours' short. Considering I'm still playing and finding new things in Fallout 3 after putting almost 80 combined hours into it, sixty bucks for just five hours of gameplay (and that's gameplay with little replay value) isn't worth it to me.

Of course, the real reason you buy Modern Warfare 2 is for the multiplayer…but as you can probably guess, I have a few problems with that as well.

First of all, after my experience with Call of Duty: World at War, buying a shooter purely for its multiplayer content feels a lot like signing up for a subscription service. For example, World at War had no matchmaking option for games with just the core maps or just the map packs you own…meaning that if you haven't shelled out for the extra map packs, it gets extremely frustrating to get into a game.

You start matchmaking, you wait while it finds an open group, you join the group, you wait for more players to join, then the countdown starts, you go to a loading screen…then you're instantly thrown out of the game and taken directly to Xbox Live Marketplace because you don't have map-pack three.

If you're playing with a group of friends, especially if you only know them through Xbox Live, you quickly start to feel like a complete dick because when that happens, it's not just you that has to quit, but the other nine guys in your party have to quit as well….and most of them have shelled out for the extra map packs. Also, if you're like me, you finally cave in, pay almost sixty dollars for the downloadable content…then the new 'latest and greatest' game comes out and then even though you have the downloadable content, you can't get a game because no-one's playing it any more.

When you can expect a twenty dollar map pack every other month, it's a bit of a piss-take when you spend sixty bucks on a game, then within a month of buying it (or in some cases, less than a week), you have to spend another twenty bucks to keep playing.

However, the absolute worst part is that playing online means you have to play with other people.

I've talked about this before, so I won't go into too much detail, but there is a certain type of gamer who will treat any game like a second job, play for eighteen hours a day and work out every single glitch or exploit that allows them to win, totally regardless of whether their 'play-style' is any fun or not…and it only takes one of these gamers in a full group of 32 to completely spoil the game.

For example, think of the kind of mind that would a) work this out and b) consider it to be a fair and fun way to play the game:

Basically, someone playing MW2 discovered that if you equip a grenade, pull the pin but then switch to your javelin missile launcher without throwing it… when you die, the grenade goes off and you'll fire your javelin… which results in a massive explosion that will take out any other players within 30 feet. In other words, you can blow yourself up but take five or six of the opposing team with you and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

For the non-gamers out there, think of it this way: Imagine playing in a tennis tournament and after your opponent wins the first point, he just sits down and refuses to serve. When you ask him what's going on, he points to the rule book where there's some old rule from 1967 that states that if the game isn't over after an hour, the player in the lead wins by default. When you tell him he's being retarded and unfair, he also points out that there's no rule that says he can't take as long as he likes with his serve.

In other words, the game's not going to be any fun for either of you, he's not actually beating you at anything, but after a long and boring hour, he technically 'wins'.

That's your average opponent on Xbox Live.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Back To The Future

So I watched Back To The Future today, and realized with more than a little shock that BTTF is less than a month away from being twenty five years old.

…and you know what? That movie is as amazing today as it was the first time I watched it when I was about six years old.

There are a few moments when some of the special effects show their age a little, but if you'll pardon as slight pun, BTTF is absolutely timeless.

For me, the most surprising thing is that it deals with some fairly advanced concepts but manages to explain them incredibly easy without any long and boring exposition. Think about that. This is a movie that came out in 1985 that deals with the classic grandfather paradox, but no-one ever saw Back To The Future and walked away afterwards saying they didn't 'get it'.

Just to put that into perspective, I once spent almost two hours trying to explain the concept behind 'The Matrix' to a thirty year old co-worker who had seen the movie twice. Me and all my friends understood BTTF after seeing it once when we were six years old.

My favorite thing about BTTF is that it seems that every time I watch it I notice a new detail that I haven't noticed before. For example, at the start of the Movie, Marty meets Doc Brown in the parking lot of the 'Twin Pines' mall. Almost immediately after going back in time, Marty crashes the DeLorean into a fenced off pine tree at the then 'Twin Pines Ranch'… then, when he returns to the future, he runs up to the same parking lot, only this time the sign is missing one of the pines and we see it's now called the 'Lone Pine Mall'.

This is a movie that literally has everything. It has some awesome action sequences, some genuine drama a ton of humor and some pretty hefty morals as well.

For example, I love Tom Wilson's acting in this movie. There are times when he's deliberately over the top as the massive asshole Biff's meant to be, but there are some scenes with him that feature some surprisingly subtle and powerful acting. For example, watch the scene at the very start of the movie when he crashes George's car and makes out like the accident was somehow George's fault…then starts bullying him into doing his reports for him. It's a really 'over the top' scene, but look at the way Biff looks at Marty when he realizes he's staring at him. For a moment, he looks like a brat kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar…like Biff recognizes that Marty isn't the pushover his dad is, can't be intimidated and that realization makes Biff realize, just for a split second, what a complete asshole he is. One second he's a bully in complete control of the situation, and the next he looks uncomfortable and a little ashamed of himself.

Even the direction is top notch. Zemeckis manages to make scenes more powerful by juxtaposing opposing elements. For example, When Marty and Lorraine arrive at the dance we have a very funny scene where it turns out that Lorraine smokes, drinks and is a little more promiscuous in 1955 than the perfect angel she claimed to be as Marty's mom in 1985…and just as the audience is laughing at Marty's reaction to this, Biff opens the door, drags Marty out of the car and forces himself on Lorraine.

It's a genuinely uncomfortable scene to watch as Biff essentially attempts to rape Lorrain, and it's amazingly well acted by Lea Thompson as she cries for help… but it's a hundred times more powerful and jarring as it's sandwiched right between two very funny scenes.

Basically, Back to the Future is an amazing movie and quite frankly one of the best movies to come out in the past 30 years. It's a sci-fi movie that manages to appeal to and satisfy hardcore sci-fi fans and non-fans alike.

If you've never watched this movie, or have kids who haven't seen this movie yet…go pick up the DVD. It's as fresh and entertaining today as it was in 1985.



Saturday, November 28, 2009

Women don’t get it.

I got out of bed yesterday morning to discover that my darling wife had rearranged some furniture, including moving the couch.

The women won't understand why this is a problem, but the guys will as soon as I say two words:

"Surround Sound".

You see, when we first got our surround sound system almost four years ago, I hooked up the speakers but as it was quite late, decided to put of positioning them until the next day. The next day I got out of bed to discover that Sunny had put them up and her placement technique appeared to be "Wherever there's a spare bit of wall on the correct side of the TV is where the speaker goes."

Our living room is long and thin and the TV is on one of the broad walls…and the way sunny had positioned the speakers meant that the front left speaker was about three feet to the left of the TV while the front right was nearly 15 feet away from the TV.

…they were also at different heights.

This is one of the ways I know that my missus has no idea how the male mind works, and has absolutely no clue how the male geek mind works.

You see, what my missus knows is that I immediately took all the speakers down and repositioned them so they were at the same height and each was an equal and symmetrical distance from the TV.

What she doesn't know is when she left for work that night, I spent a couple of hours with a tape measure positioning each speaker precisely, before slipping an audio test CD in the DVD player and sitting in my place on the couch with my eyes closed and the remote in my hand adjusting the speakers until they were perfectly calibrated.

The way I see it is that Sunny was happy with the speakers all over the place, so even with the speakers perfectly calibrated for where I sit, she was still getting a much better surround sound experience.

Then, she just gets up in the morning and moves the damn couch.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


To all my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving.

To my British readers, today is an American Holiday known as 'Thanksgiving'. It's to celebrate the day that the pilgrims finally defeated Godzilla thanks to the timely intervention of Optimus Prime which, in turn, led to them help the Autobots finally drive the Decepticons from America. In honor of the battle, many Indian themed casinos were built all over the country and everyone eats turkeys, because everyone knows that robots hate those feathery bastards.

Or something like that…I wasn't really paying attention.

Oooh, a squirrel!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


So Sunny and I went to buy our Christmas present to ourselves today so we could take advantage of the sales and not be in the ridiculous, face-trampling rugby scrum knows as 'Black Friday'.

In fact, as a quick aside, that's something I tweeted about yesterday. As an atheist, I may not totally 'get' what Christmas is about…but I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be about camping out all night, then literally stampeding into a store, trampling other people before literally getting involved in fist fights with strangers…just for the privilege of spending two hundred dollars on a ten dollar toy for a kid who'll be bored shitless with it within hours of unwrapping it.

Anyway, thanks to my awesomely generous parents and some hard saving, we went out and bought our new TV. If you've seen a Best Buy ad this week, you'll know the one we got. The non-name brand 'Dynex' 32" 720p HDTV.

Ok, as this was an off-brand TV and because it was 720p and not 1080p, I expected it to be better than what we had, but nothing spectacular.

I was wrong…the difference was totally spectacular.

First of all, I looked at a lot of TVs over the past few days and I can honestly say that the picture is just as good…and in many cases better… than the more expensive name-brand TVs of the same size and resolution. Put it this way, at Best Buy, they had the Dynex TV set up next to six other TV's of the same size and res…and the Dynex had a better picture than all but one of them... and the one that was better cost literally twice as much.

For me, though, the absolute best thing was hooking up the 360. In all seriousness, I expected there to be a noticeable difference, but the only way I can explain it is that there's almost as big of a difference in graphics quality as there is between a 360 and an original Xbox. It's amazing the amount of details you miss by playing on an SD set. While I was really impressed with the visuals of Assassin's Creed on the SD TV, the visuals on the HD TV literally took my breath away. It's like a whole new game on a whole new system.

Also, after doing a lot of comparison shopping, I can honestly say that for a 32" TV, 720p is more than enough. You really don't need 1080p unless your TV is 40" or bigger.

The only other piece of advice I'll give to anyone considering buying an HDTV for Christmas is to buy the absolute cheapest HDMI cables you can afford. From two weeks of research, I've learned that anyone who actually knows about this technology will tell you the same thing: There is absolutely no difference between a $20 HDMI cable and a $200 HDMI cable. The only time you'd even come close to needing a platinum-pinned, triple shielded, oxygen-purged HDMI cable is if you're planning on having your cable box a hundred feet or so from your TV.

Anyway, I was a little hesitant about buying a $300 TV when all comparable TVs were at least $400…but I can honestly say that if you're wanting a good 32" HDTV, you can't go far wrong with the Dynex from Best Buy. It's a good TV anyway, but for the price it's absolutely unbeatable.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The last day of school was always a bit of a problem for everyone concerned.

All the actual work had been done, none of the students could be bothered to work and none of the teachers could be bothered to teach.

Seriously, who's going to sit there and do math that wasn't going to count towards any kind of final grade when school would be over for six weeks in just a few hours?

What made this problem worse is that you had to do something, otherwise what was the point? We needed some sort of task to perform, otherwise it was just a bunch of teenagers and adults sitting in a building from 8.30am to 4pm for no good reason.

One year our teachers had a brainwave. We had an 'activity day'. We had a set of borderline educational 'games' to play that were fun enough to where we'd actually want to do them, and just educational enough to make doing them at school make sense.

(In the real world these are called 'Management Retreats' or 'Team Building Days' and are just a big of a waste of time, only in the real world there's usually one completely out of touch boss who's taking it super seriously and thinks running an obstacle course will make everyone work harder for no more pay.)

These tasks and games were set to take place over the whole day. For example, for part of the morning we had 'problem solving' where a bunch of benches, pommel-horses and other assorted gym equipment was set up in the sports hall, and you had to get your team from one side of the room to the other without touching the floor.

The weirdest part of the day was the teams. You see, my high school was divided into houses (Yes, like Hogwarts, but not nearly that exciting) and for organizational ease, the whole year was split in two. It was rare to be put into a group with someone from another house, but you never ended up in a group with someone from the other half of the year.

That day, all that went out the window. I ended up on a team with people I'd never so much as spoken to before.

The worst news was that our team functioned in the same way any group of teenagers who don't know each other will function when forced into a group together:

One person (usually a girl) will spend the entire time with her arms folded, not speaking to anyone or doing anything. One guy will decide this is his big chance with the ladies and will try to come across as ultra masculine, but will actually come across as a future serial killer whos had too much caffeine…and everyone else in the group will want to be in charge, regardless of their actual level of skill or talent.

Luckily, by the age of fifteen I'd discovered the secret to actually being in charge and getting things done when working with strangers in groups. If the task is a purely mental one like a puzzle… simply work on it yourself quietly and it's almost guaranteed you'll have it solved long before the rest of the team have finished arguing over the best way to start. If it's a task that requires co-operation, people don't respond to good ideas, qualifications or anything that makes sense (If the task is to build a tower out of straws and you're an architect/structural engineer, the guy who works detailing cars will still argue with you over the best way to build it)…but these types of people are extremely easy to manipulate.

So the final task of the day was one I'm sure everyone who's ever been forced to go on a team building day will be familiar with. We were given a plastic cup filled with various odds and ends, and using the materials provided, we had to build something to allow an egg to survive a two story drop.

My team got to work…and by that I mean, two people started fighting over the materials, Miss Popular rolled her eyes and folded her arms slightly tighter, another girl kept saying the same really bad idea over and over…and Mr. Alpha suggested an arm wrestling tournament to decide who's idea we should use.

Anyway, I put 'Operation Do As I Say' into action. If you don't know how to do this, pay attention, as in any group context it'll get you your own way nine times out of ten… or at the very least hurry things along:

Firstly, you let everyone argue for five minutes or so, without joining in. Then you pick the person trying hardest to be the Alpha male or female and say: "Hey, I really like (loudest guy)'s idea that we should do (insert your own plan/idea here)'.

This works because, in a group situation, no-one is actually listening to a damn word anyone else is saying. Whenever anyone's talking, everyone else is simply using that time to think about what they're going to say next. Also, when someone hears you say that you like their idea, there's no way in hell they're going to contradict you. If you tell someone you love their idea, they'll take credit for it

Then you say: "I also really liked (second loudest guy)'s idea, I think that would really help with (first person)'s idea. What was that again?" Then listen with rapt attention to whatever drivel they come up with.

The first guy will actually listen because the second person is only 'helping' with their awesome idea, and person two is now on board because it's his genius idea that's the super-important lynch-pin that makes the first guy's obviously stupid idea work.

Then, you do whatever you damn well please as long as you remember to only refer to the project as the other two peoples' idea. If someone else pipes up with a stupid addition, you tell that person that they're absolutely correct, you can't believe how stupid you were not to see how vital their addition is…then you give them some 'important' busy work to distract them…and don't even think of implementing their idea.

It was really funny to watch, actually. Alpha was smug as hell that he was getting all the credit for an idea that wasn't his own, and the Alpha wannabe was smirking that 'we' were obviously just pretending to give Alpha his way when everyone was really following his lead.

I know it sounds a little evil, but imagine trying to explain to a knuckle-dragging idiot that if you tape a popsicle stick to the top of an egg it will not work like a helicopter rotor no matter how much spin you give it when you chuck it out of the window

So, we ended up going with my idea. We put crumpled up newspaper in the bottom of the plastic cup as a shock absorber, put the egg on top of that with more newspaper above it, we sealed the cup with tape and made a parachute out of string and a plastic bag. We were done in record time as well, we were putting the finishing touches to our parachute, everyone else was still arguing over how to start.

At the end of the day, the teacher's took all our creations, took them to the top of the English block and chucked them out of the window while we all gathered underneath. Ours was the only egg to survive completely intact…

Then everyone said we cheated because we used the cup the materials came in and came out with some bollocks that it wasn't an 'allowed material', even though it said nowhere on the task sheet we couldn't use it.

The teachers upheld the decision.

Personally, I thought that was total bullshit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Officially a Convert

I stumbled across a forum thread this morning where someone decided to try to stir up some shit by pointing out that online multiplayer on consoles was inferior to PC multiplayer because, as a general rule of thumb, you can have more people playing at once on the PC.

At one point in my gaming 'career', I was a die-hard PC gamer and didn't like consoles one bit. Games tended to be a lot prettier and generally 'deeper' on the PC, and as far as I was concerned, if you wanted awesome, interesting, bleeding edge games, you bought a PC…if you wanted to play a platformer, you bought a console.

That all changed with this console cycle where console hardware finally caught up to PC hardware…and gaming hardware in general is at a point where improvements are subtle and not the giant leaps they used to be. It used to be that a console could match a PC only to be left in the dust six months later…but not anymore.

PC gaming is certainly dying, and it's down to two things: Less support from developers…and simple ease of use.

Firstly, I don't understand the lack of developer support. The general idea is that it's not worth releasing a game for the PC because it can be copied and pirated too easily…but as I've mentioned before, I buy 90% of my games pre-owned…which means that the cash I paid for the twenty or so games I own never got near a publisher, it only went to my local gamestop.

In fact, the Gamestop pre-owned business model works almost exactly like piracy. One person buys a full price game, a portion of the price of which goes to the developers…then a few weeks later he returns it to the store, where someone buys it pre-owned…where none cash goes to the developer. Repeat. Basically, from a purely financial point of view, there's no difference to the developer if I buy a copy of their game from the pre-owned shelf, or mod my Xbox and pirate a copy.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the last proper game I bought for the PC was Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I got back from the store, put it in, waited 20 minutes for it to install…and it froze at the start up screen. What followed was two and a half hours of uninstalling, installing, reinstalling, searching forums, downloading patches, updating drivers and generally dicking about until I got it to work…at which point I had to turn off every graphics option because it ran like cold molasses.

Then, of course, we have the problems like I had with Knights of the Old Republic, where even though my PC had WAY higher specs than the recommended system requirements…it just wouldn't work because there was a problem with my exact model of graphics card that there was just no fix for…and I can't return the game because there's technically nothing wrong with it.

Basically, you can talk about 'free' and 'bigger' online multiplayer, but the simple difference that makes consoles blow the PC out of the water is that I can go to a store, buy a game, put the disc in the tray and that game will work. If it doesn't, I can go back to the store and swap it out for one that will. There's just no dicking about.

Also, a lot of console games may have a maximum of 16 players…but I can turn on my console, instantly see which of my friends are available and what games they are playing and we can go straight into a game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

He’s a clever guy…

"You should be more careful with what you write. You never know when a future employer might read it."

"When did we forget our dreams?"


"The infinite possibilities each day holds should stagger the mind. The sheer number of experiences I could have is uncountable, breathtaking and I'm sitting here refreshing my inbox. We live trapped in loops, reliving a few days over and over and we envision only a handful of paths laid out ahead of us. We see the same things each day, we respond the same way, we think the same thoughts, each day a slight variation on the last, every moment smoothly following the gentle curves of societal norms. We act like if we just get through today, tomorrow our dreams will come back to us.

And no, I don't have all the answers. I don't know how to jolt myself into seeing what each moment could become, but I do know one thing: The solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of someday easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up.

This is very important, so I want to say it as clearly as I can:


-Randall Munroe, XKCD Webcomic

Thanks for saying it a lot better than I ever could, you talented bastard.

My Missus…

Earlier this year, Sunny and I decided to save up all our cash in the hope of being able to afford a new TV for Christmas. Not only do we have HD service through our cable company that we aren't using, playing the Xbox 360 on a 28" Standard Definition TV isn't great.

Unfortunately, as I've blogged about, a lot of unforeseen expenses cropped up, and it turned out we couldn't afford one.

Then, a few weeks ago, Sunny and I were at the local Wal-Mart and discovered that there'd been another price drop, and while we couldn't afford the 40" 1080p TV we originally had our eye on, thanks to some generosity from my awesome parents, we could afford a nice 32" 720p set…which to be completely honest is just about the perfect size for our living room.

The thing is, Sunny hasn't really been showing a lot of enthusiasm for the new TV. She's had a definite 'take it or leave it' attitude since we realized we could just about afford it actually decided to buy one.

I talked about how much better the 360 games look on a HD set, and Sunny (hardly surprisingly) didn't care. When I pointed out we had a ton of HD channels and a crap load of on-demand HD movies available on our current cable plan, she showed a tiny bit of interest, but wasn't even close to what you'd call 'excited'.

The closest she came to showing any enthusiasm was when I pointed out that, next year, she could watch the thanksgiving day parade on it. Then today…

"OH MY GOD!!!!" Said Sunny, completely out of nowhere, giggling like a schoolgirl.

"What?" I asked.

"When we get the new TV…we can watch the Yule Log at Christmas and it will be like we have a fireplace!!!"

"Uhhh, we can watch the Yule Log on this TV." I pointed out.

"Yeah, but the new one's widescreen." She said, like she was pointing out something painfully obvious to a complete idiot.

"What difference does it make?" I asked.

"It's widescreen! It's oblong! It'll look more like a real fireplace!"

"Tell you what." I said. "We'll put the old TV in the bedroom, and I'll make a surround for it that cuts off the top and bottom of the screen. I'll even make it look like a mantle…"

"Yeeeaaaaahhh?" Said Sunny.

"Then you can sit in the bedroom and watch a bit of wood burn on that TV, while I use the new HD flat panel for something a little more worthwhile…like playing some COD 4."

"OKAY!" She said, like this was the best idea ever.

Women…I've been married to one for over five years now…and I still don't even have her one millionth of a percent figured out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commenting on yesterdays post, fellow blogger Evan08 said:

"Since you threw guilt into the mix, you could also take this post to a sociological level. Self-esteem and guilt serve more than a psychological role. They also help people fall in line with social expectations, like preventing theft, murder incest and so forth.

And then we could go on for days about how predatory-types gain perverse joy from manipulating people's guilt and self esteem.

But you're absolutely right. People need to learn how to lose. They need to learn that feeling bad can motivate positive actions. We, as a society, are a bunch of marshmallow-soft, victim-mentality, pussies. We need to grow a pair and get over ourselves."

Well, that's something I've talked about before, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to expand on Evan's point a little:

I think the most misunderstood thing is that we're not born with a sense of right and wrong or 'good' or 'bad'. People tend to think of good and bad as concrete concepts when they're entirely invented by society. It's the way we are raised and our societal norms that calibrate our ideas of what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable.

(This is why countries in the middle east consider things like stoning to be acceptable and consider us 'decadent and evil' for reasons like women wearing makeup or short skirts. We have completely different societal norms and ideas of right and wrong.)

If we're raised right, we're praised for being good and punished for being bad. As adults we tend to do the right thing because of a lifetime of conditioning through positive reinforcement (You helped your brother with his homework? Have a cookie) and fear of punishment if we do wrong. Add to this a healthy dose of empathy (I know how I'd feel if my wallet was stolen, so I won't take that guy's) and you have a well adjusted member of society.

This is where we hit on the whole guilt/self esteem issue:

If a kid fails a spelling test and comes in lowest in the class, he gets upset and feels bad about himself. It affects his self esteem. This is very unpleasant for the kid, so the next time a spelling test is comes up, he works and studies harder to avoid coming last again and feeling bad about himself. When he works harder and does better than the last test, he gets a feeling of achievement and is rewarded for his efforts…which he wants more of, so he works even harder.

If that same kid steals some cash from his mother's purse, even if he doesn't get caught, he feels guilty about it. Again, if he was raised properly, the feelings of guilt will override any joy he gets from what he's stolen…and he feels bad about himself and he doesn't want to do it again.

Now let's talk about today.

As I mentioned in previous posts, people saw that the kids who did well in school had high self esteem …so they decided that 'high self-esteem' = 'success' rather than the other way around. So, they reasoned, the way to raise a generation of achievers is to make sure they all have really high self esteem no matter what.

So a kid doesn't study very hard and fails his spelling test, but he's told this doesn't matter because he's very special and gets a smiley face sticker on his test and told he gets an A for effort. Not only does this remove any motivation to improve, the kid who came first in the class has no reason to keep working hard because he's not rewarded any more than the kid who came last.

What this leads to is a whole generation of kids growing up with an over-blow sense of entitlement, that they deserve the best of everything without having to earn it or work for it.

Basically we're making sure people are feeling great about themselves when they've done absolutely nothing to deserve it, while also making sure people can act like selfish assholes and not feel even the slightest twinge of guilt. In short, people's mental processes tend to default to 'I'm awesome, so I deserve it."…and that's a very powerful and dangerous thing. It's circular logic that can justify just about anything.

Steal someone's car? It's wrong, but I deserve it, so that's okay. Waitress messed up your order? Scream at her, demand your meal be comped or get her fired, because you're awesome and deserve the very best. Eat too much and end up with heart disease? Well, you're basically infallible, so it's someone else's fault…sue McDonalds.

Basically, this push towards making sure everyone always feels great about themselves is a massive mistake. All it's doing is removing the rewards for doing good and the consequences for doing bad.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

But…that’s what it’s for.

Sunny's watching a TV show on FitTV about a couple of overweight teenage twin girls trying to lose weight.

The word's 'self esteem' keep popping up. The twins are talking about how they have low self esteem because they're overweight, as are the twins' personal trainer, nutritionist, etc, etc. They are saying this as though it's a bad thing

Why have we got this into our collective heads that low self esteem is always a bad thing and high self esteem is always a good thing?

This idea is the reason why we have so many selfish douchebags in our society…because we're so focused on making sure everyone has high self esteem that we have a whole generation of people with an overblown sense of entitlement who feel just great about themselves no matter what they do or how they act.

If you're a hundred pounds overweight because you eat way too much and never exercise, you're not supposed to feel good about yourself. You're supposed to feel like shit. If you're a hundred pounds overweight and feel just great about yourself…where's the motivation to get off your ass, take responsibility for your problems and get into shape?

Here's the thing. If you pick up something that's too hot, it burns your hand and the pain makes you drop it. As unpleasant as pain is, we need it because it stops us from seriously injuring ourselves.

That's what things like low self esteem and guilt are for. When you look in the mirror and see you're a hundred pounds overweight, you're supposed to feel bad about yourself. There's nothing admirable or praise worthy in letting yourself get seriously out of shape. It's when you get off your ass and get in shape and look in the mirror a few months later and see how all your hard work has paid off that you get to feel good about yourself.

Am I completely wrong in feeling like you should actually achieve something or do something worthwhile before you feel good about yourself?

Now, before anyone starts with angry comments, I'm writing this post as an overweight guy who's lifestyle and eating habits gave him diabetes, high blood pressure and clothes in the XXL range. I look in the mirror and *I* feel bad about myself…but that's the whole damn point. If I felt great about myself I wouldn't have radically changed the way I eat and made a conscious effort to get in shape.

Monday, November 16, 2009

You ain’t fooling anyone, fellas.

I don't think it's a secret that I'm an art lover.

In my eternal journey to become an artist that doesn't completely suck, I find myself on all kinds of websites. Unfortunately, most artwork tutorials on the net tend to be of the 'parrot fashion' kind. In other words, you can follow a tutorial to draw an amazing looking car, but all you've learned to draw is that car, seen from that exact angle.

Long story short, the really good tips and tricks tend to be buried away on the obscure lesser known sites…and the only way to find these sites is to type very generic keywords like 'art' into Google and wade through a lot of crap.

Well, yesterday I found myself on an 'Anthro Art' site.

What is Anthro art? Well, basically it's a euphemism for 'drawings of animals that look like people doing things you normally see in porn'.

The page I landed on was actually a forum page, and rather fortunately (from an 'entertaining blog post' point of view,) the thread was a bunch of fans of 'anthro art' discussing how they were not furries, that 'anthro' wasn't 'furry'…and how sad it was that people looked down on certain artforms 'without looking deeper into them'.

If I'm honest, they made a few good points. Technically Mickey Mouse is an example of Anthro art, and while there are some unnatural deviants out there, some people are just interested in the art style.

"We're not deviants." The forum denizens said. "We don't get off on this. We're totally misunderstood. There's nothing weird or strange about drawing anthros. A lot of kids cartoons are examples of anthro art and no-one thinks they're perverted."

They almost made their point with me. I was almost sympathetic. As someone who's a big fan of 1930's and 40's pin-up artwork, I know that some people automatically judge you without understanding the artform.

The thing is, guys, don't protest your innocence and claim you're not furries or pervs and then have 99.9% of your user-created 'artwork' gallery made up of drawings of anthropomorphized animals in little or no clothes doing things that you definitely wouldn't have seen on Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.

Here's the thing: You can talk about your 'misunderstood art form' all you want, you can swear that you don't get off on it…but when the first image in your user-generated gallery is a squirrel-girl with 44FF boobs in nothing but a thong, and the next is two catgirls literally elbow deep in each other…your whole 'this is not furry porn' argument goes out the window.

Now, I'm not objecting to it. Whatever floats your boat is alright with me, but do me a huge favor?

When you have a site filled with your…ahem…'anthro art', could you please put it behind a warning page? Seriously guys…I had to take a shower after landing on your site and some things simply cannot be unseen…and most of the stuff on your site isn't what I'd call 'thought provoking' so much as 'fucking traumatic'.

No-one, and I mean no one, should be able to just click an innocent looking link… and the first thing they see on the new page is Huey, Dewey and Louie from Duck Tales involved a gay threesome while scrooge McDuck watches them.

How about a page that says "Click here to see unspeakable horror" instead of having a page featuring a lot of beloved eighties cartoon characters involved in sex acts that are illegal in 48 states that can be landed on directly from Google with a search as innocent as 'pen and ink rendering techniques'.

Enough Gimmicks Part Deux.

Yesterday I wrote a little about how the comics industry seems to be far more concerned with gimmicks that with telling good stories. Today I want to talk about a different genre of gimmicks: Gimmicks in video games.

Up until very recently, the console wars were decided by one thing: Whichever system had the best graphics sold the most units.

However, processing power is subject to the law of diminishing returns. As gaming systems get more and more powerful, the smaller the noticeable improvements are.

Basically, the difference between the NES and the SNES was an absolute quantum leap in graphics quality. The difference between the 2D based SNES and the 3D based Playstation was just as obvious. However, compare and Playstation 1 to a Playstation 2, and you can definitely see that the PS2 is the superior console, but it's just an improvement… there isn't that massive gulf between the new and the old that there used to be.

Plus, visuals have reached a point where it's impossible to make that big leap any more. For a lot of today's games, the jump from current gen graphics quality to photorealism isn't all that massive. There's a reason to make the jump from the Xbox to the Xbox 360…but even with massive graphical improvements, to the average gamer, the differences in visuals between current gen consoles and next gen consoles are going to be far more subtle than ever before.

Basically, would you spend seven hundred dollars on a new console if the only difference is that the light kicks off the surface of the water look slightly more realistic? That if you get up really close to a wall you can see that the texture of the bricks is actual geometry instead of a painted on texture?

Now, for me personally, I thought that this was an opportunity for gaming to come into its own and take its place as a legitimate artform. You see, if we compare video games to movies, up until relatively recently, gaming technology was on a par with a hand-cranked cine-camera. No matter how much imagination creators had, they didn't have the tools to bring those ideas to life. It would be like trying to shoot the Lord of the Rings trilogy on a hand cranked camera with only four cast members and a budget of a buck-fifty.

However, it feels to me as though gaming skipped most of its creative phase and went straight into boring 'effects movie' territory. Games went from silent black and white shorts projected on an old bedsheet to 'The Day After Tomorrow': Little or no actual story, but some awesome special effects. Basically, the gimmicks should be there to embellish the movie…the movie shouldn't just be a vehicle for the gimmicks

Unfortunately, this is exactly the path that the vast majority of the gaming industry took. The gimmick came first and they shoe-horned a game in around it…rather than creating a game and organically creating a gimmick to service the game.

Let's look at 'Dead Space', one of the best games to come out this year.

Now, on the one hand, Dead Space fills the vast majority of my personal criteria for what a game should be. While it has a pretty clich├ęd sci-fi story, it's handled extremely well. The game is atmospheric, the art direction is gorgeous and it manages to be genuinely suspenseful and creepy…as well as being 'jump out of your skin' scary at times.

(I just want to point out here that there's a huge difference between art direction and 'good graphics'. Good graphics is just making things look realistic and shiny. Good art direction is just like designing, building, dressing and lighting a movie set.)

Now, if it had been left to me to market this game, that's what I would have focused on. The mystery at the game's core, the art direction and how the game manages to makes you feel vulnerable and exposed throughout the entire game. I would have marketed the experience that this game offers.

However, if you look up any of the marketing hype leading up to the release of Dead Space, all you'll read about is the 'dismemberment combat system'. Basically, you can't kill the monsters in Dead Space by just shooting at them. Using the various weapons at your disposal you have to dismember them in order to kill them. Instead of shooting them in the head or body, you shoot their arms and legs off…that's the whole gimmick.

I have to ask, why? In a game that is so good, a game that has so much to offer, why are you focusing on this totally irrelevant gimmick that you barely even think about after playing for more than fifteen minutes?

For me, this is the equivalent of marketing the original 'Aliens' movie on the fact that they used a technique that allowed for the most realistic looking starfields to date.

In a nutshell, games designers are constantly searching for the next gimmick, the next toy that's going to set their game apart from everyone else's…and they make that gimmick, no matter how insignificant, the focus of the game.

Why is this a bad thing?

Well, firstly, they're doing themselves a disservice. For example, I didn't buy Dead Space when it first came out because I played the demo which was simply the main character locked in a room with lots of monsters so you could see how the 'dismemberment combat system' worked. I played it for a few minutes and was completely unimpressed. I figured it was just another bog-standard sci-fi survival horror game. However, after buying it from the pre-owned rack months later (meaning my cash went to the owners of my local gamestop instead of the game's creators) I played it through…and if the demo had just consisted of the opening cinematic then the first five minutes of gameplay…I'd have been completely and instantly sold on the game and would have bought it on release day.

Ok, I admit that the demo and focus on gimmicks didn't hurt Dead Space's sales very much, and maybe this is me just being a curmudgeon, but personally I feel it's time for games to evolve. When I turn on my Xbox I want one of two things: Simple, fun gameplay, or a good story or experience to enjoy.

To go back to my movie analogy, I'm sure there was a film technology arms race just as much as there is a gaming technology arms race right now, but the movie industry matured (mostly) and actually used what they had to tell stories and give viewers an experience rather that just show off that they can do films in color or with sound now…I think it's time for gaming to make that same leap.

Games no longer have to be about the latest and greatest gimmicks, or about getting the highest score. While the CD-ROM era completely ruined the term 'interactive movie', I feel that we're at the point now where we can make true interactive movies. Not the crappy full-motion video interspersed with quick-time events that they used to be…but games like Dead Space with its amazing art direction, production values and interesting, well acted characters that actually makes you feel like you're playing the main character in a movie.

Basically, games are no longer just toys or 'kids stuff'. They can cast the player in the main role in an interesting and sophisticated narrative.

Why, when we have this amazing 'holodeck through a window' technology are we focusing on stupid gameplay gimmicks that really make no difference anyway?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Enough with the gimmicks.

About a year ago, I wrote how disappointed I was when Marvel Comics rebooted Amazing Spider-Man.

Basically, since the 60's, comic books have been telling the same stories over and over and over, each time with a new twist or something to keep it 'fresh'. However, at the end of the Marvel Civil War series, Peter Parker had been 'outed' as Spider-man, Aunt may had been shot and was dying and Peter had visited the Kingpin in prison and delivered him a royal smack down…as openly as Peter, not as Spider-Man.

It was a whole new Spider-man story. The world knew Peter was Spider-Man, every villain in the world was gunning for him, the US government was after him (along with a lot of supers) for openly criticizing the Registration Act and Aunt May was on borrowed time, hit by a bullet meant for him? What would this mean for Spider-Man?

Well, we never found out, because instead of following this new and amazing story arc, Peter decided he couldn't handle losing Aunt May, so made a deal with Mephisto, trading his marriage with Mary Jane for Aunt May's life. In other words, it was a total reboot. In the next comic, Peter and MJ hadn't met yet, Peter had never outed himself as Spider-Man and it was an almost total return to the status quo.

At that point, after nearly twenty years of reading Amazing Spider-Man, I put it down and decided I'd never buy another Amazing Spider-Man again.

At this time, I picked up Ultimate Spider-Man. It featured Peter as a 15 year old kid and the comic was more centered on the more 'realistic' (yeah, yeah, I know I use that world loosely) story of how a teenage kid would handle having Superpowers and the problems he'd have keeping it a secret. In the Ultimate universe, Peter had to worry about sneaking out of the house at night, and he spent a few issues with no costume, because it got ripped and he couldn't sew.

I liked it, the writing was fresh, there was a healthy dose of humor and I loved Mark Bagley's artwork.

Then, they decided they'd gone a whole year without a massive gimmick, so they went ahead and had magneto from the X-men series basically destroy the world.

I know print comics in general are in trouble, but it feels like Marvel comics feel the way to keep the readership up is to piss off readers by not just upsetting the status quo…which is usually welcome…they tip the whole board over.

In the Ultimatum storyline, more than twenty-five major characters are killed off…and when I say major I don't mean important second-string characters, I'm talking about characters like Wolverine, Magneto, Cyclops, Daredevil, Doctor Doom and Professor Xavier.

You know how when a major character dies in one of your favorite TV shows, it's a huge deal? Imagine an episode of your favorite show where literally half the cast are killed in a plane crash, and suddenly the glorified extras are taking center stage.

Now, this wouldn't bother me so much if they had decided that after fifty years of comics, they were going to sweep the decks and bring in some new characters…but we all know this is a gimmick. We all know that these beloved characters aren't going to stay dead.

The problem is that all they're really doing is making every new series totally irrelevant. Basically, imagine a series of Dexter on TV that ends up with Dexter getting caught and being executed, Deb goes to jail for aiding and abetting, and all the cops Dexter worked with get fired for not working out that Dexter was a serial killer.

Now imagine the next series starting with Dexter alive and everything is back to normal and either the change is never mentioned or it's hand waved with some very vague and unlikely story. Firstly, the previous series becomes totally irrelevant because nothing that happened in it mattered. In order to watch and enjoy the new series, you have to think like the last series never even happened. Then, In this new series, if Dexter's about the get caught, there's no real drama or suspense, because there's no jeopardy any more. Even if Dexter gets caught and ends up in the electric chair, we know he'll be back in the next series.

Basically, Marvel needs to stop with the Gimmicks. Marvel Civil War was amazing, and was slightly spoiled by the number of reboots that followed in it's wake. Ultimatum was simply the end of the whole 'Ultimate' series, where they killed off a ton of characters for no good reason.

If you kill off major characters, as unpopular as doing that might be, it really adds to the story… as long as the characters stay dead.