Monday, January 21, 2008

In the Airport

You know you travel too much when the guy in the Cafe on Pier C knows your order...

Actually that is an exaggeration, he doesn't know me, I don't travel that much, but this month's itinerary makes it feel like it. This week Oslo, then Munich next week, then Munich again the week after, then Oslo again.

My training is going to fall further and further behind, I did an hour on Saturday and before that nothing since New Year's Eve. Got my new Asics Gel Kayanos for 2008, hopefully that will motivate me. They are up to number XIV, not sure if they are a bit lighter and harder than the XIIIs or if I'm imagining it. My running buddy in Oslo has sacred me with stories of snow, slush and black ice. Might not do a lot this trip, though generally it is a great city for running, especially West along the coast.

Boarding now....

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Valve's Portal - Best Game of the Holiday - and THAT song...

I was going to post a review of Valve's Portal, part of The Orange Box, but I'm not a good review writer so I'll link to a couple of good reviews instead:

All I'll say is I played it all day in one go (it isn't very long) and I was comepletely blown away, the most fun I've ever had in a game. I'd like to try and explain that to non-game players, if you are a gamer and haven't played it yet please don't read this blog, it really will spoil the surprise... (also, what the hell are you waiting for? Buy and download Portal from Steam!)

Portal is not a simple 3D puzzle game as it is billed, and how it starts, but something far more sinister. The puzzles are really a test being performed on you in some kind of millitary weapons reasearch test centre and failure is fatal. The game gradually tansitions from a linear set of 18 puzzles into to creepy sci-fi survival horror, with a large dose of black comedy. From the start you are instructed by a recorded female voice (you later learn this is not a recording but an A.I. monitoring your progress called "GlaDOS"), then as the levels progress you start to see evidence that the test centre, and the A.I., are not well maintained: broken equipment, dirt, gaps in walls. A real eye opener is when you actually find some loose blocks and you can step outside the test area into a small area of dirty scafolding, locked metal doors, empty paint pots and coffee cups, a transistor radio (left on by fleeing workers?) and some disturbing graffitti. By the time you get to the last test you are seeking ways to escape! Sure enough GlaDOS's promises of cake and a big party on completion of the tests turn out to be lies, and "she" tries to kill you!

What follows is probably some of the best one-sided, passive-agressive, psychotic, black comedy dialogs I have ever heard. Never has a game given me goosebumps, creeped me out and made me laugh out loud at the same time. While you try to escape through a massive, dark, industrial, and dangerous "back stage" maze of pipes, wires, scafolding, machines, and deserted offices, GlaDOS is monitoring your moves, taunting you with bad advice, trying (hilariously) to persuade you to kill yourself. GlaDOS's constant chatter is both disturbing and hilarious, at one point she says "what you are doing is wrong, unlike you, I can feel pain". She also claims, "if you were a good person you wouldn't be here" (having weapons testing on you?). It is all rather like the scene in 2001 a Space Odesy where HAL9000 tries to persuade the very mute Dave not to switch him off. Finally when you defeat GlaDOS, you escape the testing centre, and the game ends.

Then you hear that song, by now the most famous video game music ever, for the end credits.

The song was so good I watched the end credits in rapt awe and want back to the last save point before I defeated GlaDOS, and fought through, just so I could listen to the song one more time.

"Still Alive" was written by Jonathan Coulton a "nerk folk" singer of growing repute, and sung in the game by voice actress Ellen McLain who is the voice of GlaDOS throughout the game. So bear in mind the song is sung from the villian's point of view. Now that you know the context, I encourage you to listen to the words carefully. This is GlaDOS, announcing she is "Still Alive", psychotic as ever and not even slightly penitent about her actions! It is equally creepy and funny, while on one hand you deplore her machivellian attitude ("for the people who are still alive"?!) on the other hand you can't help but feel some empathy for an obviously lonely, isolated and essentially empathy-free intelligence.

(You need Flash for this to work, if the Video still doesn't work, try this link instead: or search for Portal on YouTube)

If you liked that, you can find a bit more of the story of the song and how it came about in this interview with Jonathon Coulton in CVG. You should also check out his webpage, I particularly like the song Code Monkey, which you can listen to here, probably the saddest and funniest song of unrequited nerd love ever sung.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mobile Blog from Leblon, Rio

Not long left in my holiday, I'll be leaving on Sunday night and back in work next Tuesday!

I made the mistake of bringing work with me, about 5 days worth (or so I thought). This worked out well before, it is a nice place to work, but this time the nature of the work didn't really suit taking it off site. I spent longer than expected trying to access systems, sending emails, on calls, finding docs, reading bugs, etc. Anyway, it is almost done now, I'll have my last few days not thinking about work.

Not too hot today, maybe 22 degrees. Just had a walk along the beach. Now I'm having a late lunch in a a place called Botequim right in the middle of Leblon. The menu is quite like Academia de Cachaca, but it is primarily a bar, so the food is not quite as good. Handy location though.

I haven't been running since the 31st. That day I did 16km in 80 minutes (very pleased with that time) but the next two days I was laid up with a rotten head cold. Still sniffling a bit. So escaping Irish winter didn't mean I escaped the cold!

See you all next week.