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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cost of the war in Iraq

Just a quick lunchtime post to mention an eye-opening site by the National Priorities Project that reflects the cost of the war in Iraq in 'real time' and compares it to domestic programs the money could have benifited instead. They actually provide a nifty little javascript counter that I would have liked to include in the post, but blogger doesn't like script in posts. Bad blogger, bad!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Leon- South Africa lagging in 2010 World Cup preparation

It seems I'm not the only one worried about our progress. Tony Leon, the leader of the DA is also concerned.

read more | digg story

Friday, June 23, 2006

World Cup - no the next one.

One of the hottest topics at the moment is, of course, the Soccer/Football World Cup being held in Germany. The South African team didn't make it anywhere near qualifying for the cup, and to be honest it's probably just as well since we'd make an ass of ourselves in the first rounds. Instead, I've been following the Croatian team, who sadly got knocked out of the competition last night by drawing 2-all with Australia (they needed a win to progress to the next round). Of course the World Cup holds particular interest for South Africans, since our country was selected to host the next World Cup, in 2010.

There has already been much debate as to whether hosting The Cup would have more positives or negatives for South Africa, and I am of the opinion that pulling it off successfully would definitely have an overall positive effect on the country. The trick is that little adjective 'successfully'. While hosting an event as prestigious and popular as the FIFA World Cup can be hugely beneficial to a country's economy and public image, being the first country in history to have the rights to host the competition taken away would most likely do irreparable damage to both of those elements.

Many super-patriots at this point would start grumbling that I'm just negative and a cynic. Sometimes that's true, but in this case I'm just being a realist. Two years ago I was one of the avid supporters that shot down any suggestions that we might not succeed, insisting that we could build the required stadiums and infrastructure, and that our government had it's act together enough to have everything ready in time. Unfortunately it's now two years on, and we're still in exactly the same position!

None of the required new stadiums have been built (in fact unless I'm mistaken construction on these stadiums has not even begun). We still do not have the new roads or public transport required to get people to and from games and their as-yet unbuilt accommodation. As far as the Gautrain is concerned, demolition has begun in areas such as Hatfield that will play host to terminals, but that's about it. On top of this FIFA enforces strict technological compliance requirements in terms of broadcasting and telecommunications which we are nowhere near meeting.

'But we have four years' I hear the die-hards whimpering. Well I have news for you, there's this little thing called the Confederation Cup, a tournament of 8 teams that is held the year before the World Cup in the same country that is to host the World Cup. In other words, our stadiums, infrastructure and other elements have to be ready in 2009. Oh, but wait, certain infrastructure and technology elements have to be completed, tested and handed over to FIFA two years before the World Cup, that means 2008. So we have less than two years to cut through the endless piles of political red tape our newly-over-beaurocratic government is shitting out on a daily basis and build roads, telecommunications and broadcast networks, accommodation and countless other things. The way things are progressing at the moment (something like a rusty battleship through frozen molasses) that's not very likely. Strangely enough based on recent comments it would appear that our politicians are under the misguided impression that they own the World Cup, rather than FIFA, and that FIFA somehow needs them. Unless something is done very, very soon we are headed for a political and economic catastrophe that South Africa will find it very hard to escape from.

Looking at the infamous efficiency and attention to detail of the Germans, and the incredible experience they are undoubtedly giving the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans that are flooding their country to enjoy The Cup, I doubt very much visitors in 2010 will be satisfied with paying a premium to board in tin shacks and squash into minibus taxis for a 2 hour long commute on the congested N1 to watch a match.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Google stuff and Wonder Woman

As not-quite-promised, here's the bigger post I haven't been quite able to get out for some time. For those that are interested, Natalie seems fine after yesterday's crash, her neck is still a bit stiff so she'll be going for X-rays just to be sure it's only whiplash, but it seems that she escaped any sort of major injury.

Wonder Woman kicked out of E3
First off, we've got a video that came out recently on YouTube of Kasey Poteet, host of Geek Rawk (No, I don't know either..) getting booted from E3 because of her skimpy Wonder Woman outfit. Personally I suspect she was booted because Wonder Woman's just lame. If you're really bored it's worth watching a few minutes of the movie.

Five Realistic Steps To Starting A Game Development Company
Jeff Tunnel of Garage Games posted an interesting first entry in a series of articles on his Make It Big In Games blog. The series, which he intends to eventually turn into a full e-Book, focuses on realistic steps in getting yourself into a position of writing indy games fulltime. The advice is based on some of his own experience and is well worth a look for those that think they're going to licence an engine and churn out the next Quake-killer straight out of school.

Google Earth
The first of the 'new' Google goodies I had a quick look at last week was the latest release of Google Earth. It is the first time I have played with the product since it was initially released, and it seems to have moved on nicely since then. Besides support for textured 3d building models, the new edition has some nice interface tweaks, making an attempt to keep your map view as clear of obstructions as possible. It's relatively simple to quickly add new pins to landmarks, which are then kept in your collection of pins. You can optionally 'share' these, which requires you to register for an account.

To be honest I can't really see much practical use for this app, other than to show off the Google Maps API, but it's a fun enough toy to play around with for a couple of minutes. It really is a pity that Google haven't managed to secure roadmap data for South Africa yet, or I might actually have found it useful (the same goes for as the ability to find routes between two points is great.

Google Spreadsheets
Adding to the Google suite of office-like tools (again: I told you so!) is Google Spreadsheets. This online spreadsheet tool is to Excel what Writely is to Word. It definitely doesn't have the extensive functionality of Excel, with features ranging from the basic (cell border formatting) to the advanced (graphing tools) leaving it lacking when compared feature-for-feature to Microsoft's well-known spreadsheet tool. The 'trick' with Google Spreadsheets though, is that it supports true collaborative editing of documents, as opposed to Excel's 'Notify when document is available' approach. I can see this feature being useful in many cases, and have in fact already spoken to one user that finds it extremely useful for easily editing and issuing invoices to clients. It's worth mentioning that it's also possible (and dead easy) to export these spreadsheets to a local Excel os XML file, which is certainly a very useful feature. My biggest concern with GS is that of security. I am fully aware that Google quietly sifts through my emails in gmail, my chat conversations in chat and my search queries on to fine tune the ads they bombard me with, and I'm ok with that. However making financial information available to them (as this is what would typically be stored in spreadsheets) is not something I'm quite ready for.

Google Analytics
Finally a quick look at Google's website traffic analysis service, Google Analytics. This service has limited subscriptions, so when you apply you're informed that you will be sent an activation code when one is available. These seem to be ranomly allocated, rather than allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis and I was lucky enough to recieve mine last week. Setting up the service was a simple case of registering with the activation code provided, and adding a small amount of provided script code to the end of those pages you wish to monitor. By the next day I had some basic usage stats coming in, and I could fiddle around with the tools available. The summary view is great and as a casual user I doubt I'll venture beyond this very often. It provides a quick weekly summary of visits and page views, a pie chart comparing new and repeat visitors, another pie chart comparing link sources and a world map highlighting visitors' locations. Digging a bit deeper there are tools for conversion goal progress and more detailed statistics aimed at various user levels, from marketing managers to systems maintenance personnel. Most, if not all of the data provided could be obtained from a typical hosting package's provided scripts, but the presentation and ease of use of Analytics is what sets it apart. It does the leg work of processing some of those raw statistics into really practical overview charts and graphs, providing the kind of data 'dashboard' business users are so fond of these days. If you can get hold of an activation code, go ahead and check it out, you may actually find monitoring your daily site traffic quite addictive.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Change of plans

We had a long weekend in South Africa this weekend as Friday was ‘Youth Day’. In addition to this Natalie and I took leave yesterday to spend some time together, so I really haven’t had a chance to be online since Thursday. I had intended to spend lunch today writing a nice long post including commentary on Google Analytics, Google Spreadsheet and the newest version of Google Maps. Unfortunately Natalie was in an accident this morning on the N1, so I had to rush of to see to her (she’s ok, but the car is most likely a write-off) and I’ve missed too many work hours to spend on a long post. I’ll try get it done tomorrow afternoon, but no promises ;)


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sick as a..

I spent the week bedridden (and some of it in hospital), thanks to an evil bout of flu and an even worse reaction to the antibiotics that were prescribed for me. Obviously internet addiction wasn't a problem for me as a result, and I really have zero game industry news to report. I was finally well enough to actually play some games yesterday, and I tried the demo of The Movies, which was surprisingly fun from a pure simulation point of view. I might actually pick up a copy when it hits the bargain bin (despite it being a Lionhead title I've had zero interest in it up until now).

In other (non-gaming) news, we got a cat last weekend. Not just any cat mind you, but a pure-bred, silver-spoon-fed persian. This is taking some getting used to for me. I love cats, make no mistake, but i grew up with good old fashioned pavement specials. Real cats. I'm still not entirely convinced this fluffy little white thing that doesn't have any real snout to speak of qualifies as a cat.. At least it's lovable, if a bit too noisy. Oh, and her name's Daisy, I would have preferred something ironic like killer, but Natz would have none of it..

Friday, June 02, 2006

Still slightly addicted.. and playing lots of games!

Beat it..
I really struggled to keep to my targets this week. Wednesday was my birthday (yaaay, party!) and I just couldn't keep my mind on work, and as a result I slipped back into some bad habits which continued through till yesterday. I managed to get things back under control today though. I'm keeping my goals for next week the same as this week, and then next friday I will set out my final goals:
-Check email when I arrive at work, lunch, 4pm and possibly before going home.
-Check RSS streams when I arrive and at lunchas well as while compiling/building. Links may only be followed at lunch, or after work.
-Only check forums and reply at lunch or after work.
-Only IM at lunch and after 2PM.
-Only blog and Flickr at lunch Monday to Thursday, and after 4pm on Friday. During builds preparing posts in a text file is acceptable.
-Update podcasts when I arrive and at lunch. Watch short videos immediately, copy the rest to PSP and listen to/watch them at home.

Xbox classics
I'm currently on a bit of a mission to complete the Xbox 1 games I own that won't run on the 360, and I've been making really good progress. In the last two weeks I have completed X-Men: Legends and Prince of Persia:Sands of Time, both of which were excellent and highly recommendable. I'm currently working through The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and I can honestly say it's one of the best games I have ever played in terms of pacing and general entertainment. I'd like to spend some time writing up reviews of each of these games, so perhaps in the coming weeks I'll post them.

As I mentioned, it was my birthday on Wednesday. Natalie really spoiled me on the day with some nice cologne, Kalua chocolates, a warm stress reliever pillow thing. I've yet to use the pillow since she's been using it-it must be very stressful being married to me ;) She also spoiled me with a copy of SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo on the PSP. It is a tactical shooter in the vein of Ghost Recon, and is closely linked with the series by the same name on the PlayStation 2. I haven't had much time to play it, but what I've played so far has been very good. Graphically I think the game could do with a bit more polish, but the gameplay is excellent and the novel implementation of shooter controls on the PSP (with it's single analog control) is surprisingly good. I'll hopefully put up a full review some time in the future.

Xbox 360 in SA
There still hasn't been any significant news regarding the launch of the 360 in South Africa, and many in the community are starting to worry that we may see a repeat of the fiasco surrounding the phantom Xbox 1 launch. Other than a very non-committal statement immediately following Bill Gates' E3 announcement that the 360 would hit SA shores 'before november 2006', MS South Africa has been surprisingly tight lipped. Lets hope they get the hype machine going sometime soon, or they may be in for a very rough ride against the incredibly popular PlayStation brand in this country.
At least there's now a dedicated (independant) Xbox 360 community site in SA:


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