Monday, 29 June 2009


It was Helena's eleventh birthday at the weekend. She's almost impossible to buy presents for, but in the end I took her shopping and she chose a Sherlock Holmes game for her Nintendo DS. Actually, I had to get her a new Nintendo DS as well (costs almost as much as the games), since the old one had stopped working, probably through overuse.

The Sherlock Holmes game is a puzzle-based adventure where you take on the role of the famous detective and wander through an Egyptologist's house, trying to solve the mystery of his disappearance. They Egyptologist's, that is.

This took me back almost 30 years. When I was about Helena's age, I got my first computer as a Christmas present. It was a lot less powerful than the Nintendo DS, which has two colour screens, 4MB of memory, and a couple of ARM processors, the slowest clocking in at 33MHz. This is 4000 times as much memory and 10 times the speed of my old computer.

The other day at work, I was telling my younger colleagues about the kind of computer I had on my desk 15 years ago - A sun IPC with no hard drive running OpenWindows. An older colleague piped up with his memories of programming computers using punched cards. An almost Pythonesque conversation.

Anyway, back to the subject of this post. When I was young and computer graphics weren't so advanced, text-based adventures were in their heyday. They were very similar to Helena's game, but without the pretty pictures. There were puzzles to solve, treasures to find, mysteries to clear up.

It had all started back in the 70's. Even when computers were expensive and could take up whole rooms, using them to play games on was nothing new. Unix was originally invented in 1969 so that someone could play a video game (which ran too slowly on their existing OS). Allegedly not on his company's time.

The original "Adventure" program was a treasure hunt written by Will Crowther, who was a fan of Dungeons and Dragons, and also a keen caver. The setting is based on a real network of caves in Kentucky. It was improved on by Don Woods, and by the time I played it on my home computer in the mid-80s, it was already considered a venerable classic, even though it was less than ten years old.

There were loads of similar games. Scott Adams produced his version, "Adventureland" specifically for home computers, and went on to write many more. He was trying to fit his game into about a tenth of the space of "Adventure", which means that there is less text and explanation, but just as many puzzles.

Another company that was active when I was playing these games was "Infocom". Their cave-based treasure hunt was called "Zork", and came in three parts. They also wrote some great murder-mysteries, and collaborated with Douglas Adams on a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" adventure.

Although I played loads of these games, I don't think I ever completed one. I was never that good at persevering. A quarter of a century later I still don't have a great concentration span, but I am managing to complete some of the things I began back then. Most notably learning Greek, which I never quite got round to as a teenager.

And what about all those old games? Well, a surprising number of them are available today. In the 80s, faced with 20 or 30 different types of home computers, Infocom wrote all of their adventures in a way that made it easy to transfer them to any of those types of machine. Enthusiasts have ported this mechanism (the "Z Machine") to modern computers - Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, etc. They've also converted the original "Adventure", and the old Scott Adams games to this format, which means that you can download and play them now.

I've got 41 of these games on my hard drive. Over the weekend I managed to complete one of them, which is one more than I did all those years ago. Which proves that it's not all downhill. Getting older does have some benefits...

Friday, 26 June 2009

In Other News

I'm feeling lucky at the moment. I'm told that there has only been one topic on the UK news today, and that the death of this singer whose music I'm incredibly unknowledgable about caused major problems on the internet as millions of people googled for him, causing the search engine to conclude that it had been hit by a denial of service attack and issue error messages.

Luckily, things are different in the news world that I inhabit. Mr Jackson's demise was mentioned 40 minutes into the Aimilia Hour, and he and Farrah Fawcett got 5 minutes between them. After a lot of more important items:

  • The Agreement by the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot people to open the road-block at Limnitis, after months of negotiation.
  • Five new cases of pig flu, which is being spread by (mainly British) tourists.
  • More political news.
  • A fatal road accident involving a 25-year old motorcyclist who would have survived had he worn a helmet. When will they learn??? Only the other day a 19 year old soldier was killed in an accident because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
  • More political news.
  • More political news.

They certainly like their politics in that part of the world.

Incidentally, when I heard about Farrah Fawcett's death, two things occurred to me. Firstly that if she'd been British her name would be "Farrah Tap", and secondly that I couldn't remember seeing her in anything. In fact, I initially thought they meant the woman in Towering Inferno. The one who wears a seriously flimsy dress, which miraculously somehow manages to survive the disaster completely intact. Then I realised that was Faye Dunaway.

And then I narrowly escaped having to call the fire brigade. I decided to have a bottle of beer, and went to the kitchen drawer to get the all-important bottle opener. Tragically, the drawer wouldn't open. A ladle or other large serving implement had got wedged. I couldn't even slide something into the drawer to displace it. There are screws on the bottom, so I undid some of those, but the bottom didn't come off. Luckily all of my battering and thumping eventually dislodged something and it opened, rescuing the bottle opener in the nick of time (I was dying of thirst by this point). Steve McQueen would have been proud of me.

Anyway, that's all the news I have for today. I'm off to get another bottle of beer (I've left the opener out of the drawer for now), and probably re-watch Towering Inferno. People say it's a rubbish film, but it's one of the few that I find myself putting on every few months. I think I like it because it's a perfect example of an implausible Seventies disaster yarn.

Have a good weekend.


I just noticed a post of Kat's that I had managed to miss, in which she produced her lego alter-ego using this site. I had to have a go. Here's mine:

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wordy Wednesday (A day early): An Exclusive Look Inside My Head

It's been so long since my last post that I thought I'd do Wordy Wednesday slightly early.

Years ago, I read some of the "Murphy's Law" books, and one of the "laws" said that the person you admire whom you imagine is thinking great thoughts, is probably thinking about his lunch.

This post is about my thoughts. Don't get the wrong idea, though. I'm not egotistical enough to think that people admire me, or that they imagine I'm thinking great thoughts, but I do get the impression that some people have the mistaken idea that I'm "smart", or "clever". Particularly relatives. Luckily they don't read this blog, so their illusions should remain unshattered. If only they knew...

Before we get started, I should warn you that if you are one of those great people thinking about their lunch, you might want to read this post after you've had a chance to fully digest that important meal, since you may find the contents of my brain somewhat disturbing.

The simple truth is that there's not usually very much going on in here. Einstein reckoned that we use 10% of our brains, and I suspect that my figure is much lower. I don't really think ahead very much - I'm usually concentrating on what's going on now, or what I'm about to say or type. That's probably why I'm rubbish at games like chess.

The rest of my brain power is spent on music. There is always a tune going through my head. The same few bars usually go round over and over for hours at a time. Sometimes it's music I've heard. For example, the theme tune to the wonderful sitcom "i polykatikia" (The block of flats).

More often, though, it's something that has been triggered by a word or phrase. After a few hours (or days) of something going round and round, I start to wonder where it came from. A while back I caught myself humming "Let it Snow". I consider it bad luck to sing Christmas songs out of season, and I realised it was all because Bee had sent an email whose subject line was a quote from the lyrics. Which means that all the bad luck I'm about to get is her fault.

At the weekend I installed Open Solaris. This is a Unix operating system, so it's similar to linux. They released a new version this month and unlike the previous ones it works on my laptop. As a long time user of Solaris, I like it because I'm familiar with it. On the other hand, there's a lack of software compared with Linux, so I'm not about to change my desktop anytime soon. This post is being written on the Solaris laptop.

Anyway, my brain turns "Solaris" into "Volare", so this kind of thing has been on the playlist a lot:

Finally we come to the really disturbing revelation. The next Ubuntu distribution is going to be called "Karmic Koala". Every time my brain sees this on an Ubuntu-related website, the following horror fills the empty cavern inside my head:

Some people have ipods blasting music into their brains all day long. My brain is happy to make it's own soundtrack. And it's generally not music that I'd choose to listen to.

After all that, I think you'll agree it's a good thing that we can't read one another's minds...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Wordy Wednesday: Giga-Bite Eater Net

Hi-Tech Food Fight, 80's Style

They say that the first million is the hardest, and they're not kidding. Whoever they are. Despite a load of money making ideas published on this blog over the last 18 months, I've still got to get into the black financially, never mind notch up that all important 7-figure sum.

They also say things about hungry people being the best at making money. I think they're right about that too, as the idea which is going to make my fortune occurred to me at a moment of extreme food deprivation.

I didn't have any more ready meals in my fridge, so I had to go to the supermarket. By the time I came back and cooked one of my purchases about 45 minutes had elapsed. This is hardly what one would describe as fast food.

Somewhere between the bottles of toilet cleaner and the tins of goose fat I had one of those lightbulb moments. Strangely enough none of my fellow shoppers even blinked at the sudden blinding white flash above my head. Mainly because as usual they were failing to watch where they were pushing their trolleys, so engrossed in working out exactly which combination of special offers on toilet rolls will save them an extra penny or two that they wouldn't even notice the Second Coming.

The best way to ensure an unending supply of instant food would surely be to live in a fast food establishment. Preferably one that I owned. But in order to tempt people away from the competition, it would have to have that special touch. The second flash was so amazing that shards of broken glass fell onto my hair.

We need a fast food outlet for the twenty-first century. A modern, vibrant, technology-embracing customer-facing enterprising offering competitive meal solutions. At least that's what I'll tell the bank when I go and ask them for an investment (not a loan).

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Giga-Bite Eater Net. Fast Food for a Fast World. Hi-Tech meets Hi-Calorie. Our Mega-Bite Burger, accompanied by Chips (Dual-Core Chip Upgrade for only 40p) will be our main high-capacity anti-hunger product, but those preferring something lighter will just love our selection of USB devices (Universal Salad Bowl).

On entering, you will be greeted by one of our friendly and efficient Servers. Food Ordering is a Menu-Driven process, although Unix terminals with Command Line Interfaces will be available for those without girlfriends. All forms of electronic payment will be accepted.

It will also be possible to order online. A special toolbar will be available for your browser, known as the Burger Bar. You will be able to enter your food, and then either visit us to pick it up, or have it delivered by our fleet of "CPU" cycles direct to your computer. The latter will be especially helpful for those who can't easily get to their front doors because they're too busy killing zombies or desperately trying to finish their blog post while it's still Wednesday.

Of course, all this will be driven by a desire to feed and be fed, but I also hope that after the first million the next few won't be so hard to come by. After all, food and technology must be a winning combination, surely?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Excuses, Excuses...

Many years ago when I was a waiter we had an unusual table of four one evening. What was unusual was that they ordered Champagne. You have to understand that this was a cheap and cheerful steakhouse (at least, it was cheap), and though we kept a handful of bottles in the cellar, we rarely sold any.

On bringing out their second bottle, the manager asked what they were celebrating. "Our divorces", they replied. I'm not sure if they were getting divorced from one another, or planning to marry one another, or both. But they certainly had an enjoyable night out.

I heard yesterday that I was finally officially divorced. This process has taken a long time, mainly because it involves filling in forms and the like, and knowing that on receipt of the next load of paperwork you'll be shortly getting an invoice from the solicitor's is something of a disincentive.

I was rather underwhelmed by the news. At this stage, it's simply a bureaucratic matter. Nevertheless, any excuse to drink something alcoholic and bubbly seemed like a good one. Especially as today has been rather warm.

And then I realised something. After four and a half years, there'll be no more lawyer's bills to pay. Now that is worth celebrating. And in the unlikely event that you're stuck for an excuse, please feel free to join me, and if anyone asks, I'm happy to take the blame.

Have a good weekend. Cheers!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Wordy Wednesday

Climate Change

I think it's autumn. We did summer last week, and it's now gone cold and wet. There's a thunderstorm happening as I write. This rather miserable climate change is probably all the fault of those ecologist types. We obviously aren't burning enough carbon. At least not here. In Greece and Cyprus the forest fire season has started, sadly.

Hopefully we'll get round to spring soon, then maybe we can look forward to another bout of summer before winter comes.

Magic Pills

It's now more than ten years since the famous blue pill came on the market, and I'm a little surprised that the manufacturers haven't by now created a whole range of similar products. So I've come up with some ideas which I hope I can sell to them for a tidy sum.

Up-Agra (Purple): When you take this pill, the chemicals remain dormant until triggered by the brain's reaction to a loud noise, such as an alarm clock. At which point your leg and arm muscles spring into action and you leap out of bed.

Oral-Agra (White): This prevents your mouth from getting into gear before your brain does.

Peace-Agra (Red): Contains appropriate pheremone thingies which ooze from your pores and have a repellant effect. Useful when you want time to concentrate in the office.

Nasal-Agra (Brown): This is similar to the traditional blue version, except that it expands the blood vessels in the nose, leading to a reduced sense of smell. Useful for those with windy children.

Hand-Agra (Orange): The ultimate cure for bloggile dysfunction, this makes your fingers type any old rubbish without any help from your brain. Particularly useful on a Wednesday, I find...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Made To Measure

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The news about a funeral director's who faced with the problem of fitting a tall corpse into the wrong-sized coffin, cut the legs off reminded me about Procrustes, a character from Greek Mythology.

There's not a lot known about him, but he seems to have been some kind of robber. However he was also a sadist and, having the misfortune to live in an era before dentistry was a serious career option, decided to offer a bed to weary travellers.

The sadistic part was the way that he ensured his guests would be snug in their bed. He strapped them to it, and if they were too tall he cut their legs off. If they were too short he stretched them on a rack to ensure a perfect fit.

In the end, the hero Perseus gave him a dose of his own medicine, placing him on the bed and cutting off his head and legs.

Perseus is better known for slaying Medusa, a woman with killer looks and serious hair problems. Of course nowadays there would be no need for a decapitation-mad hero, just a quick trip to the supermarket to get some shampoo specially formulated for scaly hair. Oh, and a pair of shades.

There you go, some culture and useless information - what more could you want on a Sunday? I hope you all had a good weekend. The weather here was wet and cold.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Highs and Lows

I'm not going to talk about the weather. I would have done, but I don't want to upset Bee, who has been complaining that temperatures in her part of the world aren't what they could be. So in order to avoid accusations of gloating, I won't mention anything about a week and a half of cloudless skies and warm weather. I won't mention that I had to leave my windows open all night in order to get any sleep. Because it wouldn't be like me to gloat, would it?

At the weekend, I decided to experiment, and suggested to Helena that we have a Chinese take-away for our evening meal. Helena hasn't eaten Chinese food, but she was happy to try it. At this point, I might have mentioned that it was a nice sunny evening, so we walked round to the take-away place. But I won't.

She had King Prawn Chow Mein, and she ate the lot. My Sechzuan Beef and egg-fried rice was excellent, though after I'd ploughed through it I thought I'd never have to eat again. So my next challenge is to get her onto Indian food.

Last night I wandered down to the pub to see what might be going on, and felt obliged to chat to a drinking acquaintance of mine. And of course, that meant having to buy some cool refreshing lager. I might have mentioned that it was particularly refreshing in this hot weather, but I won't.

There's a Chinese take-away next door to the pub, so it didn't seem right not to stop by there. They close at the same time as "Last Orders", but they were happy to deliver our food to the pub after they shut, so it didn't seem right not to get another round of drinks.

The low point of my week so far? Their beef szechuan isn't as spicy as the one I had at the weekend. And I didn't sleep well last night. Something to do with the weather, but I'm not going to gloat. I hope it's been warmer in Chicago this week.