September 26, 2011

So the RWC is in full swing, and despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the naysayers all across Aotearoa, it’s actually going kinda well.  Okay, there have been a few obvious blunders – more notably the Auckland transport chaos, the ho-hum opening ceremony (although I did get mildly gushy when old bung-kidney Jonah appeared through the mist), the typically highly variable performance of the match officiators, and of course the endless fucking noise of commentary, analysis and general match post-mortem from people we don’t give a toss about.  Much like this post really.  Yes, I can appreciate the irony of adding to the kerfuffle, but with my updated readership total of my Dad, 2 coworkers and now a friend from Japan, not to mention my heroic appearance and sublime performance in the solitary official game of rugby I have ever played[1], I’m feeling confident in my status as someone who can bring about a bit of value-add here.

The truth is, whether you like rugby and the RWC or you don’t; you’re still a dick.  Even the most vehement of opposers, including those saying that the economic burden of the competition on our fragile economy is unjustified, are still talking about rugby – so at least we are unified in the sense that we’re all jabbering on about the same crud.  Okay, I really don’t want to hear about how many oysters Radike Samo managed to scoff at the last press conference, and I couldn’t care less that Zac Guildford has gone on a bender in his hotel room just because he played like a narcoleptic thalidomide child, but there is a compelling draw exuding from what can only be described as a real world soap opera.  Maybe things will move to a whole new level and we’ll end up with a Cricket World Cup Bob Woolmer-esque incident to really rark things up a bit.

“The truth is, whether you like rugby and the RWC or you don’t; you’re still a dick.”

Not that the on-field antics have been lacklustre to the point of driving us to seek off-field drama; a bit of foul play always provides that extra bit of oomph to an already thrilling match.  Todd Clever’s blatant shoulder charge of that Russian bloke was right up there for me, including his effective subsequent acquital of all wrongdoing at the judiciary.  The match itself felt like a re-kindling of the now fairly frozen Cold War, and Clever’s shoulder-to-the-face manoeuvre was altogether very Team America.  Hoo-rah.   The banzai charging of the Japanese has been great (even if they capitulated and fielded a second-string team against the ABs to save themselves for the backyard dog cookers), and for the most part all of the minnow nations have been playing really well for at least 40 minutes of each game.

America, fuck yeah!

Petter De Villiers has been in typical fine form; ranting incoherently and doing his best to pretend like he knows what he is doing.  Dingo has been expectedly toothy.  Graeme Henry couldn’t be any more like Winston Churchill if he tried, although a bit of womanising, heavy drinking and cigar smoking might cap things off there.  Chris Paterson’s conversion attempt from out in front where he managed to soccer pass the ball along the ground and under the cross-bar was one of the best things I have ever seen; right up there with the time I saw Joe Strummer playing Clash songs at the BDO – I just couldn’t get enough of it, and must have watched it 10 times on replay.  The best part was the ref asking him seconds afterwards “How long have you been doing this?”.  Priceless.

Graham Henry

"We played well through the first 40. I thought the boys showed a lot of spirit."

I’m looking forward to the remainder of the tournament.  It’s been great to be able to limit my screaming at the television a bit.  Long gone are the days of me incessantly shouting “Pass the fucking ball, Nonu!”, or groaning as Toeava spills it just for a change.  Nine times out of ten now I’m just yelling “Spread it!”, like I’m obsessed with margarine or something.  I’ve even been particularly loving the insightful, witty and intelligent commentary offered by Stuart Barnes, and he’s a Pom!  I can in all honesty say that I don’t really mind whether the ABs win or loose, except to say that if we don’t pull off winning the whole thing, the endless witch hunting and finger pointing is going to get old as fast as it did the last time around.  Remember, we’re all still dicks – get over it already.

[1] Ever the under-performing miscreant, I grew up doing my best to ruin The Beautiful Game by playing it rather averagely at the best of times.  I played striker for 6 or 7 years, having the odd moment of glory, but generally played spectacularly poorly due to experiencing high levels of performance anxiety every time I put my boots on (no, not that sort of performance anxiety – that came later).  My Dad once commented that I went onto the soccer field looking like I was about to play a game of rugby, and I did have a tendency to end up injuring goal keepers as I ferociously attacked the ball they were attempting to dive on.  One morning after playing a game for North Wellington, I headed down to Kilbirnie to watch a friends rugby team play.  Arriving early, I stood around for the obligatory shit-talking with the players, who were mostly concerned about their lack of numbers.  Once they heard that I still had my soccer boots with me, I was instantly ‘on the team’, and about to play my first ever real match in the position of blind-side flanker.  Before the game began I was told (by some fuckwit) to rub a liberal amount of Tiger Balm onto my legs.  Either by virtue of having giant testicles that dangled beneath the bottoms of my shorts (highly likely), or just by being dimwitted enough to try and rearrange my own balls before going out to play with the oval one, I somehow ended up with a scrotal experience quite unlike any other to-date.  Now feeling more than fully wired and like being buried in a ruck would be welcome relief, I was ready.  Our team received the kickoff, and within 5 seconds of my first rugby game I was in my first maul (linked for all of you uneducated haters).  After about 15 seconds of mauling like a zoo-born tiger who got his first crack at a fence jumping psychiatric patient, I was utterly and incomprehensibly fucked.  Tired in the way that makes you just want to sit down and refuse to ever move again.  In hindsight, I don’t quite know how I managed to play the full 80 minutes.  I do know that I was almost entirely ineffective as a loose-forward, and that the exhaustion factor limited my tackling ability.  But I did manage to punch one of my own team members in the face in another maul later in the game which I think is a fairly spectacular achievement.  Oh and I scored a try after the opposition failed to clean up a line-out win on their own 5 metre line, where I pounced on the ball inside the end-goal and then immediately looked up apologetically towards the referee for having been so blatantly off-side.  Must have been Wayne Barnes refereeing that day, because suddenly we were 5 points up and I was a hero.  Anyway, I’m not saying that Keiran Read is shit, but let’s be honest – if Winston needs me, I’m ready to put the boots back on.

Why Micheal Keene Rules

September 22, 2011

Adolf Hitler, Justin Bieber and Michael Keene are all sent to hell.  They meet the devil sitting on his throne, who asks each of them the reason why they think they have ended up in the fiery pits of Hades.
Hitler says: “I spearheaded an attempt to exterminte the Jewish popluation from the entire world”.
The Devil replied: “Good, good! Sit to my right”.
Bieber says: “I inflicted the world with some of the worst music ever made”.
The Devil says: “You are such an asshole. Well done. Sit to my left”.
Turning to Keene, he asks: “And why are you here?”.
Keene replies: “Get off my throne, bitch”.

Michael Keene

I'm always Keene to hear a bit of Faceless. Hurr, hurr.

Michael “Machine” Keene is a 24 year old unholy freak of nature, born with approximately two hundred thousand fingers and a hand-span of twelve feet.  One can only speculate that he was raised on a cocktail of illicit amphetamines and syncopated death metal, and that he was schooled in the dark arts of instrumental engineering voodoo.  As a result, he evolved into a guitar playing freak-of-nature capable of causing mass hypnosis by way of the deftest of evil licks (not to be confused in any way with the 1989 thrash metal classic Mass Hippy Noses).

I was fortunate enough to watch The Faceless play in Auckland alongside the Death Grind stalworts Dying Fetus, and of course the unforgettable headlining act of Muhammed Suiçmez with Necrophagist[1].  We might need an infographic here to explain where these guys rank in terms of utmost awesomeness.  Since I’m lazy and crap at producing anything artistic, you’ll just have to visual a giant scale that includes Gandhi and Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw (the best person living in the entirety of Australia), with the Necrophagist, Obscura and Faceless band members towering above them like some blessed trinity of unmitigated awesomeness.  We’ll get to Obscura in a bit, but in the meantime let me just say that the only reason this article isn’t entitled “Why Muhammed Suiçmez rules” is because a) he genuinely comes across as a bonafide psychopath and b) his perfectionism and inability to work well with others has meant only two full album releases in the last 12 years.  Suiçmez’s eyes are permanently glassy, deadened and hollow.  I don’t really believe in evil, but this guy comes close to making me turn the corner.  His face is typically expressionless, save for the slight furrowing of the brow during the more furious and demonic of solos.  There is no question that the Tech-Death he writes is sublime and near-perfect, but he needs to stop kicking people out of his band for 5 seconds and just get on with cranking-the-next-thing-out.

Muhammed Suicmez

Suiçmez looking particularly expressive, having just eaten several children.

Fortunately, the last round of expulsions from Suiçmez’s ensemble resulted in the beefing up of what was an already impressive project – the German/Dutch collaboration of tech metal ninjas in Obscura.  The arrival of the departing Necrophagist members gave birth to the two masterpieces Cosmogenesis and Omnivium.  I don’t want to get too gushy here because I have to save up my once-a-decade tear excretions for the really important things, but the truth is I pretty much shit my pants every time I hear Obscura – even after the thousandth listen.  And in a good way.  The depth and complexity of the musicianship is beyond description; and while my faithful fan-base readership of my Dad and two work colleagues might be quick to point out that my credentials for being able to claim what does and doesn’t constitute high quality musical performance art are less than the average grog-swilling homeless person groaning out God Defend New Zealand on Courtenay Place, I can counter this with a simple but pertitent point: you are fucking wrong.

Obscura are impressive enough just based on the individual band members resumes (okay Jeroen has left now, but we can still count Pestilence along with Necrophagist and Blotted Science as associated acts), however they are just as impressive on paper when it comes to the tertiary and post-graduate musical training that each has pursued.  They continue to make increasing use of Euclidian Rythms, i.e. time signatures produced as a result of applying Euclid’s algorithm during the songwriting process.  The six-string fretless bass playing of Jeroen Paul Thesseling was so impressive to me (and largely reminiscent of the fantastic Steve DiGiorgio’s playing on the seminal act Death’s Individual Thought Patterns – which, if you happen to give a fuck about has just been remastered and re-released), that when the announcement was made that he was leaving the band, I honestly thought that Obscura was destined for literal obscurity.  Then, out of nowhere, appears Linus Klausenitzer; and this dude is armed with a six-string, 4-fretted, 2-unfretted (and independently volume controlled) bass guitar and ripping things up like he owns the place.  Thank fuck for that.

Right, back to the Keene Machine.  This guy was voted one of the top 5 metal guitarists under the age of 30 by LA Weekly, and placed in the top 25 modern metal guitarists list by, where they quite rightly point out that it is not just his playing, but his songwriting and musical production prowess that makes him such an impressive complete package.  I will reserve judgement on the clitoral stimulation comment, save to say that I would totally let him do me.  The thing is, when you are sitting down and cranking tracks like Planetary Duality II: (A Prophecies Fruition), it’s easy to forget that this dude came up with all of this shit before his 25th birthday, and that he can just blast the stuff out at-will without looking like he’ll ever break a sweat.  It’s also easy to forget that this guy is a softly spoken, quirky and arguably geeky kid when you’re rocking back and forth in your chair in the throes of auditory dopamine induced ecstasy.  In the end, the video of Keene jamming at NAMM 2009 was what finally solidified it for me – this guy rules (actually he cocks it up a bit, but your face).  And he has his own production studio. And a shiny fuck-off green guitar.  Which I’ve seen him play.  So there.

[1] I pinballed my way around the mosh-pit in some grotty underground bar in Auckland after flying up specifically for Summer Slaughter.  My hand was still in a cast, having broken my thumb in the pit only a month or so earlier during some particulary violent slam-moshing in the middle of Propagandhi blasting out Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes.  I grinned and bounced around like a demented cheshire cat, trying my best to pace myself so that I could actually survive staying in the thick of the action for the entire set, but inevatibly going that little bit too ape-shit whenever one of my many favourite songs rang out.  I distinctly recall John Gallagher from Dying Fetus falling off the side of the stage at one point.  I had my 1 minute and 57 seconds of infamy as the true “cunt at the front” of the pit when DF announced they were going to play Pissing In The Mainstream.  I went beserk just prior to the epic breakdown at 1:18, resulting in even some of the more drunken, shirtless and toothless brutes having moments of lucidity and directing concerned looks in my direction.  The truth is, if you are smiling, you can get away with pretty much anything in the pit.  You can slam the biggest dude, get punched in the face, initiate the circle-pit or wall-of-death, bite someone on the neck, rip someones shoes off, and generally make an absolute fucking nuisance of yourself – and as long as you are showing off as many of the intact pearly whites as you still have left; your death metal brethren will love it.


September 19, 2011

So after nearly two whole decades of on-again/off-again blundering my way towards Yet Another Stupid Death, I finally capitulated and begun to read some NetHack spoilers.  The difference between “figuring things out on your own” and having a comprehensive guide to follow is phenomenal.  I can’t help but think about all of the cumulative hours I’ve spent (wasted?) trying to figure out a workable strategy for long-term survival in those cavernous depths; and can’t help but feel awe for those that have managed to ascend without the use of such inside information.  Several times I’ve considered reading the source-code (well, I did read a small piece of it after finding an easy-as-you-like stack based buffer overflow in the command line arguments about a year before someone else discovered and disclosed the same bug[1]), and I always knew I could be playing “smarter” by writing down the various hints and rumours that the game provides, but I guess I was always too lazy.  That laziness held me in a spiral of playing intently for a week or two, invariably dying repeatedly before ever really reaching the true ‘mid-game’, becoming disillusioned, and then casting the entire game aside only to pick it up again 6 months later.

For most people who end up reading this, the sad part will be that I have bothered playing this game so much, bothered writing this post, or pretty much bothered existing in the first place – but for the true NetHack gods, the sad part will be that I am so obviously crap at it.  Not only did I not manage to progress beyond the mid-game in almost 20 years of fumbling around in the darkness, but I didn’t even grasp some of the fundamental basics.  Unbelievably, I’d never even made use of Elbereth (although I do claim that until very recently no pre-compiled versions I had ever played with had the option included), and I never got my head around sourcing a unicorn horn well in advance of eating things willy-nilly.  One definition of insanity is “repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different result”, and in the context of my nearly 20 years of periodic NetHack’ing I can well and truly lay claim to a spot in the gamers loony-bin.

‘Frodo halted for a moment, looking back. Elrond was in his chair and the fire was on his face like summer-light upon the trees. Near him sat the Lady Arwen. […]  He stood still enchanted, while the sweet syllables of the elvish song fell like clear jewels of blended word and melody.  “It is a song to Elbereth,” said Bilbo. “They will sing that, and other songs of the Blessed Realm,  many times tonight.  Come on!”‘

But not anymore!  Now armed to the teeth by virtue of online playing guides, I have become…. no, not ascendent (not yet anyway)… but instead hopelessly, hopelessly addicted.  Hooked like I’ve taken one too many chuffs on the old crack pipe.  Wired like I’m main-lining, leaving me playing 8+ hours a day on the weekend, late through the evening on week nights, and jonesing through what has become mostly sleeplessness as I alchemise potions and attempt to complete Sokoban from my pillow.  The truth is, this game is the real pinnacle of computer gaming.  It is the funniest, most random, hardest and most satisfying game I have ever played.  It is the true epic, and yet it runs in all of only 256 colours and I can play it on my phone.  It has been compiled across pretty much every platform ever made (still waiting for a PS3 version though!), and it can be played through a number of different user interfaces (although not using a full keyboard with a dedicated keypad is mildly aggravating).

Any game where you can go from striding along confidently in your blessed +3 orcish ringmail to being polymorphed in an instant into a Brown Pudding incapable of wearing armour or holding anything at all just lends itself to hilarity, despair and general entertainment.  I still feel the pang of guilt when I let my kitten die after thrusting it between myself and the oncoming horde.  I still love the fact that once I have the permanent invisibility intrinsic (having eaten the corpse of an Invisible Stalker), that shopkeepers won’t let me into their stores (“Invisible guests are not welcome!”) until I don a mummy wrapping around myself.  I continue to be amazed by gems like the one I picked up today: find a scroll of destroy armour, curse it by dipping it into unholy water, read a cursed scroll of confuse monster to become confused, read the cursed scroll of destroy armour while confused and…. one of your pieces of armour is granted an inherent resistance bonus!


The observent amongst you will recognise that this is in fact a screenshot from unNetHack, not the original 'vanilla' NetHack.

I’m left feeling like a using drug addict who can reel off a list of one hundred ways in which his or her drug of choice has been proven to be beneficial in some way.  In that blind state of denial that can only be brought about by the obsequiousness of being wilfully chained to your master.  I’m still in the happy phase where the highs are high and the lows really aren’t that low.  I haven’t quit my job to play NetHack full-time, and I haven’t started sucking dick just to get that Amulet of Life Saving.  My biggest fear now is that the spoilers turn out to be just that – that things could become too easy – and that it would have been better to spend the next 20 years continuing to chip away at the survival skills that are so desperately essential to staying alive in that dungeon.  Thankfully this is not yet the case: tonight my Level 14 Woman-at-Arms only narrowly survived a skirmish with a Disenchanter, where she had to unequip all of her magic items and struggle through the furious resultant melee.  I’m 24,130 turns into the game and feeling like i want it to last another 24,000,000.

Latest messages
It hits!
It kicks!
It hits!
It kicks!
It hits!
It kicks!
It hits!
It kicks!
It hits!
It kicks!
It hits!
You die…

‘…. fonetikli was killed on level 9 by a b0f!’

[1] In a former life I was momentarily involved in a not-so-underground hacking community that boasted a remotely accessible “test lab” of several different platforms and operating systems.  The lab was to be used for the sole purpose of exploit research and development, and while not entirely useless, was less interesting for me due to the number of discrete UNIX platforms I already had access to play with at work.  At some point inbetween all of the posturing, penis-length comparison and for the most part shit-talking, someone noticed that not only was NetHack installed on the sparc Solaris 9 core Bastion – but that for some reason it was installed setuid root.  Anyone who managed to 0wn the box via the nethack binary was to become a god among men among small-time hackers in a small-time test network.  I set to work with an entirely unscientific hit-and-miss approach of perl driven CLI buffer overflow and format string attempts, and was genuinely surprised when the binary crashed.  Not wanting anyone else to see what I’d found, I retreated to another sparc platform I had access to at work, plaguerised and modified some handy sparc shell code, bashed my head against the keyboard for about a day and a half while i tried to stop making mistakes with endianness and byte-alignment (I was writing exploits in an x86 environment at the same time and not context-switching well), before finally coming out with something that worked.  Thinking myself much funnier than I actually am, AND of course being an avid fan of the game itself – as the stack overflow exploit ran it printed:  “…. fonetikli was killed on level 9 by a b0f!” before dropping the user out into a root shell.  Not one fucking person in that circle seemed impressed, and the only other people in my life I have ever tried to repeat this story to just look at me like I am the most pitiful creature to have ever dragged its carcass across the face of the planet.  *Sigh*