dreams Geek TV

Digital TV

I had a dream last night that hundreds of new TV channels showed up on digital TV tuners. Weird.

I haven’t yet upgraded to digital TV. I’m in the unfortunate position of:

(a) having bought a 4:3 CRT TV at precisely the wrong time, about 7 years ago, just before the prices plummeted when widescreen LCDs and plasmas went mainstream, and apart from occasionally having a flickering line at the top (I think due to a bump while moving), that TV works admirably;

(b) not particularly wanting Yet Another Box and Yet Another Remote to have to deal with; and

(c) not having huge amounts of cash to throw around just now to buy a shiny new telly.

So I’m umming and ahhing. I suppose at some stage HD set-top boxes will become cheap enough that it becomes a no-brainer just to get the extra channels. Alternately a Digital Video Recorder might be the way to go.

I find the whole Freeview push amusing. All those ads. More than one person has asked what it actually means. They seem underwhelmed when I tell them it’s just digital TV. (And Freeview’s insistence that it’s all free is undermined somewhat when you point out that well, they’re not giving away set-top boxes, you do have to pay for them.)

The analogue signal won’t get switched off in Melbourne until late-July 2013, so I guess there’s a fair bit of time to continue procrastinating, but it would certainly be nice to get ABC2, and solve my slight ABC1 reception problem.

PTUA transport

Something for your Pod

I don’t have a post for you this morning, so here’s something I prepared earlier.

This morning I had a chat to the people at 3CR about PT issues, and it reminded me of this recording from Joy FM back in April. I think they’d been intending to post the podcast themselves, but haven’t… so I’ll do it myself.

There’s a couple of spots where it seems to skip very slightly (though nothing that really causes an issue listening) — sorry about that, it was recorded off a slightly dodgy stream. When recording it I rabbited on and on… they’ve chopped it down to just over 8 minutes.

By the way, to clarify on the anecdote of Frank Casey, he wasn’t a disruptive passenger — he got cranky because the train he was on was said to be out of service and terminated, then once all the passengers had alighted, it left and continued on its journey, empty.

Hope it’s not too boring — happy listening!

PTUA transport

Connex and Yarra Trams dumped

So, both Connex and TransdevTSL (operating as Yarra Trams) are being shown into the departure lounge, with MTM (MTR) and Keolis to replace them.

I don’t think the former is a surprise, though the latter is.

Some are celebrating. I know this for a fact, as yesterday morning at the station I heard one man say to his wife that he’d be opening a bottle of champagne if Connex got dumped.

Just another crowded train

(Note the newspaper advert!)

But how much will really change? If it’s the same old dodgy infrastructure (tracks that buckle in summer, signalling that fails, trains with unreliable air-conditioning, a lack of tram on-road priority), the new companies will face much the same issues. Just because MTR runs a great system in Hong Kong doesn’t mean they can magically do it here.

And who’s taking responsibility for planning the greater PT network? You know the sort of thing, actually ensuring that buses, trams and trains are timetabled to meet properly at interchange points, rather than the un-coordinated mess we have now? Like the infrastructure, that should be a role that sits with government, not the individual operating companies.

That said, there are things the operators can do to improve things: better cleanliness and maintenance, more staff, better handling of disruptions.

It’ll be interesting to see how they go.

PS. Lunchtime: Audio of Mr Brumby fluffing the announcement, accidentally saying Keolis would run the trains. (MP3, 27 seconds, 218Kb)


Who will it be?

The big announcement may well come in the next few days: who will take over running Melbourne’s trams and trains from November?

Anybody want to put their predictions on the table? Leave a comment! Your choices:

  • Trains: Connex (Veolia, incumbent) or MTM (Hong Kong MTR consortium) or Keolis
  • Trams: Yarra Trams (TransdevTSL, incumbent) or Keolis

(I had a Google survey thing here for a short time, but it was too clunky, sorry.)

I think the thing to bear in mind is that none of it will make much difference unless the government commits to fixing the infrastructure and fleet problems that cause most of the issues. If all we get is another logo, little will really change.

That said, there is scope for the operators to run things better: put on more staff, voluntarily run more frequent services (at least outside peak hours, when trains are available), lobby more strongly for infrastructure improvement, better maintenance and security (eg around fleet depots and stations, where vandalism occurs).

Health News and events

Doctor Where?

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer is Doctor John Carnie.

So I’m wondering… Where is he?

I’m sure acting CHO Rosemary Lester is doing a fabbo job, but if the state has a WHO-recognised pandemic on its hands, shouldn’t the actual CHO turn up? Shouldn’t it be all hands on deck?

dreams driving

Dream machine

The other week, in one night, I had a trio of ridiculous dreams. So ridiculous that you half know it’s a dream, and it’s a ridiculous situation, but you keep on dreaming it anyway.

I’ve forgotten the first.

In the second, someone was knocking at my front door and trying to look through the frosted glass while waiting to be let-in, and I, then undressed and taking cover at the corner, kept calling out “Who is it?”, but they wouldn’t answer. You can’t actually see anything more than abstract shapes through my front door anyway. Ridiculous.

And in the third dream, my car (which has worked perfectly in the almost-year I’ve had it except for an electric window going kaputsky — ch-ching!) was behaving really sluggishly, and accelerating ludicrously slowly, especially up hills. Ridiculous.

Then last week in real life it started happening. On cold days, 5 degrees and below. Stalling. Shuddering. Sluggish. Blah.

See, life is full of gambles. I gambled my money away when I bought the car. I’ve gambled that it’s worth trekking across town to the dealer I bought it from every six months to keep the warranty up-to-date. Even though it seems like the warranty is worded in such a way that there are so many exceptions that they might never be liable for any repair costs.

So yesterday morning I woke at sparrow’s fart and headed out the door just after 7am, which is normally about the time I’m getting up, in a failed attempt to beat the traffic. At least I may have beat some of it; it took about 45 minutes to get to the dealer. I’m glad I normally avoid driving in rush hour.

Dropped it off for the six month checkup and so they could look at the stalling/shuddering.

The verdict? A bill of $245, of course — and that included no charge for the fault. On the one hand, just part of the exorbitant cost of personal motorised transport; on the other, quite low for a visit to the car dealer for a service.

According to the receipt (which is mostly made up of the usual mechanic gibberish) they checked the car’s computer history for misfires. Yes, apparently this humble 9-year-old Astra has a black box recorder. Apparently it gave them enough information to tweak things.

Just hope it worked. I hate those early mornings.

PS. Lunchtime: Rae has a rant about her drive to work.

Geek Retrospectives Video games

Geek Idol

I’ve had few real idols; people of whom I could genuinely say “I want to be like them.”

In my early-to-mid 20s, Ben Elton was one of them. Amazingly funny, both on stage and in his writing. I wanted to write stuff that was half as good as his books, but never quite managed to write anything that was engaging enough to last over the length of a novel. My best attempt was The Year 2031, and even that wasn’t terribly long.

Ten years earlier, it was Tony Crowther. He was perhaps five years older than me, and a game programmer extraordinaire, writing hit after hit on the Commodore 64. I loved his game Blagger, and the sequel Son of Blagger, then got through Monty Mole (but only with help from a walkthrough). For a while I was hooked on Potty Pigeon, then Loco, which I enjoyed more than its astoundingly similar-looking followups Suicide Express and Black Thunder.

After that I moved off the Commodore 64 onto other things, and lost track of him and his games.

I suppose I dreamt in some ways of writing my own games and making a fortune from it. Back in those days many commercial games were written by solo programmers, or small teams. These days the gaming industry is dominated by borg-like big development studios, and Suits.

Retro GamerThe other week I was in MagNation and noticed a copy of Retro Gamer which featured an interview with the man, as well as a big feature on Pacman. Wow. I was in a rush and made a note to go back and buy it the next day.

When I went back in, it was gone. Replaced by the next edition. I asked if maybe it was lurking somewhere in the shop. Nope. Everywhere else I looked was the same. Gone.

I had a look online. There are quite a few articles about Crowther, but most of them are reprinted from the 80s. I was also interested to know what he was up to these days, and what he thinks looking back at those old games — precisely the sort of thing Retro Gamer does well when they find people to interview.

I could order the mag from the publisher, of course. It would cost 5 pounds. Fair enough. But with 6.50 postage (!) it’d be a total of 11.50, or about $25 — double the Australian retail price.

While I was pondering that, Rae (who had been kindly checking newsagents near her work for it) pointed out I could look on Ebay, which was a brilliant idea. I found a copy for UKP 7.70 including postage, about $16. Much more reasonable. I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival from the UK.

In the mean time, I’ve discovered that Crowther has in fact been assimilated into the borg that is Electronic Arts. One of the games he worked on recently-ish was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which was one of the last games I bought for the XBox.

And me? Well, I did start writing a few computer games, but never quite finished any of them. But I did end up making a living out of writing software.

Who were your childhood idols? Where did they end up? Did you get to be like them?


Phoenix changing

When I visited Phoenix, Arizona in 1996, it appeared to be the archetypal car-dominated city. I was told pretty much the only PT was buses once an hour. The freeways were packed at rush hour. Nobody walked anywhere.

The downtown area was (especially on weekends) so deserted that they had to have signs saying “Welcome to downtown Phoenix” so that you knew you were downtown.

While the people were friendly, it was exactly the type of city I’d hate to live in.

But it looks like it’s changing: they’re getting a lot more medium-density and mixed-use development, and… trams.

A new tram/light-rail line, 20 miles long. Quite impressive. Having spent all that money on infrastructure, they didn’t skimp on the services, either — every 10 mins weekdays, 15 weekends, 20 evenings.

Obviously it’s only one route, but apparently already they’ve got more patronage than expected, and are looking at more lines.

Nice to see even the most car-dominated cities are starting to move in the right direction.

(via Treehugger)


Old names

Was just watching the footy and noticed that the Sydney Swans have the initials of their old name — SMFC — on their jumpers near the back of the neck. Had previously noticed that the Bulldogs also have this — FFC.

Collingwood doesn’t seem to have it. How many other teams do? Is it a heritage thing? Only the teams that have changed their names? Maybe the footy experts reading will know.

Hmm, I wonder if there are present-day teams from Kerang or Korrumburra that go by the initials KFC.


Attn: Melbourne City Council

On Thursday I noticed a Melbourne City Council City Of Melbourne worker wandering around Collins Street with a street sign under his arm, apparently puzzled as to where to put it up.

Today I noticed it had gone up. In the wrong place.

Not to Howey Place

There is no way through to Howey Place there. If you follow it you’ll walk straight into a Kookai store, with no way out the other side. (Though you might come out with one of those bags of theirs that large numbers of women seem to use as pseudo-handbags.)

I reckon the sign should be about 25 metres to the east, where you can cut through Collins 234 (The Building Formerly Known As The Sportsgirl Centre), which takes you to Howey Place.


I’ve put a feedback note into the Council via their online form. We’ll see how long it takes for them to fix it.

Update Saturday 27/6. Noticed yesterday afternoon the sign had been moved to the correct spot.