Oblivion: Wow!

"Oblivion" arrived on Friday afternoon. I have no idea what happened to Saturday. All of a sudden, it's Sunday morning and I'm surfacing briefly to write about this game. All I can say is "Wow!" The Tamriel game world is amazing, the graphics are beautiful and the game itself is totally absorbing. The game's physics and lighting effects are fantastic. "Morrowind" was good. "Oblivion" is much, much better.

There are a few minor bugs that have cropped up occasionally, although those might be because I haven't yet downloaded the latest driver for my graphics card. I was afraid that I would have problems running the game, but it runs smoothly on my machine. I'm going to add a few links for screenshots that I've taken within the game so you can see what it looks like. There are four pictures of my character Bjarki Darknoon, a Nord (Tamriel's equivalent of Vikings) warrior, and one of Cyranis, a Breton mage. Note that all of the trees and grasses move with the wind; also look at the water effects on the fourth picture! Amazing!

Bjarki01 - Under a Bad Moon

Bjarki 02 - Imperial City in the Background

Bjarki03 - Scenery Shot in 3rd Person

Bjarki04 - Water Effects in 1st Person

Cyranis01 - Wildflowers in the Grass

The FaceGen technology allows players to create just about any look for their character. With Bjarki, I set all of the sliders for the various parts of the face to as close to the center as I could. It's possible to easily spend an hour or more getting your character's face just right. After all, you're going to be spending a lot of time with him (or her) so you'd better get it right!


King of the Idiots?

More stupid than someone sticking his arm into a tiger's cage while drunk? You decide (from the Tampa Tribune):

Man Asks Police To Test Crack Pipe

TAMPA - One minute a pair of Tampa police officers were trying to catch a couple of loose dogs Tuesday morning, the next they were fielding a unique request from a man.

Would they test his crack pipe to make sure he was getting the real thing? According to an arrest affidavit, Phillip Williams wasn't convinced he was being sold actual crack cocaine. So about 11:15 a.m., he approached Officers Wayne Easley and Gary Filippone to verify he was getting real drugs.

He was.

The officers tested the pipe, which, sure enough, had cocaine residue. Williams, who is listed on jail records as a security worker at MacDill Air Force Base, was arrested.

I think we can get the crown and scepter ready for Mr. Williams. God Save the King!

We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off (To Have A Good Time)

But we almost did at work last night. Here's the chronology:

2:00 a.m. I take a tray of rejects back to Manual Letters for the Naples clerk to work, but I'm turned back by a supervisor, who tells me to take the mail back to my machine because Manual has been closed down due to a clerk finding a suspicious white powder. Uh-oh.

2:02 a.m. I return to my machine and tell my partner what has occurred. I decide to go to the locker room and get my wallet out of my locker and take it out to my car, in case they decide to clear the building and seal it. If that happens, nobody may be able to re-enter the building for a long time, maybe days.

2:05 a.m I take my wallet out to my car. I also take advantage of the opportunity to move my car closer to the building. Second row!

2:10 a.m. As I feared, the alarm starts going off. We are herded out to the dock, and then out into the truck parking lot on the west side of the building by I-75. This is definitely not amusing. My lunch box was still in my locker. Unlike my wallet, I could survive without it for a few days if I had to. We were told to stay back from the building. A couple of supervisors eventually made their way around and gave us the minimal amount of information. Most of us had already figured out that this wasn't a drill.

We knew that we could potentially be stuck outside for hours. Fortunately, this is Florida in March, and the weather was fine. Some people complained about being cold, but it was probably in the mid-60s and it wasn't raining, so I was fine. It was no more uncomfortable for me than it normally is on my machine.

2:50 a.m. We stand around chatting and joking about the situation, including the possibility of having to be decontaminated and driving home in a paper dress. We are faced with the choice of standing on hard concrete or sitting on hard concrete. I sit for awhile, then stand back up. A few people sprawl on the ground and sleep. We ask a supervisor about the possibility of bringing some nearby wooden pallets over to sit on, but are told we must stay away from the building. About this time, we see a firetruck with lights flashing moving along the access road to the plant. No, this doesn't look good at all.

3:30 a.m. Some of the Tour 3 people have already racked up an hour of overtime. About this time, the supervisors have us gather at the fence at the south end of the truck parking lot. We are told that they are waiting for the "all-clear" to return to the building. The powder was supposed to be tested this morning and those who were possibly exposed to it would be notified what it was. The crowd mills around a bit.

3:40 a.m. The "all-clear" is given and we return to the building. We find that the ventilation system in the building wasn't shut off, so if there was anything airborne, it would have circulated throughout the building. Automation clerks are told to go to the Marco Room, where the supervisor tells us that everyone, list and non-list, will have overtime until the dispatches are out.

Well, it didn't go too badly after that. My partner went straight to lunch, for which he was about an hour and fifteen minutes later than normal. I ran all of our small run and started turning it around. My partner returned, and when we had everything under control, I went to lunch at 4:50 a.m., more than an hour later than normal and only 10 minutes before the mandatory six-hour mark by which I was required to go to lunch. In the end, that run went out about 40 minutes late, and then we got the other run out by the normal 7:00 a.m. dispatch time. I didn't even end up having to stay for overtime.

While at lunch, I learned that they had called the addressee on the envelope where the powder originated and found out that it was pesticide for killing insects. Not anthrax or anything like that, to everyone's relief.

Other stuff: I'm still waiting for my "Oblivion" game, which shipped yesterday and will arrive via UPS on Friday. When I stopped off at Wal-Mart to get a few things this morning after work, I looked in the Electronics section, and sure enough, they have it in stock. It was the plain version of the game, however, not the Collector's Edition, which comes with a "making of Oblivion" DVD, a special guidebook for the game, and a "Septim" gold-colored coin. I've been patiently waiting for this game for months, so a couple more days won't kill me.


Castro's Gotta Be Unhappy...

Because the Japanese national baseball team beat the Cuban national team last night, 10-6, to win the inaugural World Baseball Classic series. Fidel Castro is probably beside himself. The Cubans, after all, are in the middle of their baseball season and were in mid-season form. The Japanese, by contrast, were only 3-3 in the first two rounds, and lost 2 out of three in their second round bracket, only advancing because the Mexicans knocked off Team USA the other night. But they then played the Koreans for the third time in the series, and finally beat them after having lost to them the first two times. Talk about a rivalry with some bad blood; Japan-Korea makes Yankees-Red Sox or Cowboys-Redskins look like a love-in. Those people genuinely dislike each other.

So the Cubans were probably feeling pretty good about facing a Japan team that was only 4-3. The Koreans, after all, had been 6-0 before losing to the Japanese. But in a single elimination final, it doesn't matter how many games you win in the first two rounds, only who wins the last game. And since it would give Fidel Castro heartburn, I'm glad the Japanese won the game. I just hope the Cuban baseball team doesn't end up on bread and water in the Cuban version of Guantanamo, which would be much less opulent than the American version.


Animal Crackers

It's Not a Feature, It's a Bug:
Six-Legged Lamb Born In Belgium

(Picture and video on link)

The lamb can't walk; the farmer says he'll wait until the lamb is stronger and then attempt to amputate two of the legs.

Cat Bites Man:
Tiger Bites (Drunken) Worker at Putnam County Fair

No comment necessary. The tiger's probably needing something to get the taste of the carnie out of its mouth.

The Wait Is Almost Over

Oblivion ships today. Amazon.com says that the estimated delivery date is March 22nd. I pre-ordered the game back in January. The long wait for the game is almost over. My computer is better than the required minimum specs, so I should be able to run the game. The only question will be how well it will run. I'll find out Wednesday if all goes as scheduled...

Oh, the anticipation!


Another World Out There

Sometimes when I'm channel-surfing the numerous choices I have courtesy of DirecTV, I find something that is totally outside of my own experience. For instance, today I found a movie on one of the Encore movie channels that starred Aishwarya Rai. "Who?" you may ask? Aishwarya Rai is one of the most popular actresses in Bollywood, and is well-known across south Asia. She also was Miss World 1994, and has been noted as one of the world's most beautiful women. She has striking blue-green (or blue-gray, depending on whom you read) eyes, most unexpected in someone from India. Then again, the various groups in India are very ethnically diverse.

Anyway, the move was "Bride and Prejudice", a Bollywood film based on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." If you've never seen Indian movies, you should know that they are usually musicals with lavish dance numbers. There is often (chaste) romance, but no nudity or kissing, which would violate Indian cultural taboos. For instance, in this movie, there was a wedding scene where an Indian couple gets married in Los Angeles, and at the end of the ceremony, the minister says, "You may kiss." The groom held the bride's hands and kissed them, and then she hugged him. Apparently this passes for a racy scene in Bollywood.

Still, it was an interesting and exotic movie from an American standpoint. It was a window into a different culture.


Slobo Has the Last Laugh

File this one under "European ineptitude." Slobodan Milosevic, the alleged Serbian war criminal who was responsible for deaths of tens of thousands in the ethnic cleansing of Yugoslavia back in the 1990s, has died in his prison cell, apparently of natural causes. He was 64.

The reason I wrote "alleged Serbian war criminal" is that despite the fact that his war crimes trial began in 2002, it STILL had not reached a conclusion. This is typical European efficiency. More than three years on, and Milosevic was still just running out the clock with delaying tactics. Despite the fact that he allegedly was responsible for numerous war crimes, the worst sentence the Europeans could have given him was life in prison. Well, he got it. But unfortunately, they never got the conviction, and now it's kind of a moot point.

Compare the European dithering with the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II. It took just under 11 months to try 24 Nazi leaders. But then, that trial was held by the victorious Allies (the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and honorary member France), rather than the European Union. The judges didn't put up with any foolishness, and we were willing to hang the bastards.

I suspect that Saddam Hussein plans to continue to conduct his defense on the Milosevic model. After all, unlike Slobo, the death penalty actually is an option in his case, since his own people are trying him rather than a bunch of spineless Eurocrats.

Correction: Milosevic was being tried by the United Nations, not the European Union. The trial was taking place in the Hague, which is the capital of the E.U., which is what confused me. And let's face it, when it comes to fecklessness, there's nobody (and I mean NOBODY) more feckless than the United Nations. If the U.N. was running Saddam's trial, he'd undoubtedly die of old age in prison before they finished it.


Reality Sets In

You might have heard that alleged steroid abuser Barry Bonds has a reality TV show in production. Really. I think he's got the right idea, but he's only half of the story. He needs to add O.J. Simpson. The working title would be "Juice and Juiced." Or you could bill it as "The Basher and The Slasher," as one of my co-workers quipped last night.

Or they could just be honest and call it "Dude, Where's My 'Roids?"


Serious About the Funnies

One advantage to being on the same machine at work every day is that I know what to expect. Most of the time, the mail falls fairly evenly on the first pass; it's unusual for us to have more than a tray of mail for any of the stackers. Sometimes, though, we get several trays for one particular stacker, and it stands out like a pig moving through a python. Last week, we had three or four trays of mail fall in stacker #15, and the mystery was solved when we looked at the mail: Almost all of it was going to the Naples Daily News (henceforth, the NDN). They were doing their annual "Best of Naples" survey, and some companies were trying to flood their mailbox with votes in order to be able to brag about winning the award in their advertising.

Well, yesterday, we got five full trays of stacker #15, almost all of it going to the NDN. I didn't look at it closely, figuring that that the "Best of Naples" survey was still going on. Today, we got SEVEN full trays for stacker #15, and I happened to notice something different: Most of the letters were coming from individuals, not on company stationery, and they were addressed to the NDN Comics Survey. Aha!

This is the most mail I can remember going to the NDN at one time. And it's not over the "Best of Naples" or a Letters to the Editor controversy or anything like that. Nope, it's over comic strips. Ironically, people take their funnies seriously. Evidently the NDN is either replacing a retiring strip or auditioning for adding one. Well, the people have spoken, "twelve trays worth of mail over two days" spoken, although I don't know exactly what they're saying. But obviously, people have strong enough opinions about the comics that they will fill out an envelope and fork over 39 cents for a stamp to send it. The pig in the python agrees.

So, what comics do I like? "Dilbert," "Get Fuzzy" and "Mallard Fillmore," these days. The last strip appears on the editorial page in my newspaper, along with "Doonesbury," since both usually have strong (and diametrically opposite) political points of view. My favorite defunct comics are "Bloom County" and "Calvin and Hobbes."

Those last two are kind of unusual, with both Berke Breathed and Bill Watterson going out while they were still on top. The secret, of course, is to leave while your readers will still wail, "But that's my favorite comic strip!" rather than snarking "It's about time." I often wonder how someone can draw a strip like "Garfield" or "Beetle Bailey" or "Blondie" and still come up with something new. When you've been drawing the same strip with the same characters for many years, you start running out of things you can do with them that you haven't already done before. How many times can Sarge pound Beetle into a pulp? One more, apparently.

Also, comic strips are often artifacts of a specific period of time that don't wear well with the passage of time. "Doonesbury," for instance, is still stuck in the Vietnam/Watergate era. Garry Trudeau was relevant in the early 1970s, but that was a long time ago. I haven't found much to laugh about in his strip since 9/11. I used to like "Doonesbury," but that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when the Twin Towers still stood. Today, I just find it tiresome.

And then there are the undead comic strips like "Peanuts," "Blondie," "Hi and Lois," and "Hagar the Horrible." In the first case, "Peanuts" has been in reruns since the death of Charles Schulz a few years back. The strips are old, but if you haven't seen them before, they're new to you. The other strips I mentioned are being drawn by the sons of the original cartoonists. They've become franchises. In the old days, when the cartoonist died, his strip died with him. Today, if there's enough merchandising involved, the strip can outlive its creator. I'm sure that Schulz's heirs said, "Hey, if it's good enough for Elvis Presley's heirs, it's good enough for us."


Rest In Peace, Kirby

It's a sad night for baseball fans everywhere:

Kirby Puckett dies day after suffering stroke

Since I live in the Fort Myers area, where the Minnesota Twins train, I saw Kirby play in a lot of spring training games back in the 1990s. He always gave a full 100% effort all the time, and he always had a smile on his face. It was a damn shame when his career ended early due to an eye injury, but this is an even worse break. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.


You Learn Something New Every Day

Here's what I learned yesterday.

I hang out on the Elder Scrolls message board quite a bit, mostly looking for news about when their new game "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" is coming out. I also chat about "TES III: Morrowind," the current game. One of the topics I was on yesterday was about "What music do you listen to with Morrowind?" One nice thing about the game is that you can drop your own choices of .mp3 music files into the music folders and it becomes part of the game's soundtrack. Well, one thing I mentioned in the conversation was that I was considering using some of the .mp3 music files from my "Civilization IV" game for "Morrowind," but that the problem was that there was so much music to choose from in the CIV IV soundtrack.

So I was listening to the .mp3 files, looking for music that would fit for exploring and other up-tempo music that would be suitable for combat music. And that was when I learned something I didn't know before. I was listening to a track from the "Industrial" era music file titled "DvorakSlavonic7." As soon as I heard it, I smacked my forehead and said, "So, THAT is where it came from!" The music, which was from Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, was used for the 1985 computer game "The Bard's Tale," which I was playing twenty years ago on my little Commodore 64 computer. I already knew that tune by heart, although the orchestral arrangement in the .mp3 file was light-years ahead of the primitive version that played on my computer game two decades ago.

And yes, that file has been copied to my adventuring music, along with several other Industrial era tracks from Brahms and Dvorak. For some reason, the Medieval era music, which is mostly chants and religious choral music, doesn't fit as well with the game's ambience, and the Renaissance era music, which is heavy on Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, also isn't quite right. I may change my mind and add some of those later, though. If I don't like the result, I can always just remove the files that don't fit from the folder.