Monday, 31 March 2008

Dead Pool March Update

It's been an interesting month, but all of our pool entrants are still yet to score.

The month began on the 2nd with the death at age 82 of Paul Raymond, respected publisher of gems of the British literary establishment, Razzle and Men Only.

On the 4th as previously reported, the world farewelled E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and widely considered the godfather of modern gaming.

On the 5th we heard the sad news that actor Patrick Swayze had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and has approximately five weeks to live. The outpouring of emotion following this announcement was huge, and our hearts go out to Patrick and his family.

Also on the 5th was the death of computer science professor Joseph Weizenbaum, creator of the classic computer game ELIZA in 1966. ELIZA was a text-based game in which the computer acted as psychologist, responding to keywords entered by the user. Infuriating, but fun and very addictive, ELIZA prompted a lot of early discussion about the potential applications and the potential dangers of Artificial Intelligence.

On the 16th, US actor Ivan Dixon passed away at the age of 70. Ivan was best known for playing Sergeant "Kinch" Kinchloe (the black guy) in classic 1960s TV show Hogan's Heroes.

On the 18th, award-winning director Anthony Minghella, famed for The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, died at the age of 54 after complications from throat cancer surgery.

The 19th saw the death of British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. I've already said quite a lot about this. And I'm still quite upset.

Finally, on the 25th we farewelled a man who has brought so much happiness to so much of the world. You may not know his name, but he has helped you through hangovers, he has been with you on those early morning drives, and his legacy will remain for many a year.

Herb Peterson, inventor of the Bacon and Egg McMuffin, has passed away at the age of 89.

Rest in peace, man. Rest In Peace.


We now proudly present the official video for Tahoe by Tom Black and the Caesars. Enjoy.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Black Bag

fortyfivedownstairs, Flinders Lane.

Hidden among the international stars and big-name local acts of the comedy festival are some real indie gems. One well worth your hard-earned is Black Bag, a strikingly original new show from Benn Bennett and Wes Snelling.

In Black Bag they've combined character comedy and kitchen sink drama with cabaret and a beautiful absurdist sensibility.

The show is set somewhere in a nondescript and temporally indistinct Europe, as siblings Maximilian and Domenic-a pay strange tribute to some of the best trash pop of the last quarter-century. Their tribute styles range from Eurovision glam to soulful ballad, depending on which is the more wildly inappropriate.

Here Benn and Wes have brought to life two of the strangest characters you're likely to see on stage this year. This dysfunctional family is utterly foreign, yet compellingly familiar. Their simple familial power struggles are the core of the show.

The songs tell their story. And in doing so they manage to elevate these songs, deliberately chosen for their disposable nature, far above their throwaway origins.

The laughs come thick and fast but, like all truly great comedy, it's entwined with threads of pathos and character that make it much more than a mere chucklefest.

The show reaches its height when Snelling sings, and the laughs catch in your throat as a tear comes to your eye. Magic.

The running time is a little short at just under an hour, but it genuinely leaves you wanting more.

4 out of 5

Earth Hour 2008

We were in the city last night for the comedy festival show Black Bag (review to follow), and so were able to enjoy Earth Hour from ground zero, as it were.

We saw the lights on the Arts Centre spire go out. We saw the lights dim at Federation Square and along St Kilda Rd.

It may be small thing, but standing and watching it happen around us was undeniably powerful.

Over the next few days we'll hear a lot of commentators talk about Earth Hour being "merely" a symbol.

And like ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and saying sorry to the stolen generations, it is a symbol. But symbols matter. Symbols are important. Symbols unite us and provoke us and focus our thoughts.

Andrew Bolt will drag out figures showing that the amount of energy saved was so minute that it clearly wasn't worth the effort. But this is to miss the point entirely.

Earth Hour is not about the level of emission reduction in that single hour. Symbols don't need to achieve anything measurable in themselves. That's not what they're for. Symbols like this work to prompt change in other areas.

Earth Hour is about drawing attention to the problem of climate change. It's about the emissions reduced over the coming weeks, months and years as people come to understand that it's just not that hard to turn off the lights.

We're going to see a lot of change over the next few years. Changes in the weather, changes in our cities, and changes in society as the centres of power and money are shifted.

A symbol like Earth Hour, with its visual and visceral impact, will keep us focused our goals and reminded of the endgame. And that's very important.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Games Rating Redux

The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG . . . no really . . . it's called SCAG . . . tee-hee) met yesterday, to discuss the introduction of an R-rating for video games in Australia.

Surprise, surprise, they failed to reach agreement. South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson is continuing his stubborn opposition to the proposal.

To me, Atkinson's immovability is a clear case of government overstepping its charter, and making decisions for the people that the people should be making for themselves.

The happy news is that the majority of SCAG agrees with me. The outcome of yesterday's meeting was that there will be a public consultation on the issue. In some form or other.

I can predict the results of that consultation already. The last time the public was asked, in a 2005 Bond University study, the public was resoundingly in favour of the proposal.

Of course, whether it translates into a legislative change is an entirely separate question.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Daniel Kitson

The Athenaeum, Melbourne.

Daniel Kitson returns to Melbourne for the 2008 comedy festival, bringing with him his show full of humanity, dagginess and piss-funny comedy.

Kitson's standup really stands out from the crowd, mainly by virtue of his bare-faced honesty.

Unlike a lot of his contemporaries (for whom he makes no bones about his contempt) Kitson is not just playing a role up there. He's not getting up and being "angry on cue at a pre-arranged time". He's not pretending to be opinionated about things he doesn't care about, just for laughs.

He talks about things that matter to him. And the way he talks makes them matter to the audience.

He talks about the scourge of self-importance. He talks about the lack of genuine compassion in the world. He talks about rage and love and the inability to express out thoughts. Deep stuff, but he does it in a way that has you rolling on the floor, not wisely scratching your chin. And because of this, everything he says makes a connection.

Here's how the show works:

Kitson enters the stage, set only with a microphone and a chair. He hangs his coat on the chair and steps up to the microphone and speaks. The audience is amused, entertained, touched, enriched and enjoined.

Then a few minutes later, you check your watch and find that almost two hours have passed and it's time to go home.

If you get a chance to see Daniel Kitson this festival, don't miss it. He really is a genius.

5 out of 5

Sunday, 23 March 2008

D*A*A*S on Today

A while ago we discovered an obscure piece of Australian comedy history on an old, dusty videotape.

In late 1993 the Doug Anthony Allstars toured the UK and while there, produced weekly reports for Channel Nine's Today show.

My wife, an ardent fan of the Allstars (well . . . of Paul) recorded these little gems.

Here's the first one. You can find the rest on YouTube . . . just do a search on "ilikeportello".


Friday, 21 March 2008

Your form guide to Eurovision 2008

Today we feature an article from special guest blogger Shannon.

Over to you, Shannon.


Thanks, Matt.

In this world there are two types of people: those who love the Eurovision, and those who are pathetic losers. This special guest blog is not for the latter.

In these times of terrorism, war and syphilis outbreaks there are very few events that remind us of the innocent times of yesterday. Times when September 11 was S11 not 9/11, when Britney wore underwear and Pop was Queen.

The Eurovision is a shining beacon in these dark times.

In a competition that has seen Drag Queens, Transvestites, Transsexuals, Rock Stars, Pop Stars, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Monsters, Fairies and more recently (and perhaps more shockingly) Serbian lesbians, what will 2008 bring us?

With 64 days until the final on May 24, here is a heads up of what to expect and what to look out for this year.

First semi-final (May 20):

Sentimental money with be on the Israeli entrant Bo'az Ma'uda. The song has been written by former winner and global diva, Dana International. Sadly, it doesn't live up to Dana’s pizazz.

San Marino will be a serious contender with some heart-felt soft rock.

From Azerbaijan, we have Elnur & Samir. I have never heard a man reach these sort of notes without being kicked in the nuts. Hats off to them for taking the key change to a new level.

Interestingly, Dima Bilan returns for Russia this year. (Well, the girl coming out of the piano in 2006 was a master stroke).

Sadly, the song is awful. Even more sadly, he has just lost the right to use his stage name Dima Bilan. According to Russian law it belongs to a production company. He should have taken a tip from Tina “just my name, all I want is my name” Turner.

Finally, I cannot ignore this semi-final’s worst entrant. I really don't like these subversive sarcastic entries (e.g. Lithuania from a few years back) . . .

(Editor's Note: That entry from Lithuania is easily my favourite Eurovision song of the last few years.)

. . . introducing Dustin the Turkey from Ireland.

Admittedly, the last few entries from Ireland have been just that, turkeys. However, this is a puppet turkey and his opera-singing wench belting out a high tempo number called Irelande Douze Pointe. No doubt in an effort to get the French vote.

But I suppose we need a toilet break somewhere.

Second semi-final (May 22):

This is the round for the serious contenders.

I am personally putting my money on Ukraine to take out the whole competition, with Shady Lady by Ani Lorak. If they do, the move back to a colder climate next year will piss Terry Wogan off no end.

Monsters were so 2006. Now 2008 is all about Pirates. At least, that's according to Latvia's contestants Pirates of the Sea, singing Wolves of the Sea.

And now for the big four:

France is sending Sébastien Tellier, singing a surprisingly cool entrant for the power ballad lovers. He's best known for La Ritournelle, which has appeared on many ‘chill out’ compilations. A decent entry, but it doesn’t live up to the chicness of his better known song.

Germany has No Angles, their answer to the Sugababes. Pedestrian.

Spain continues its truly random run with Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. I can't really describe it, although secretly I like it. Secret no more I guess.

At least it's not Las Ketchup again.

Finally, Andy Abraham's disco number Even If is easily the UK's best entry in years. Enjoy it, as it appears Scotland is breaking away to have its own entry next year. God, it's Montenegro all over again!

And that's it for the entrants.

The Eurovision has always been a uniting force, with Europe and the world smiling together for those few brief hours.

I found comfort in a letter sent to all contestants from Serbian President Boris Tadic:

“I'd like to stress that Serbia is highly motivated in this moment to be a worthy host for the whole of Europe. As the President of Serbia and a man overseeing the proper functioning of all national systems and institutions, I can most earnestly assure all participants that they will be greeted and hosted warmly, as well as completely secure, and that their stay in Serbia and Belgrade will certainly be a pleasant memory.”

Can you not feel the warmth? I mean who would have thought ten years ago Belgrade would be hosting the Eurovision?

I would love to read the letter Slobodan Milošević would have sent.

Back to you, Matt


Thanks, Shannon.

Stay tuned for for further updates, and catch all the action in May on SBS.

The first semi will be broadcast on May 23, the second semi on May 24, and the final on Sunday May 25.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

March is turning out to be a rough month for the nerds.

On the 4th we lost Gary Gygax, a giant of the gaming and fantasy world, and today Arthur C. Clarke, renowned writer, scientist, futurist, humanist and visionary passed away at his home in Sri Lanka.

I'm not going to attempt to offer a detailed obituary for Clarke. Most of it is well known, and anything else I know of his life is just what's on Wikipedia. I don't have much to add to that.

All I do want to say is how much this man's vision and work has touched my life.

As a child I loved his television show Mysterious World. It opened up my curiosity for science. It showed me that asking questions was the way to knowledge, and that even the strangest of phenomena could be studied and understood and explained.

As a teenager I read and loved his novels and short stories. His writing combined the very best of storytelling with his extraordinary visions of the future. These visions were at once optimistic and cautionary. He knew that mankind could achieve great things but also had the potential, if compassion were missing, to wreak havoc on itself and its world.

This compassion was the key to his storytelling genius. In every single one of Clarke's stories, he never lost sight of the need to make it about people. Technology and its impacts were only ever important to the extent that they affected people.

Clarke's philosophies, both scientific and storytelling, were perfectly crystallised in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film's theme of man's evolution, from neanderthal to star child, is mesmerising and deeply moving. The film shows us that man can reach for the stars, and that great things await him when he gets there.

At the age of 90, I guess Clarke's passing is not totally unexpected.

There will be shock and sadness as the news is announced, but I think this is because people like Clarke just seem like they could live forever.

His work and his name certainly will.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

An Open Letter to Michael Atkinson

Hon. Michael Atkinson
488 Port Rd
Welland SA 5077

Dear Sir,

I respectfully add my voice to the growing chorus asking you to reconsider your stance opposing an R-rating for video games in Australia.

Your opposition means that many fine games available overseas are simply banned here in Australia, as they do not meet the requirements of the MA15+ classification.

You know that the median age of Australian gamers is 28. You know, for you have been told repeatedly, that video games are not just for children.

Despite knowing all of this, you seem have missed the main point. The point is that video games are not even primarily for children.

I don’t think you fully understand this.

I think that when you envision a group of video gamers, the image in your mind is one of 10-year-olds, not 30-year-olds. If this is the case, it must be a major stumbling-block to your analysis of the issue.

There are, of course, video games designed for children. But there are far, far more designed specifically for adults.

The complexity of storytelling and character development in modern video games like Bioshock, Halo and Mass Effect easily rivals the best Hollywood has to offer.

More to the point, these games require a level of reasoning and patience that, while not beyond children, is much less interesting to a child than it is to an adult.

In your speech to State Parliament on March 6, you made specific mention of the game Reservoir Dogs, banned in Australia in 2006, but which would become available under an R classification.

The game is based on the 1992 film of the same name. The film is readily available in Australia with an R-rating.

Because of this R-rating, there is no concern in the community that children might be adversely affected by this film. The classification system gives parents the information they need to make informed choices for their children.

This classification system works very well, and would work just as well if applied to video games. Were the game to be available with an R-rating, there would be no concern in the community for precisely the same reason.

In closing, we the people of Australia thank you for your concern, Mr. Atkinson.

But we want you to understand that we can look after ourselves and our children. We believe that the responsibility for monitoring a child’s entertainment choices lies with the child's parents. It does not lie with the government, and it does not lie with you.

That, Mr. Atkinson, is not your job. Your job, as an elected representative of the people, is simply that. To represent the people.

The people of Australia are saying clearly that they support an R-rating for games.

Your colleagues in the parliament agree.

Every other developed nation on Earth has an R-rating for video games.

Your views are out of step with the views of your colleagues, the views of the Australian public and the views of the international community.

Mr. Atkinson, I ask you to please consider your position.

Yours Sincerely,


Friday, 14 March 2008

Course / Work

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. I know my readers (both of them) have been waiting with bated breath for the next post.

(Sidebar: I had to look up the spelling of 'bated breath' just now, as I wasn't entirely sure it shouldn't be 'baited breath'. It's definitely 'bated', although I found an amusingly correct use of 'baited' here.)

I've been off the blog and off work for the last couple of days, attending a management . . . sorry, Leadership . . . training course.

Companies like mine often send their middle management off on this sort of thing. It's a chance to get them out of the office, get them fired up, and more importantly, show them they're not indispensable.

This course was pretty good, and one of the slightly more entertaining I've been to.

The location was certainly better than most.

It was held at the Life Saving Club in Port Melbourne, in a room with sweeping views of the beachfront, the bay, the kids playing cricket on the sand and at one point, a couple snogging for a full half-hour in waist-deep water.

So there were more than a few distractions when the content of the course ran a bit dry.

Day one and the first half of day two had us looking at our management 'styles', particularly how we rated in a questionnaire filled out by our reports. Or my 'minions' as I like to call them.

My results were (in a nutshell) that I'm good at planning for the future and setting team direction, but I'm a bit too nice.

They obviously don't know I call them my minions.

All in all I'm quite happy with that. Although if a situation comes up that calls for a micro-managing asshole, apparently I'm screwed.

The second half of day two was a complete change of direction. A personal trainer took us through some stretching and gravity-based core strengthening techniques (see how I can speak the speak?) which covered the gamut from embarrassingly painful to sadistically torturous.

The floor work was intercut with a PowerPoint presentation, telling us more than we could possibly take in on glutes, medials, various acronyms I've forgotten and some other stuff I don't remember.

At the time I remember thinking it was awesome. Then like a fine weed, it all seemed a bit unreal after the comedown.

But we got a foam exercise roller and massage ball to take home. So that was nice.

I went back to work today to an Inbox packed with emails and aches in my glutes and medials.

On the upside, the aches made grunting dismissively at my minions slightly easier, so maybe there's hope for my asshole side yet.

Monday, 10 March 2008

2001 in five seconds


There's a whole bunch of these on YouTube. Check 'em out.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Vale Gary Gygax

Nerds the world over are mourning the death on Tuesday of E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and the father of the modern role-playing game.

While I was into some role-playing games as a kid, I wasn't hugely into D&D. The fantasy genre always left me a little cold, and D&D was always a bit too Tolkein for my liking.

Some fantasy-buff friends of mine would spend days at a time building D&D characters, creating scenarios and drawing ridiculously detailed maps of mountain paths and dungeons. I'd sit and watch for a while, play the odd game with them, but soon get bored and go read some Asimov or Lovecraft.

Even in the role-playing world it was always the horror and science fiction genres for me, with games like Chill, The Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia.

But still, I appreciate that D&D is where it all began.

Almost from inception, D&D managed to engender moral panic in some of the less imaginative sections of society. I remember hearing a lot about this when I was at school in the early 1980s, with D&D being blamed for everything from the rise in teen suicide to the impending apocalypse.

Of course, this only served to increase its exposure and popularity. Boggle just didn't get that sort of press.

D&D's influence on popular culture in general and gaming in particular cannot be denied. Its notion of immersive and freeform gameplay has influenced a new generation of computer games, with World of Warcraft and Second Life just two of the most obvious examples.

But even this isn't really new. These recent MMORPGs are just the latest in a long line that started way back with text-based adventure games on the very earliest home personal computers. D&D's genesis in the mid-70s coincided with the introduction of the first PCs, and those text-based adventure games were simple attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a D&D round-table.

The tabletop game still exists of course, although its popularity has taken a hit from the ubiquity and quality of the gaming console. But in any high school or university you'll still be able to find, huddled away in some dark corner, a group of nerds quietly rolling their dice and going on their heroic quests.

Gygax really started something special with D&D. It continues to this day and Gygax will be remembered for as long as nerds continue to gather together, fuelled by too much pizza and coke, to lay waste to the armies of orcs and demons in their imaginations.

And when the battles are done, there'll be more than a few mugs of virtual mead raised in Gary's honour tonight.