Podcasts I Recommend

I was trying to persuade a co-worker with a newly acquired Ipod Touch that he might enjoy podcasts, I even gave him a few recommendations. Alas, he wasn’t interested and said he got fed up with listening to self-centred people who were up their own arses talk incoherently for twenty minutes – and that sadly put him off listening to any others… I decided not to ask which one he tried as I was a bit disappointed since I thought podcasting would be right up his alley, what with him being a big radio listener and really into his history.

This got me thinking about the podcasts I subscribe to (there’s about twenty, mostly around the same subjects) and which ones I look forward to dropping into my feed. The others I have more of a casual relationship with, if there’s another one I might listen straight away or I might listen when I have a few backed up… sometimes I take a break from some podcasts as I’m a bit bored of the hosts or the subjects.

So, in alphabetical order these are the ones that I eagerly await:

1) Anything Ghost
It’s cheesy, it’s random but it’s a great little show. Lex, the host, reads out the ghost stories and encounters that his listeners have sent in – he has a great way of reading them and even puts in some effects and music of his own creation to help with the mood. I don’t always like the music he’s created and often the stories aren’t that great but there’s often a gem, a nice little spooky story perfect for bedtime. It’s addictive and soon you’ll want to join in, I sent in a random story from a theatre I used to work just because I wanted to contribute.

2) Digital Planet
From the BBC World Service, a great little technology show and about how it affects us in our every day life. They’ve been talking about Twitter parties, open source software (including OpenID), and piracy. One of the recent episodes went to a Twitter party where they talked to the people there about their experiences, why they use it and how it’s bringing likeminded people together (as well as talking about if Twitter is selling out now that it’s become mainstream… I feel that I’ve had that conversation with some recently.)

3) ExtraLife Radio with Scott Johnson
A geek radio show that’s broadcast live each week; I’ve not been able to listen to it live but I certainly look out for each episode. The three hosts have great interaction and talk about movies, games, comic books and other things going on in the world of geekery. All three hosts run web comics that are definitely worth checking out as well as the show.

4) Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews
Kermode’s rants are legendary, and his reviews and banter make for great ‘wittertainment’ . Often he’ll review something that I’d never consider seeing and based purely on the review I’ll give it ago – most of the time I’m surprised and wonder what else I’ve dismissed because I didn’t fancy the idea. Dr Kermode is well worth listening to (oh, this is another BBC radio programme that’s released as a podcast each week and one day I’d love to be able to tune in live).

5) Royal Society Lectures
The Royal Society do lectures which the public are free to attend, fortunately for those of us who can’t get there they release the lecture for free. I’ve found that even the topics I’ve only a passing interest or sometimes no interest have got me listening – sometimes the lecturer doesn’t make the subject easy to listen to but most of the time they’re easy to listen to and hugely informative. For those who don’t know, the Royal Society is really ‘The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge’ which should give you an idea of what they aim is, so you can imagine what sort of lectures they do.

6) Starbase 66
This is a newcomer and has fast become my favourite Star Trek podcast. The hosts are interesting and bring varying backgrounds to the table, the discussions have been good, I particularly like them talking about homosexuality with Star Trek as it hasn’t been talked about yet in any of the other Trek podcasts I casually listen to. If you like your Trek and other sci-fi, then this is the podcast you’ll enjoy!

7) Skeptics Guide to the Universe
Wrong spelling of ‘skeptics’ aside, I really enjoy the banter between the hosts and am a huge fan of Rebecca Watson. I like hearing a voice of reason to some of the stranger and scary science stories that creep around the world. They often interview interesting people about their work as well as playing an amusing game of ‘Science or Fiction’.

8) WaffleOn
Another newcomer, this is a podcast about British cult shows between 1960 and 1990. So far they’ve only done two episodes, a special on Patrick McGoohan special and an episode on Red Dwarf – both were brilliantly informative and it was nice to hear two close friends discuss their favourite and least favourite things. Based on the quality of the first two episodes I am certainly looking forward to hearing the others… particularly when they get round to doing the ‘Dad’s Army’ episode!

9) Weather Station 3
Unlike the other podcasts I’ve listed, this one doesn’t really have a theme as such but the host has one of those great voices that you can’t help listening to. Weathereye (also present on the Starbase 66 podcast) talks about thoughts on various subjects from Facebook to moronic news stories, he was definitely born to be a podcaster and it certainly helps that he is a former journalist.

Short Films You Should Watch: ‘Tube Mice’ (2004)

I’m a huge fan of things in the short form, not just because I’m a person of short stature but because often short films, short stories etc… are some of the most creative things around. I wonder if my fondness for short films comes from my love of old Warner Brothers cartoons… ummm… something to ponder there! Anyway, recently I found a free DVD disc that I got with ‘The Times’ I think in 2004/2005; on that disc is a short animated film called ‘Tube Mice’.

Written by Yeva Paley and directed by Dan Chambers ‘Tube Mice’ is possibly my all time favourite short film, it’s ingenious and brilliantly creative. I believe it was shown as part of Film London Festival (possibly 2004, I can’t seem to find out but I was working on Blood Brothers at the time so it’s probably 2004) which is why is was on the free DVD from ‘The Times’ (along with another short called ‘Gravity’ which I also thought was very good).

The plot is very simple; the tube is in disarray and the mice are being ‘stolen’ by a mysterious dark figure. It turns out that the tube mice are not really gray, they’re actually the same colour as the line they inhabit (blue, yellow, green), this mysterious dark figure gives them a bath and then utilises them to sort out the tube network and getting back into shape.

It was produced by onedotzero, and I haven’t been able to find it officially on the ‘net but as usual YouTube came up trumps so here for your viewing pleasure (until I get told off) is the wonderful little animated ‘Tube Mice’.

Recommended Gaming: ‘Fallout 3’ (2008)

 

I’m being a traitor, I’m playing this on my XBOX 360 as my laptop isn’t up to running the game (the graphics alone make it cry).

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of the console version is that it’s incredibly dark, and it is but I don’t think it detracts from the overall experience. The overall darkness gives the game that oppressive atmosphere that feels very post-apocalyptic, apparently the creators of the game were inspired by ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy and from walking down endless broken roads with occasional burnt out cars surrounded by post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland and (what I presume is a little homage to ‘The Road’)  a shopping trolley every now and then.

The character creation system is incredibly creative and a very nice idea, being the opening part of the game where you are born and experience moments growing up that determine you traits and specialities. Once the story kicks off, it’s very Fallout-esque, you’re leaving the vault for the first time and you’re on a quest to find something (in this instance, your father).

The karma system is good fun, your in game actions influence how other characters react and treat you. I’ve been playing the good path because I want to experience all aspects of the game before I have a go at being evil (I can’t wait to blow up Megaton once I’m done with being good and re-start the game as evil). The lockpicking mini-game is starting to wind me up, mostly because I’m really rubbish at it and at first the computer hacking got on my nerves but now I’ve got the hang of it I like the challenge it presents.

I’ve already mentioned the darkness, and one thing that it does really well is making you jump out of your skin! The feral ghouls are horrific, you hear them and your locator thing warns you that there is one somewhere near by so tense up in preparation for a ghoul attack and then WHAM! the damn thing is behind you, right up in your face. The super mutants haven’t scared me much, they’re big and lumbering and you can see them as unlike the feral ghouls they don’t like to hang around in the dark damp sewers or down in the underground, the fire ants are a pain but once you do the quest to eliminate them then they won’t be a problem… molerats and mirelurks are good fun to fight. Oh and the blowflies? Damn creatures.

The combat system is interesting, like the original games you can enter into a specified targeting system (called V.A.T.S). Some people are going to love it, others are going to hate it, me? I love it. I find that you use so much ammo fighting without using V.A.T.S and if you’ve got a well maintained weapon (shotguns are my favourite) you can usually score some crucial hits. That’s another thing that’s awesome, you need to keep your weapon in good repair and you can scrounge bits from the wastelands to make certain modifications to your weapon.

Where the game falls down are the moments when you realise just what’s missing from this new version and sometimes the dialogue with the characters makes you want to send the developers a thesaurus and out on a script writing class. These are the three things that have struck me so far about the differences that I’m not to keen on.

1) Simplified Interface

You can’t interact with the game as much as the originals. Your various skills (medicine, repair, science etc…) are underused, you can’t use medicine or first aid skill on yourself and you can only initiate barter or repair if the game asks you. Also, whether you can do certain things such as a pick a lock or hack a terminal are restricted, if you haven’t got a high enough rating you can’t interact with it.

2) Too Many Drugs

This is probably to make up for the lack of medical/first aid interaction but it’s very easy to find stimpacks and other health helping drugs. At one point I was carrying fifteen stimpacks! I don’t recall ever having that many during my original Fallout experiences (maybe I was just a lousy scavenger). There seems to be many more drugs that will help you (Buffont) which are easy to get hooked on. In the original games getting hooked was bad, unless you find a certain Doctor in a certain town and are able to complete a certain quest for him you were screwed. In Fallout 3, all you need to do is head back to Megaton and hand over some caps to the Doctor and poof, cured.

3) Lack of Humour

The first games had a sense of humour ("Moo, I Say!") in not only the interactions with the objects but in the description that would pop up in the window. I miss that in Fallout 3. There is some humour in the game but it’s not as quirky or clever as the original games.

Overall I love the game, it’s not as good as the originals but I think it’s worthy to be the third in a series. Check it out.

Recommended Gaming: ‘Fallout’ (1997) & ‘Fallout 2’ (1998)

The first PC my family bought was in 1994.

It was a Compaq Presario, running Windows 3.1 and wasn’t running even an Intel Celeron (didn’t appear on the scene until 1998). It was a slow beast of a machine and we had a programme called ‘Tabworks’ to keep everything tidy and sorted on the desktop (incidentally, I loved ‘Tabworks’!) – besides my GameGear and GameBoy this was really my first introduction into gaming – we had ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘The Lion King’ on floppy disk (I think they had about 6 disks each!) it also had a CD ROM drive but I can’t remember using this much.

Later I upgraded it to Windows 95 using my Christmas money, it did give us more options for games (I got a free climbing game with it) but all I really played was ‘Simon the Sorcerer’ with my dad. I think I did buy ‘The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes – the Case of the Rose Tattoo’ but our computers spec’ wasn’t up to running it (first time I played it was on board RFA Fort George, New Year’s Eve in Portsmouth dock).

Eventually, somewhere around 1998 this PC finally gave up the ghost and we sold it to a friend as nothing more than a fancy typewriter. The second PC we  bought was a Packard Bell, don’t know what make but I do know we entered the world of fast computers with the latest processor – the Intel Celeron, we now had all of 333Mhz to play with and Windows 98… the latest in PC technology. The best part though was that the computer included several games, we got ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Actua Soccer 3’, a racing game and the behemoth that was ‘Fallout’.

I fell instantly in love with ‘Blade Runner’, it was an awesome gem of a game and I have longed to see this in the vintage gaming sections (perhaps GOG could rescue it from obscurity and bring it into the light for the accolade it deserves). I played it long into the nights and occasionally had to be forcibly removed from the computer by my mum who wanted to use it for work (she taught computing), eventually I got all I could out it and moved onto the contents of the tin (the games were in a round tin).

I installed ‘Fallout’, curious because all the disk had on it was the rather attractive gentleman below and there were no instructions. The instant that voice over started and I saw the post-apolitical wastelands looming across my screen… I was hooked. I spent hours just wandering aimlessly across the vast wastelands looking for this damn waterchip and encountering all sorts of strange people – I keep meaning to go back and play ‘Fallout’ as I’m sure there was a lot of the game that went over my 12yr old head. The random events made me laugh, particularly when I encountered a mysterious blue police box and the crashed alien spaceship that had a photograph of Elvis buried in the rubble!

Everything about this game was pure genius, the controls I loved as at that time I wasn’t into the FPS genre (in   my head they existed on consoles and I was rubbish with the controller) and it was full of quirky humour. I remember joining the Brotherhood of Steel because their power armor was amazing to look at, I think I then got bored and started to massacre the members – the fact that I could choose how to interact with the game made it stand out from the other ones I was playing at the time. ‘Ripper’ or ‘Descent II’ didn’t allow me to choose evil, nor did any of my Star Trek games.

Likely based on my love for ‘Fallout’ my uncle bought me ‘Civilisation II Deluxe Edition’ for Christmas (by deluxe it meant you got a HUUUGE guide to the game, a separate disk of scenarios including another guide and a giant wall poster with the technology strands on it). I then got immersed into RTS games and ‘Fallout’ went a bit forgotten for awhile but it was still there, part of my life and influencing the types of games I looked for when I had money to spend in ‘GAME’ (and when it had large PC gaming sections).

As I didn’t subscribe to any PC gaming mags I was completely unaware of the existence of ‘Fallout 2’ until I encountered it in a shop whilst out with my mum. We were planning on buying some games and I immediately went to it but after reading the back and discovering that you could marry and pimp your wife out my mum said that she didn’t want me to play it as I was too young. Disappointed I picked out ‘Sim City 2000’ and my brother picked out a playstation game (can’t remember what it was).

Amazingly it wasn’t until 2004 that I finally picked up a copy of ‘Fallout 2’ and the wait was worth it. I was flung back into the wasteland, this time hunting for a G.E.C.K (Garden of Eden Creation Kit) and the world I encountered was a little darker and little more twisted than the first, it was just as good and everything about the game I loved was still there. I loved how my decisions influenced my progression in the game, joining the slavers prevented you for being able to do some of the missions later on (the family wanted nothing to do with you) and people reacted to your karma (they likely did this in the first game but I was unaware of it). The random encounters weren’t as inventive as the first game, but I was quite happy with the dogmeat descendent encounter but disappointed you couldn’t recruit him.

I reverted back to my childhood and once again found myself sitting up late exploring the wasteland and getting into all sorts of trouble. Later with the help or the ‘Fallout 2 Character Editor‘ (ie I cheated) I went back into the game and did some serious bad-ass stuff (I slaughtered entire villages, all the slavers and the main MAFIA-esque family in New Reno) just to see how it would affect the game. I was amused to see the various people I met running screaming from me with their arms waving in the air.

The ability to play the game how you want marks ‘Fallout’ and ‘Fallout 2’ as games that everyone should play at least once in their lifetime and now with them being available cheaply on GOG or as part of the 3 for £10 range in your local shop – THERE IS NO EXCUSE! ‘Fallout 3’ is released after almost a ten year wait on Friday (at least in the UK) and I am going to extreme lengths to be able to play it – I’m buying a console. Whether the game will be just as important to me played in first person and as a console port I won’t really know until I get my hands on it, from what the folks of the PC Gamer UK podcast were saying about the console version graphics I may even have to buy a decent HD TV.

Book: ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

This Hugo and Nebula Award winner tells the sweeping tale of a desert
planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a
byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange,
the “spice of spices”. Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and
also grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields
great influence.The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don’t want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet’s harsh environment to die.

(from Amazon).
Continue reading

TV Series: ‘Surface’ (2005)


“When young oceanographer Laura Daughtery discovers a massive underwater creature, her obsession to uncover the origins of this dangerous ‘unidentified species’ will lead her and others on a mysterious adventure through the darkest, deepest parts of the sea and the most sinister and shady places on Earth. The fate of the world is in their hands – they just don’t know it.”

Tagline: There’s something in the water.

Staring: Lake Bell, Jay R Ferguson, Carter Jenkins and Ian Anthony Dale.

Created by: Jonas & Josh Pate

WARNING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

Book: ‘Spock’s World’ by Diane Duane (1988)

SpocksWorld“Captain’s Log, Stardate 2410.500; the 23rd Century

From halfway across the galaxy, Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise are summoned by the ruling council of Commander Spock’s home planet – Vulcan.

At stake is the planet’s future as a key member of the Federation. At issue is Vulcan’s mysterious past and its historic struggle for the meaning of logic.

Torn between his duty to Starfleet and his unbreakable ties to Vulcan, Spock must find a way to reconcile his own inner conflict and the external threat his planet faces – or the Federation will rip itself apart.”

WARNING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS