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hamfisted (adj.)

1. Lacking dexterity/skill; clumsy.
2. Lacking social grace or tact.
3. Having unusually large hands.
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Amazing Yakuza 3 review

Tip of the hat to Exile 7 who pointed me an utterly amazing review of Yakuza 3 on Boing Boing, done with the help of three actual Yakuza members. Talk about doing your research.

Homer the Home Owner

Alicia and I bought an apartment back in December, but as it was leased at the time, we didn't get to move in until recently. Having months without any real involvement made the whole exercise seem rather laid back and trivial. Home ownership a bunch of work? Pfft, this is a doddle...

All that has changed with our official occupation. There's now an endless queue of tasks, fixes and improvements to be made if the place is to ever be habitable by humans any time this century. When you're renting, you never have these ideas. You work around the faults, use a few tricks to improve things, and bugger off elsewhere if the issues reach crisis point. Now that we actually own the place, it's awfully tempting to change absolutely everything, from the doorknobs to the toilet roll holder.

We always planned to spend a bit of cash making the place livable, which doesn't help with the crazy home improvement urges. It's the classic money burning a hole in one's pocket problem, and since the money is there in the kitty it seems quite reasonable to buy a new front door, or replace all the windows with triple glazed panels filled with xeon. Of course we've been told by all and sundry that the renovations will always cost more than we expect, so that helps a bit to keep the madness under control.

The great thing is that we've met the people upstairs, who have exactly the same unit except it's been renovated. It's like looking into the future. We won't copy all their ideas, but we will steal a few.

Looking ahead, we're probably going to knock down the wall between the kitchen and the lounge. We have no idea what kind of structural limitations we'll face there, but the more we can destroy the better. We'll put down floorboards in the kitchen and lounge, and redo the kitchen with more bench space, more cupboards and an exhaust fan. It amazes me there's not one of those in the kitchen right now - last night Alicia made lamb chops and we nearly died of smoke inhalation. We also want to do something with the power, as we keep tripping our circuits with more than a few heaters on in the evening.

We also have some grander plans to rearrange the bathroom, and for a walk in wardrobe for the main bedroom. The latter has overcapitalization written all over it, but the temptation remains.

2010 Already?

2009 was huge. It was basically the biggest and busiest year of my life, which is the reason my blog post counts were way, way down. Numerous times I tried to put a summary together, and numerous times events overtook me and made me look like a slacker. Well, no longer! 2010 is here, so adieu 2009!

My biggest news for the year was that I asked Alicia to marry me, and she said yes. She really is a delight, and she continues to enchant and sustain me as our wedding reception spending drives us cheerfully into poverty and destitution.

I had surgery on a piece of torn cartilage in my hip in February, and although things are a long way from 100% as I write this, I'm miles better than before the operation. I'm actually able to swim laps now, and although I swim like a brick wrapped in tinfoil, it feels good to be able to do some exercise again.

Alicia and I also bought a house in 2009, and by "bought" I mean "went into financial servitude to a bank" and by "house" I mean "crusty old apartment". It's rather daunting looking at a bank statement with an enormous negative number on it, but it's better than renting and paying off someone else's mortgage. It'll also be nice to be able repaint and remodel a few things without a landlord screaming at us.

I can also recommend Port Douglas for a winter holiday in Australia. We went there for ten days in 2009 and it was lovely. 29 degrees every day, no stingers, great food and lovely outings to the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef. We stayed at the Sheraton Mirage which made the holiday quite expensive, but booking well in advance it was only about $210 a night. It's well worth it if you can snag a good deal.

About a million other things happened in 2009, but those were the big ones. I feel pretty exhausted actually, although the schedule for 2010 doesn't look a lot easier.

This Has Gone On Long Enough

All right, all right. It really has been ages since I posted, but not for the usual reasons. Quite the opposite in fact - things have been busy and actually quite exciting. The big news is... well, Alicia and I got engaged. I'm extremely happy of course, even though we now have a long line of hellishly expensive and tricky wedding tasks to organize in the next couple of months. That's not very interesting though - a much more entertaining story is how I proposed to Alicia.

It was always important to me to do something special when I proposed. Some guys just book the most expensive restaurant in town and plonk the ring in a champagne glass. Although it would probably get me across the line, it wouldn't be the kind of memorable, unique and meaningful moment that I was looking for.

There's also something to be said for the element of surprise. Proposing in a hot air balloon floating above Sydney would be great, but turfing Alicia out of bed at 4am to "meet a friend" would look a bit bloody suspicious.

I then got a suggestion from George, to do something after a classical music concert. This had the advantage of actually being plausible in terms of surprise, as well as being something that we actually did and enjoyed together. So, where does one go to see classical music in Sydney? Aha! The Sydney Opera House.

A Funny Tech Ad

After Microsoft's ridiculous Seinfeld ads, and then their improved but still rather labored Laptop Hunter ads, and Apple's increasingly douchey PC/Mac ads, it's rather refreshing to see Intel's new ad campaign actually bring the funny.

I'm not so sure about that sung "bung... bung bung bung bung!" ending though.

Back in the Saddle

I've always been a PC gamer. Sure I've enjoyed consoles (I've owned an Xbox in the past, and own a PS2, PS3 and a PSP now) but PC gaming has always seemed so much more like home. It probably says something about my personal hygeine or lack of social skills that my gaming of choice is done alone, hunched over a mouse and keyboard, but it could just be that I'm a fan of shooters and real time strategy games. Whatever the reason, having to give up PC gaming last April was a bit of a kick in the spuds, even with gaming on the PS3 to tide me over.

During that dark time I did actually build a new PC, mostly to prevent me having to cart a laptop to and from work every day. The new rig had plenty of juice, but I made sure the video card was very limited. This was mainly to avoid temptation, but also to ride the technological wave as far as I could. Six months is a long time in tech, particularly in video card hardware. I ended up grabbing a Gigabyte 8500GT for about AU$80, and it turned out to be a solid performer. It can run up to 1920 x 1200 nicely, and this particular model is cooled passively, so there's no fan to add to the system noise. I also figured it would be perfect for a media PC when I threw down for a proper gaming video card.

Well, that day finally came. The 8500GT is now wrapped in a static bag on my desk, looking lonely. In its place inside Bunk is a Gigabyte GTX285, a totally ridiculous piece of video hardware. The damn thing didn't fit in my case at first, but I was lucky enough to get some help from my girlfriend's dad, who did an extraordinarily thorough job in removing part of the drive cage to make it all fit. It booted up first time, and I was blessed by... well, the same desktop as before. This was to be expected, so I downloaded Bioshock from Steam and gave a whirl. My socks instantly blew off in a shower of sparks and flew across the room. Yup, all systems were go!

Since then I've polished off Bioshock and Mass Effect (both excellent) and have run around a bit in Crysis, Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. L4D is the standout - it isn't super amazing graphically, but fighting off hordes of zombies with shotguns and automatic weapons is simply irresistible fun. Absent from the list for now is World of Warcraft, even though I have plenty of friends demanding that I resub immediately. Soon guys, soon.

Six Weeks Out

Back in December, I mentioned that I was going in for arthroscopic hip surgery. That was delayed until February, which was exactly six weeks ago today. The good news is that the operation went really well. The doc found exactly what he expected to find, which was a piece of torn cartilage smack bang in the middle of the hip joint. It was removed, and the resultant cyst drained, and I got to go home that same day. The best news was that even right after the op, with pain blooming all over my hip, I realised I could do things I hadn't been able to do for over a year, like lie flat in bed or sit in my recliner and watch TV. This was pretty great news.

I took two weeks off work, and stayed at home chomping painkillers and watching movies. I think I watched about 25 of them, starting with the high quality ones like The Dark Knight, and working my way steadily downwards towards The Mummy 3. I read books, I played PS3 games, and I slept a lot. The pain slowly subsided, and some mobility returned. This served mostly to allow me to overdo things and make myself sore again, but that tends to be the general cycle of recovery.

I went back to work on crutches after two weeks, which wasn't great. My job is only ten minutes walk away, but that's ten minutes for a normal fit person who doesn't mind stairs and the occasional gentle slope. I slowly worked up to not using the crutches in the office and at home, and even walked home without the crutches once, about four weeks from op day. This did not go well. Recovery was fairly quick though, which was another thing that had changed since the operation. Before, I would tweak things and stay in pain town for several days. Now it seems to last for about 48 hours, which sounds about right for minor inflammatory injuries.

Things continue to trend upwards, albeit very slowly. The doctor had quoted six weeks recovery originally, but that's a pretty standard line. I had the same period bandied about when I had my knee scoped years ago, and that turned out to be complete rubbish. It was weeks after then that I finally started getting on top of things, and I expect the same will be true this time around. I will probably call the doc if I'm still on crutches in another four weeks, but for now I'm feeling pretty good.

Going Commando

There are precious few movie reviews of the eighties Arnie classic Commando out there, because the ultimate one has already been written. It's called Commando is the Best Film Ever and it's written by Mark Lester, the film's director. Every facet is covered, from Bennett's chainmail vest, to the metaphorical nakedess of John Matrix, and Bill Paxton's vital cameo as the unnamed radar intercept officer.

SSD Rundown

There's a really thorough article on Anandtech called The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ that covers just about everything you'd ever need to know about Solid State Drives. Latency, throughput, possible slowdowns, technology, synthetic and real world performance are all detailed in 31 pages of techy goodness. I've decided that when the 80GB Intel X-25M hits AU$500, I'll get one to serve as my system drive in my home machine. They're around AU$750 at the moment, but we'll see what happens in the next six months.

Recent Headlines

  • Whitsundays expected to bear brunt of Hamish
  • More evacuations underway as Hamish intensifies
  • Wide Bay residents advised to flee Hamish's destruction
  • Hamish's winds to batter north Qld coast

It isn't often that I share the name of a major cyclone off the coast of Australia... I suppose I need to make the most of it.

World Builder

Crunchgear found a rather nifty video called World Builder, filmed in one day and then in post production for two years. It must be amusing to direct actors in this sort of virtual film - "Okay, there's a wall! It's pretty! There's some water, react to it! Now pretend you're grappling with a mongoose! It's in your hair! Great! Cut!"

Office Space

I'm not even sure how I stumbled on Mitch Haile's home office page, but it definitely made my nerdy senses tingle. I'm not really ever going to run six monitors, or three separate VLANs, or enough computer power to run hundreds of virtual machines at once, but his underlying approach is something for which I have a deep respect. This isn't just remodelling a crappy attic or even the worthwhile creation of a comfortable work environment, this is hurtling at a significant percentile of light speed beyond all previous limits of home office budget and imagination. Stefan Didak also has a similar home office page, although not quite as spiffy. Now I guess I have to buy a house.

The Year that Was Part III, Tech

Although I swore off PC games last year, I did build myself a new home workstation all the same. It was mainly to save me carting my enormous desktop replacement class laptop to and from work each day, but I'd completely forgotten the performance that a good desktop machine can deliver. The key difference is hard drive speed, which is where modern PCs are bottlenecked for most tasks. I went from a "performance" laptop drive that seemed about as fast as a hamster with three legs, to a Velociraptor, the fastest SATA hard drive available at the moment. Any tasks that made any use of the disk (and pretty much everything does these days, from browsers to music players and beyond) were suddenly significantly quicker, and disk intensive tasks like searches, video conversions, virus scans and copying files (duh) were galaxies faster. If SSDs take off (like I think they're going to), laptops might finally catch up to their desktop brethren in the performance stakes, but for now it's not even close.

Deciding between dual or quad cores for the new machine was a tough call. For gaming, the general rule is to go dual core, since most games aren't multi-threaded, which makes CPU performance pretty much dependant on the speed of a single core. Duals are clocked slightly faster than quads at the same price point, so they run games faster, so they win. This is a narrow view of the world though, particularly when multi-core has been held up as the way of the future by the chip industry when they realized they couldn't just keep dialling up the Mhz. The other thing to remember is that just about everyone runs multiple apps simultaneously these days, so being able to run each of them on a separate core is very handy indeed, even if the apps are only single threaded.

After those thoughts, I went with a Core Quad Q9300, and it seems to work really well. Everything seems to run smooth as butter, even when I'm transcoding a video in the background, messing with some database queries or when an obnoxious Flash app tries to leap out of a webpage and eat the machine. Having four hungry cores does tend to hammer the hard drive when things get busy and everything wants lots of IO, but I guess that's why I'll have to grab an SSD (or two) when they get a bit cheaper. To tide me over, I added a 1TB Caviar Black drive to the system, and shifted all my data files onto it, leaving the system and apps on the Raptor. This divides the load, leaving me to happily mess about with files on my data drive without causing my system drive to chunk.

While I planned ahead with a quad core CPU, I stuck with good old DDR2 memory. DDR3 is still very expensive, as are motherboards that support it. I'm not sure why I picked DDR2-800 though - my Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L board certainly supports DDR2-1066, so that might've been a bit of an oversight. I wasn't brave enough to try Vista, so I was limited to a little under 4GB total RAM with 32 bit XP. This is actually fairly harsh, because my work SQL database is around 30GB and needs rather more memory than I have to run even remotely well. I really hope Windows 7 doesn't suck, as I'd really like to make the jump to 64-bit and smash through that silly memory limit. 16GB RAM sounds very comfortable from where I'm sitting.

I grabbed a few other bits and bobs during the year, although not all of them worked out. I tried Microsoft Habu and Razer Salmosa mice without success. I tried to clear some cables off my desk with a Silverstone FP34 internal card reader, but it looks like the interface from the reader slots is only USB1.1, so I might have to just throw that away. Notably absent from my workstation (named Bunk, after Bunk Moreland from The Wire) is a DVD drive of any description. I'm going to try and do without one for now - I'm going to use internal SATA drives for live storage, external USB2 drives for backups and moving big stuff around, and a couple of 8GB USB sticks for day to day files. The age of dividing my data into 4.7GB chunks, slowly burning them all to DVDs and then filing them away in CD folders is over, at least for me.

It's great to be back tinkering with a home desktop machine again, even though leaning over a computer case isn't really a pleasant position for me to be in at the moment. I'm not really interested in overclocking or wacky stuff like water cooling, but arranging components to improve the overall system is quietly rewarding, as well as being enormously nerdy. Plus it's cheaper than collecting antique cars.

The Year that Was Part II, Gadgets

2008 was a good year for my gadget bag. My favourite toy was without a doubt my Sony Bravia HDTV, which is a very nice piece of gear. Just before I bought it, my tightass Scottish heritage screamed at me for buying something so ridiculously expensive and luxurious, but based on the time I've spent in front of it, I think it's turned out to be quite a good deal. Normal television, DVDs and downloaded video all look great, and HD isn't a pipe dream - it actually seems to work. Blu-ray movies look very slick indeed, as do HD console games, although I am tempted to add just like PC games have for years. The real winner though, is HD sport. Damn it looks good. Even competition lawn bowls is compelling, at least for a few minutes.

I scored a free Playstation 3 with the TV, and it's pretty decent too. It's not perfect - its stable of exclusive games is still pretty anemic, its online service is notably weaker than Xbox Live and every once in a blue moon, random games thrash and lag until the system is rebooted. Generally though, the system is solid. Games look great, and play well. It plays DivX and H264 files without transcoding, so it became my main media player almost by accident. It's still arguably the best Blu-ray player around, although the discs themselves are still too expensive to buy here in Australia. I will accept them as presents, though. :-)

The easiest way to get media playing on the PS3 is to stream it from my PC using a media streaming application like Tversity. This nifty piece of software allows the PS3 to navigate and play items from a media library across the network. If the media is in a format that the PS3 understands, it streams it directly. If it isn't, it transcodes on the fly. This system works very well for most media I want to watch. The only problems I've encountered are the occasional exotic audio track that squeals out like a caffeinated hummingbird, and lag when fast forwarding HD or transcoded video on the PS3. Neither of these are show-stoppers, though.

One format that TVersity doesn't seem to deal with right now is Matroska, an open container format used a lot in HD video. The tricky thing is that most of the actual video streams inside the container play just fine on the PS3. That's where a nice utility called mkv2vob comes in, which allows quick re-wrapping of video data into the VOB container format used by DVD-Video. If the internal format isn't PS3 compatible, mkv2vob will convert it, although this can take hours in the case of HD media. About 90% of the files I've tried have gone straight across in only a few minutes, so the odds are good.

Moving on from media gadgets and software, the coolest utility I started using in 2008 was Launchy, a super-slick keystroke application launcher. With this, I hit alt-space + FIRE to launch Firefox. Alt-space + TALK is Google Talk. I have dozens more - no mouse, no menus, just a few letters and away we go.

The defragger that comes with Windows is rubbish, so it was also nice to find a good replacement in Perfectdisk 2008. As well as excellent file defragmentation (without requiring stupid crap like needing 25% free space on the drive to run), it also consolidates free space. This means that new files go straight into this lovely big empty meadow at the end of the drive, and stay in one piece instead of being shuffled into dozens of chunks. It also makes the drive map look neat and tidy, which I like.

The latest gadget I'll mention is something a little different - my Aeron chair. For most people, the idea of spending AU$1400 on a chair is completely insane. Having a bad back and spending upwards of eight hours a day in front of a computer screen changes things though, so I was willing to throw down for the sake of ergonomics. My verdict is overwhelmingly positive - the chair is not only comfortable and extremely adjustable, it forces me to sit in an ergonomic position. I liked it so much I even bought myself a second one for work just recently, and the difference between it and my old crappy generic office chair is enormous. Final word? If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

The Year that Was Part I, Media

2008 wasn't one of my best years. You know you're in trouble when an injury knocks you flat for an entire year, but hopefully I'm on the road to a solution. 2008 wasn't all bad either, I did have a few good times in amongst the pain and frustration. The best book I read this year is The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, which is actually a series of three books - Quicksilver, The Confusion and The System of the World. It's a sweeping historical fiction set in the 17th century, weaving sword fights and pirates with indepth discussions of scientific method, political intrigue and the seeds of our modern financial markets.

In videogame land, I was limited to the Playstation 3 games this year because of my dicky back. This meant I missed a bunch of excellent PC games (Bioshock, Mass Effect) but with a bit of luck I'll knock them over in 2009. Fallout 3 was the best game I played in 2008. Decent story, a huge, beautifully realized world, hilarious combat (Bloody Mess perk for the win) and delicious black humour spread throughout the game. Grand Theft Auto 4 was also very good, with its living, breathing open city and memorable characters. Civilization Revolution also gets a guernsey, delivering an excellent console version of the popular PC game. The controls actually work quite well, and although the game is a streamlined version of the original Civilization, there's still plenty of depth to keep things interesting.

Unsurprisingly, I watched a lot of television this year. The Wire was probably the best series, telling stories of drugs, crime, police, politics and corruption in Baltimore. The Shield followed the darker side of law enforcement in Los Angeles, and was also excellent. We've been slowly working our way through the back catalog of The Sopranos, and it's actually pretty good stuff. The UK spy series Spooks continued its tense cloak and dagger storylines, along with its fine tradition of killing off its main characters with little or no warning. Deadwood was deliciously brutal and foul-mouthed, but had a real sense of depth and elemental drama. Dexter wore a little thin in its third season, but we'll get back to it this year.

Comedy wise, The Flight of the Conchords made me laugh a lot, particularly with their hilarious songs. The Mighty Boosh took a few episodes to get into, but once they got going, their lunacy was fantastic. Top Gear continues to bring the automotive funny, and ignites the inner petrolhead inside all of us. Battlestar managed to keep the sci-fi flag flying, and it doesn't look like there will be much else to watch after it ends in 2009. Caprica doesn't interest me at all, and Heroes can go die in a fire.

I didn't visit the cinema much at all this year, but I did see a lot of movies at home. It was a good year for comic book adaptations - The Dark Knight really was great, with Heath Ledger's superbly twisted performance as the Joker stealing the show. Iron Man also delivered the goods, with Robert Downey Jr playing billionaire industrialist / crimefighter Tony Stark to the hilt. Wall-E was yet another delightful Pixar movie, this time starring a valiant cleanup droid on a future Earth piled high with trash. The latest Bond film, Quantum of Solace, wasn't quite up to Casino Royale's high standards, but was still very watchable and full of relentless ass kicking. I was taken completely by surprise by In Bruges, a darkly comedic story of two hitmen hiding out in the Belgian town of the title. Colin Farrell delivered a superb performance, which was even more amazing considering his less than stellar other recent work.

Don't Mess with the Zohan probably had the most laughs of any movie in 2008, although the story of a legendary Israeli counter-terrorist beating up Palestinians and eating copious amounts of hummus probably isn't as fun right now, with tanks rolling into Gaza. Last on the list is The Counterfeiters, a gripping German film about a group of prisoners forging Allied bank notes in a Nazi concentration camp.

Oh, and just in case you're curious - the new Indy film sucked.

A Change of Plan

So it looks like I'm not going in for surgery on my sciatic nerve in the next few weeks after all. Since having my back sliced open and a very clever man rummage around next to my spine was a fairly serious undertaking, I decided to get a second opinion. I was lucky enough to see another highly regarded neurologist, who sat me down, moved my leg around a bit, listened intently to my screams and said "You know, this sounds like it could be your hip - go and have a hip MRI." This annoyed me a bit, because he wasn't following the gameplan. He was meant to quickly and easily agree with the sciatic diagnosis, concur that the operation was the best thing to do, approve the specialist I had chosen and direct me to the nearest operating theatre. Still, going to the trouble of getting a second opinion and then ignoring it would have been pretty damn stupid, so I went and had my hip scanned.

It turns out that I have a tear in the cartilage in my right hip joint, with a 3.7cm cyst formed nearby. This is rather impressive, as there isn't a lot of room inside that part of the body. It's also a rather more compelling issue than general swelling on my sciatic nerve, which really only got the guernsey because it was the only other thing that turned up in my dozens of scans. Now, I still have what the doc refers to as "sciatic symptoms", which might mean that I'm still due for a bit of sciatic jiggling in the future, but for now, my hip has taken center stage. The plan is for the doc to go in with a fiber-optic camera and repair the torn cartilage, drain the cyst, and possibly re-vulcanize my tires. It's day surgery, and very similar to a knee arthroscope, which fixed my left knee up nicely a few years back. I don't have a date for the procedure yet, but naturally he's completely booked up before Christmas. Let's hope he can squeeze me in in early January.

It's a bit frightening to consider that if it really has been the hip all along, I might've had sciatic surgery and had no improvement whatsoever. The hip stuff still might be a waste of time. That's definitely not a good thought, but at least seeing the cyst lit up like a blazing star amongst the dark interstellar clouds of my pelvic region made me think it really might be what's been causing all the trouble.

I also stopped taking Feldene, the anti-inflammatory drug I've been on for perhaps the last six months. It was interesting to note that I didn't really have any change in pain. I still get sore, but not really any more or less than when I was taking the drug. I've also noticed (along with others) a significant improvement in my focus, general alertness and cognition. This means that I've essentially been high for the last six months for no good medical reason. This is annoying, but generally harmless - unless I find I've invested my life savings in ostrich-mounted weaponry or clothes made of silly putty. Thinking clearly is the right choice, although were people always this irritating?


Thanks to everyone who dropped me a line recently and wished me well, I appreciate it. Who would've thought that people still read my website? I suppose I better post some interesting stuff before I rabbit on about back pain... how about a flying car that might just work, the Epic Scarlet video camera from Red that almost certainly was designed by a Lego fan, and the new Watchmen trailer. Not bad.

Back-wise, things are pretty much the same. Pain, improvement, pain, confusion, pain, scans, more pain, bagels, pain. I'm still not playing PC games, even though today is the launch of the World of Warcraft expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King. I was mildly tempted to run out at lunchtime and grab a new graphics card and a copy of the game and start belting through Northrend, but that way lies madness. Every intention of playing for an hour at a time and taking regular stretch breaks would go out the window, and I'd look up six hours later and realize that my spine had become a solid, coiling column of fused bone. Then I'd play for six more hours.

In some ways, having to give up a sedentary activity like gaming is more annoying than giving up activities like wild tyrannosaur wrestling or naked lava surfing. Giving those up is fine - there's still plenty of space below them for enjoyment and adrenaline. Not being able to hack sitting in a chair and twiddling one's fingers for a few hours is pretty poor form, particularly for a rugged Antipodean bloke. Well, a bloke with rugged toenails at least.

My compromise for gaming is the PS3, which has turned out rather well. Civilization Revolution is an excellent game, and GTA4 is everything you'd come to expect and more. I'm using TVersity to stream video content from my PC to the PS3, which works a treat. I had plans to build a media PC, but the current system works so well I think I'll pass for now. I tried the Bioshock demo from the PS store, and although it looked fantastic and the atmosphere sucked me right in, trying to aim with a controller is ridiculous. There's someone behind me? Ok, I'll turn around. Still turning. Still turning, almost there. Keep turning. Okay now shoot. Aim lower, shoot the floor. Aim higher, shoot the ceiling. Smash controller into little pieces, hurt back. Curse and kick bookshelf, hurt back. Terrific.

An Epic Battle

I've had a rough last few months. My lower back is still causing me all kinds of grief and pain, which has turned me into quite a boring person. I haven't done anything particularly noteworthy as I rarely leave the house, and I don't really have the energy at the end of the day to blog on cool tech stuff like Ars Technica's look at the Chevy Volt or the benchmarks for Intel's new Core i7 CPUs on the Tech Report. If my back is yelling at me, the last thing I want to do is sit in a chair in front of a computer screen, even though I did shell out recently for an Aeron.

As well as the pain (which isn't very fun let me tell you), I've been battling a wide selection of other unpleasant emotions. Frustration is to be expected, as my life has been severely affected by the situation. I haven't exercised at all for the entire year, I can't drive and I can't do basic chores. I've dialled my life back down to nothing, becoming the guy who doesn't do much of anything, or see anyone. For a guy who thrives on activity, this isn't a good thing at all. I might as well start smoking pot and enroll in an arts degree.

Next on the list of unpleasantness was worry, which kicked in about three months into the super fun back experience. What if I never get better? How can I live my life? It didn't really help that the medical people who were happily taking fat chunks of my money didn't seem to have a clue what was wrong, or used the statement "Hmm, that's strange..." repeatedly. I don't want to hear that. I want to hear that I have something common and easy to fix, preferably with a single, cheap tablet, taken once.

One feeling I wasn't expecting was guilt, which was brought on every time I found a new way to hurt my back. Scuff my toe walking to work, ow. Take an unbalanced step getting into an elevator, ow. Reach out quickly to stop a dish falling off a shelf, ow. Bump my knee getting into the car, ow. Roll over clumsily in my doona, ow. Even now, when it's apparent that the even the most lame, ridiculous things end up hurting my back, I still feel a hot flush of guilt when I do it again. After all, I'd be fine if I'd just been more careful, right?

The slightly good news (and the reason I'm actually posting) is that my back specialist might've just found something. After xrays, MRIs, a bone scan, a cortisone injection, more xrays and more MRIs, I had a nerve test, which is like acupuncture except with an electric current. This wasn't conclusive, but it did lead to a very specific MRI down my right sciatic nerve, which was found to be swollen, or oedematous as we say in the back pain biz. This fits pretty well with my symptoms, and although it isn't a slam dunk by any means, it's a relief to actually have a target to aim at.

To address the sore nerve, I'm booked for sciatic decompression surgery in just under two weeks. The specialist will cut me open at the right hip, dig around, and make sure the nerve is nice and clear. I'll be off work for a few weeks, and hopefully things will take a turn for the better. If they don't... well, I'll try something else. Wish me luck.

Mos Def High Def

Recently I pulled the trigger on a 40 inch Sony Bravia LCD of the X Series persuasion, which immediately paints me as a bit of a tosser. In my defence I'd like to point out that most of my spare time is spent stretched out on a yoga mat in the lounge, watching television. This makes a $3000 HDTV a bit less of a total wank, and more of a productive and useful item for a chap struggling with long term lower back pain. That said, as soon as I had it set up... jeepers. If this television was magically transmuted into heroin and appeared in the movie Pulp Fiction, it would be Choco from the heart mountains of Germany. It's 500 a gram, but when you shoot it you will know were that extra money went. I regularly find myself engrossed in ridiculous stuff like championships bowls, Lateline or random toothbrush ads because they just look so goddamn fantastic.

With just the television alone, we pick up free-to-air HDTV from the standard channels like Nine, Seven and Ten through a standard aerial. All those HD and digital channels were detected automatically during the TV's setup, which was nice. Content-wise, it's very nice to catch random shows like CSI: Miami in sexalicious HD, but my real focus is the upcoming Tri-Nations rugby tests. The Olympics will also look very good, although I don't know how many events I'm really keen to watch. I am informed that the female gymnastics and female diving are excellent viewing in HD.

I have my old media laptop hooked up to the Bravia via VGA and a stereo cable. This runs at 1024 x 768, which isn't quite as good as 720p (1280 x 720) but looks a crapload better than what we used to run for the old television - 800 x 600 over a cruddy s-video cable. Downloaded video now looks very good, and the text on the Windows desktop is very readable. I plan on putting together a media PC sometime in the future to run at true 1080p over HDMI, but for now the media laptop works just fine.

To make the most of the television, I'm hoping to get my hands on a free Playstation 3 through Sony's Bravia PS3 promotion. They are giving away 35,000 PS3s (12,199 at the time of this writing) to clever people (read: me) who purchase a Bravia Full HD LCD TV during the month of July. I've sent my details in and received an initial approval, but I won't count my chickens until I actually have the PS3 all hooked up and I'm watching Planet Earth in Blu-ray and going oooooh a lot. It will also be great to finally get my hands on a current generation gaming console, and get back into gaming, albeit from a horizontal position. Cross fingers.

I'm Not Actually Dead

This is a quick note to say that I'm not actually dead. Since January I've been struggling with some pretty severe lower back pain, and essentially it's become my hobby. Between grimacing in pain, being made slightly radioactive by various scans, drooling from painkillers and anti-inflammation medication, I haven't had my usual spare time to wax lyrical about technological developments or link pictures of ridiculously cute kittens.

This post isn't a sign that I'm back in the game, either. I had a cortisone injection into my spine the other day, but after a few days of relief things are returning to normal - that is, pain and discomfort. I'm also moving house, which is fairly ridiculous considering my current state. My girlfriend is my savior in that regard, so I owe her rather a lot. Anyway, hope you're all well and you're all looking after your backs. Toodles.