From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love Book Cover
First Edition cover

As part of my one-person celebration of all things Bond, in honour of the 50th anniversary of Bond films and leading up to the (scandalously delayed) Australian release of Skyfall, I’ve not only been rewatching all the films on Bluray, but I’ve finally started reading the novels.

The books are quite good and seem to get better written with each one.  One surprise from the books is that Bond is far less cynical about bedding women than in the films – he actually falls in love more than once, even if he seems to think that relationships are doomed to eventual failure.

I’m up to From Russia with Love, and it’s definitely the most assured so far. It has an interesting structure too – I was over a third into the book before Bond appeared. Hard to imagine a film doing that, though the Connery film did delay Bond’s appearance a bit compared to the other films.

Most reviewers claim FRWL is the best Bond novel, and so after this one I guess it’s all downhill, but so far so good.

Ouya – Programming Begins at Home


I’m cautiously optimistic about the proposed new gaming console, the Ouya. I like big budget AAA games, but I also like smaller indie games, and the current consoles don’t really seem to support indie developers very well.

The Ouya, built on Android and with decent specs, is promising a more open and accessible approach to developers.

Well after backing the Ouya’s kickstarter campaign early on, I got to watch it shoot past its goal in it’s first day, so either it’s a brilliant scam or the console is on its way.

The makers of the Ouya foolishly asked for advice and suggestions from backers. Most advice seems to be hardware related (more RAM! More ports! More/better controllers! etc) or game related (ship with this game!). Here’s what I sent them, based on what made me fall in love with computing so many years ago:


Congratulations on your kickstarter success!

I realise you’re probably inundated with ideas for your console, but since you asked, and as one of the first 1000 kickstarter backers, here’s mine! 😛

I’d like to see it ship with a really simple development environment built in, sort of an updated version of the BASIC that shipped with the Commodore64 (showing my age now). Perhaps you could use a customized version of this successful (and open source I think) android version of BASIC:

The idea of being able to create and distribute apps on the device itself (after plugging in a keyboard and mouse) just appeals to me somehow.

It might lead to younger kids getting into programming, or at least allow them to appreciate it more.

Plus there’s just something magical about plugging a device into your TV and making software with it (wipes nostalgic tear from eye).

That’s all for now!

Skevos Mavros

Nokia n97 v2 Firmware and Optus

I sometimes think Optus sales reps will say almost anything to make a sale or get the customer to commit to another two-year contract.

I sometimes think Optus sales reps will say almost anything to make a sale or get the customer to commit to another two-year mobile phone contract.  You know the people I mean, the ones that call you offering to make your mobile plan cheaper (why call –  just do it!), or sell you a plan for a wireless adapter/dongle thingie for your laptop, that sort of thing.  I’ve had unpleasant experiences with them in the past.

Promises Promises

This time around a sales rep called and offered to waive the last five months of my two-year mobile phone contract and send me out a new phone if I commit to another two years.  Nothing wrong with that, so I accepted.

But he also talked me  out of waiting for an iPhone and into getting a Nokia N97 on the promise that the new v2 Operating Software for the N97 was great.  The sales rep even claimed to own an N97 himself and to have upgraded the OS, and praised all the cool new features v2 offered.  Since I already own an iPod Touch, I went for the Nokia N97.


Well, the phone arrived, and it’s a great unit, plus the 3G coverage out where I live is vastly better than my old phone’s reception.  So I have no real complaints with the phone itself at all.

BUT there is no upgrade to software v2 available for it in Australia under Optus — not by using the PC application, and not using the phone’s built in updater.  This kind of deception (dare I call it lying?) to make a sale leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.  And it’s so pointless — there’s nothing really wrong with the current OS on the phone, but I was sold the new OS, and was delivered the old one.  It’s basic customer service — If I pay for X, don’t deliver Y.  It’s made worse when watching a video that shows the significant differences between the two versions:

My phone runs like the one on the left of screen in that video.  My attempts to get an answer out of Optus about why the firmware isn’t upgradeable is an exercise in futility.  They connected me to “Nokia Australia” in the end (the nice lady at Nokia “Australia” had a mild Indian accent, but maybe she was in Australia), and after a ten minute circular conversation she eventually put me on to the local Nokia Customer Care Center in Brisbane.  Now those guys responded very quickly to my email, but all they could do was inform me that, yes indeed, the upgrade is available to generic N97s, but not the Optus ones.

So the score is Optus 0, Nokia 1, Me 0.  Perhaps Nokia should let Optus know they have sales reps making promises the Optus network can’t deliver (yet).

Not The First Time

Almost a year ago I had a similar annoying experience where an Optus sales rep called me and promised to send me a wireless dongle but to also lower my mobile fees by the same amount as the internet service attached to the dongle – effectively making the wireless plan free.  Of course I said yes, but shortly later someone else rang to confirm the deal and they denied that such a generous offer was possible.  So I withdrew my acceptance (which they weren’t happy about), but the dongle arrived anyway.  I wasn’t home to receive it, so it went back, and after a couple of confusing calls I later did get a call apologising for the mix up.

They also assured me that the sales rep that made the “generous” invalid offer no longer worked there.

But after today, I’m not so sure.



ZoomIt is the best PC-desktop-screen-zoomer-inner-thingy I’ve ever seen – and it’s free!  Great for zooming in on presentations or during software demos – both of which I do at home and at the QSFT.  I wish I had found it earlier.  Here’s a quick video of me using it (be sure to select HD mode when viewing it).

I’ve been looking for a smooth screen-zooming tool ever since I saw uber geek Chris Prillo use one on his desktop when demonstrating software and websites during his YouTube videos. His PC is probably more powerful than mine, but I could see he wan’t using the standard Windows magnifier, which magnifies a screen area into a separate window – his zoomer was zooming the whole screen into itself.  ZoomIt seems to offer the same effect, and as well as being free, it’s also tiny – less than 300KB, allows you to draw and write on the zoomed in desktop, and on Vista the magnified desktop is “live”, rather than a freeze-frame.

And yes, Mac lovers, this desktop zoom effect is standard on recent Macs – I know, I know.

The Ladykillers

A review of the classic 1955 movie “The Ladykillers”, released on DVD.

image of Ladykillers title cardThe Ladykillers

I’ve been a big fan of The Ladykillers for a long time. My initial interest in the film was because Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness were in it, so I eventually tracked it down many years ago on late-night television. And it’s true that Guinness is terrific as Professor Marcus, and Sellers, in his first feature, showed a lot of promise – even if he was still a bit inexperienced.

image of Mrs Wilberforce
Mrs Wilberforce takes a nap – maybe for good?

But what I didn’t expect, when I first saw it, was to be so impressed with the whole cast – Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, Danny Green, and most of all Katie Johnson as Mrs Wilberforce. This little lady, who was seventy-seven at the time, gives a quiet and almost minimalist performance that gently but firmly dominates the film, despite (or because of?) the fact that she is surrounded by the relatively over-the-top antics of the male cast. She is perfect, and this is a nearly perfect film.

I recently rediscovered and rewatched the film thanks to three things: Kareena buying me the DVD of the film (what an amazing new transfer compared to the versions I have seen!); news of a recent remake (the trailer makes it look like it could be rather bad, but if it leads people to the original, then it’s a good thing); and stumbling across a great web page that compares the locations in the film to how they look now (I’ve always found that sort of thing interesting). Here’s a review that contains no spoilers for the second half of the film.

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Suspended Alibi

A below average thriller that is interesting only for the glimses of a vanished England.

Title: Suspended Alibi
Where:ABC TV
When:2 February 2004 – 2:00am

As the film Suspended Alibi opens, all seems well in the household of Paul Pearson (played by a wooden Patrick Holt). Their house is large and attractive, situated in a leafy suburb that seems green even when viewed on black and white film. Lynn, his attractive if stuffy wife (played by Honor Blackman) sits on the couch wearing a starched dress and a concete hairdo.

Withing minutes of the film starting, she is screaming unconvincingly as her young son dangles a worm in front of her. I’ve seen Ms Blackman do much better in other films so I’m going to blame the script and direction for her passionless performance in this one.

But this peacefull if dull existence is not all it seems. Paul, a newspaper editor, has been having an affair with Diana, his fashion reporter (played by Naomi Chance, who manages to act around some terrible lines). So – right at the start of the film we discover that the central character, the one we are presumably meant to be cheering for, is a cheating cad. Mind you, given the bland stiffness of his wife Lynn throughout most of this film, who can blame him?

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Brown Outs, Talk Back, and The BBC

Thanks to an extended brownout, Skevos has too much time to think.

I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s nearly four in the morning and ever since we got home (about seven hours ago) the house has been in one long brown out. Obviously I’ve seen brown outs before, they’re a fact of life in Brisbane and they’re part of the reason I bought a UPS unit to protect my PC data, but until tonight they’ve always been momentary events.
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Surprisingly good horror-action film from a first-time director. 8.5 out of 10

Title: Underworld
Where: Balmoral Cinemas, Screen 7, Queensland, Australia
When: 26 January 2004 – 9:20pm

I went into this film with very low expectations. The seen-too-often trailers for Underworld, with their Matrix-style slow-motion acrobatic gun battles and cast members strutting around wearing black clothing of various tightness and glossiness, made the film seem so preposterously pompous and self-consciously cool that I was sure it was going to be a silly, silly film and a drag to watch.
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