Shoppin’ ain’t easy.

Advice for my past self: Just because you told your bank you were in Vietnam once, won’t stop the fraud department blocking your Visa card this time.

They won’t object to you pulling cash — up to your surprisingly still-extant daily limit — but as soon as you try to buy a laptop, it’ll fail abnormally. (That was the actual error, “abnormal failure”.)

Once that’s happened, even after you burn a few dollars on international calls to unblock the card, Vietnam’s Visa system will reject you all afternoon.

Also, just ask the girl at the counter where you can buy Vinaphone recharges. (Not Vinaphone Sim cards. That’s a different thing they don’t sell…) Four laps of the store won’t reveal anything more than the Vinaphone recharge sign over the women’s clothing isle told you the first time.

Speaking of asking girls, the Sony Centre shop assistants _can_ ignore you for a half hour without making eye contact. Don’t try to outlast them.

Once you’ve gotten all that done, paid for half a laptop with many laughs on the way (you may even get to participate if you listen closely) make sure you show the taxi driver the address written down. Even if he repeats it back to you, he can still take you to the wrong university.

Also, don’t forget to post this blog entry when it’s done, not three days later.

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The Time Traveller’s Afternoon

Is blogging about lacking Internet access like treating methodone withdrawl using heroin?

I’m writing this offline, as circumstances conspired with my lack of organisation to leave me needing an Internet connection to find out how to activate my 3G, and the WiFi signal to my room is insufficiently powerful.

However, I believe I’m having dinner with my landlords later, so I should get better signal then. I’m not even sure landlords is the right word. I’ve never rented a single room in a home before. Apparently they are only new at renting to international students too. The main English speaker in the family isn’t here today, but I reportedly have a Korean student across the hall, also studying Vietnamese.

That’s not how I know they’re new at this. I know because the department head where I’ll be studying (VNU USSH) dropped by this evening to welcome me and let me know what’s up. I’ve been trying to remember USSH in Vietnamese all afternoon, with two visitors, and now I’m alone, I just got it: Đại học khoa học xã hoi và nhan vanh. The spelling’s wrong, mind you.

The other visitor today was Trang, an  indescribably cute English teacher I already know. Due to a miscommunication, she rushed over to help translate with my landlords; believing I’d somehow rented a room without a bed. I’d actually thought I’d rented a room without bedding, which was clarified by Trang (There was bedding to come), and therefore thankfully my earlier attempt to go buy bedding was foiled as I found a supermarket (Happomart) and ATM but returned bearing only water and Không Độ.

My earlier shopping trip today was to purchase a Vinaphone SIM. Last time I was here, I had a Viettel SIM, and Viettel turned out to be distressingly competent at blocking Facebook. So this time I preselected Vinaphone, since they have good 3G rates and coverage. However, I forgot to grab the APN details before I came, and my new Motorola ME863 doesn’t have it preloaded. Now I just need to get on the ‘net to look them up…

There you go Matt. A single story, told in a single chronological sequence, with no branching. (Loops aren’t branches…)

Post-script: Welcome dinner with landlords was great. Quy (English-speaking son-in-law) was there, and I was also plied with clear Vietnamese alcohol. My floor-mate came home during dinner, and I called her “Chị”. She’s in her early 20’s and everyone laughed at me. ^_^

I got Internet working when I remembered that my HTC Dream had working 3G last time I came, so I put the SIM in that and Googled up the APN details on it.

And just like that, I am back in the world.

Clothes optional: Living from a suitcase

It’s amazing what you think you need when trying to fit under a luggage allowance. I have an enormous suitcase which I initially half-filled with clothes and half-filled with electronics… It weighed 30kg. Oops! I unpacked it all and went back to the beginning.

I was born. Or so I’m told, I don’t remember back that far. I do remember my last holiday to Vietnam though. You, dear reader (or spam-bot scanning for keywords) may also remember the beginning of the trip, until I was too busy, too poorly Internet-connected, too ill, or having too much fun to blog. That’s the brief summary of Saigon, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi respectively.

So, Vietnam adventure completed and summarised, I returned home well and truly convinced that my newer sojourn plans were quite workable.

I informed my boss (the conversation actually started with my bosses’s wife at her business’s Christmas party) that I would have to be leaving my job as I wished to move to Vietnam. His response was “Oh, I’ve thought about opening a studio in Vietnam. You should do that for me.”

I’ll skip over the intervening months, to leave filler for later posts. A couple of spoilers though:

  • I am not at this point opening a studio in Vietnam, but instead I will be working remotely for BigWorld.
  • I’m enrolled at the ANU taking a Vietnamese language major, and continuing it in Vietnam.
  • I have a visa and probably somewhere to live.
  • I’ve been watching Lauren Faust’s My Little Pony series,and published my first Android App and a couple of PMVs on Youtube.
  • I own a Kobo Touch and much fewer novels than I used to, but just as many video games.

Having done all that, I repacked my suitcase taking all my relevant electronics and doodads, none of my books — except my tiny Vietnamese/English dictionary — and whatever clothing I could then fit. This came out to 23kg and four complete outfits, on the assumption that I’ll either find a washing service quickly, or find a sufficiently large clothing store quickly. That’s a store that sells sufficiently large clothing, not a sufficiently large store that sells clothing.

Hopefully this is sufficient preparation for an indefinite stay in Vietnam. Because it’s too late. Like Caeser, I’ve tossed my rubix cube; arrived in Melbourne with only the clothes on my back and a big suitcase, and will be leaving with the same — except 3kg lighter due to different baggage allowances.

Melbourne’s decided to help me prepare in its own way, by taking my three days here as pleasant (a half-day), unexpectedly hot (spent indoors watching TV and browsing the web), and torrential rain (for my walk to the train station…). I did pack an umbrella, so I’m taking this as a validation, not a warning.

I’m not panicing, and I’m carrying a towel. Today Melbourne, tomorrow Hanoi. And the day after that… probably Hanoi again.

Vietnam Adventures: Hit or Miss Saigon

Okay, so “Lunch” turned into “the rest of the Saigon leg”. Funny how “blah” turns into busy.

Anyway, I left off with a plan, baggage and a well-prepared immune system.

I started my trip with a weekend in Melbourne. As is often the case, timing issues meant I didn’t get to do as much catching up as I wanted, but I turned out to need that time for repacking, reorganising and emergency Vietnamese cramming anyway.

I’ll elide Melbourne details, except to say thankyou to all involved, and that I was fed lots of tasty food, priming the pump so-to-speak.

I flew out of Melbourne Airport with Malay Airlines. Due to having done the web-checking, and being relatively early, I arrived at the airport at 10pm and was through checkin, security, border control and duty free by 11pm. I figured I’d upload some photos but the 3G connection in the terminal was awful. Given they charge for Wifi there, I suspect this was not a coincidence… I spent the entire wait trying to upload photos and update my voicemail message.

The flight was pleasant. I managed to get dairy-free meals and slept most of the way. My DS game was “Hotel Dusk”, which is quite good and fairly interesting story-wise. It’ll last me the rest of the trip, I reckon. And if not, Professor Layton awaits. ^_^

Kuala Lumpar airport was an airport like any other, I guess. (In my limited experience) I’ll gloss over that and my connecting flight too. (I managed to sleep for most of the domestic flight too, so I’m not glossing over a lot…)

So I emerged from Vietnam Customs at 10am or so, somewat concerned that I couldn’t see the promised airport transfer from inside the terminal. Turns out most transfers wait where the fencing ends, which was out of sight of the glass doors.

Along with me on the transfer bus, a lady named Helen arrived on the same flight and was on the same tour as me. Her friend Lorraine was also on the schedule, but had been too ill to fly out.

Sadly, the transfer bus took us to the wrong Hai Ha Hotel. Once we established this, the hotel flagged us a taxi to the correct hotel, which is no longer named the Hai Ha. (The tour guide told us today it’s now under new management)

Safely arrived, showered and feeling the heat less than I feared, I ventured out for a brief walkabout to locate food and drink. Herein I discovered probably my least favourite thing about Saigon (and probably travelling in general) — people who won’t let me be. My first trip out had me followed for a fair distance by two different cyclos, telling me how cheap it would be to go with them, and showing me recommendations from other Australians.

I don’t mind being asked (well, I don’t _like_ it, but it’s the way of street markets in tourist areas, it seems) but I really don’t being followed and reasked after I’ve said no. >_<

I think it’s one of the reasons I don’t really travel much; I really hate feeling like a tourist, that everyone is looking at you as a transient potential income source. It’s easier in groups, but I find it a little soul-wearing alone.

Anyway, despite (or because) of the above, I ended up back in my hotel room with a Viettel SIM and a bag of bread rolls.

At this point, a note on Facebook filtering in Vietnam, learnt through much more effort than I expected…

The ADSL hotel connection (and hence the free wifi I discover later in the story) simply blocks Facebook using DNS, and only blocks http://www.facebook.com, leaving touch.facebook.com and whatever the Facebook Android App uses operative. This is trivially bypassed by using the Google Public DNS service. On android, in a root shell:

setprop net.dns1 8.8.8.8
setprop net.dns1 8.8.4.4

However, the Viettel 3G connection is much more thorough. All the facebook.com subdomains are blocked in DNS, the IP adresses I found are blocked in port 80, SSH is blocked and it appears they have a transparent DNS lookup proxy as requests to the Google Public DNS servers above reacted exactly like the Viettel DNS servers. I was able to get to Facebook using Orbot, a Tor client for Android.

Anyway, by the time I finished all this, night had fallen, so I thought I’d give Saigon another chance.

This went much better. I didn’t go very far, but I did enjoy where I went more, as there was a distinct lack of cyclos, or in fact anyone paying me more than passing attention. ^_^

Anyway, that evening I retired to my room to enjoy my further spoils (iced tea drinks) and bánh đậu xanh for dinner, and spend some time trying to tune my ear with the magic of television.

Side note: I’m writing this in my room in Hoi An (spoiler: I don’t get mugged and killed in Saigon) and a live commercial has come on, with Mr T dubbed into Vietnamese. It’s fascinating.

I found what appears to be a highschool drama I’ll probably write more about in a separate post.

And I slept well that evening, which was a relief.

On the second day, I rose again (having gotten up early to use the toilet and gone back to bed) sometime before lunch. I was feeling rather demoralised, and wrote the first part of this series.

Just as I was weighing up whether I could hide in my room all day, I got an unexpected phonecall, and was told in no uncertain terms that I should be out exploring the city.

I took the wave of confidence this brought and walked over to the Revolutionary Museum. I didn’t go in, but I did talk to a nice pair of young people who wanted me to take a five minute taxi to meet their sister who was a nurse wanting to move to Austeralia. I declined, and did a lap around the Museum instead. I exchanged a wave with the same pair during the lap, and ended up buying expensive water from a guy carrying a styrofoam box.

I looked at a barbecue place across the road from the Museum, and was pleased that my nativisation had reached the point where I looked at the 100,000 dong price (about AU$5.30) and thought “too expensive”.

So I went to the bakery on the way back, and scored three bready treats for under 50,000 dong instead. I also borrowed a power adapter from the front desk, and saw the free wifi sign around this point, having just bought another 200,000 dong Viettel topup since I’d burnt through 30,000 dong using 3G already.

It was around this point that I realised I have no idea how to entertain myself when visiting a big city, and I don’t remember what I did between this and the initial tour group meeting at 6pm.

At some point during the morning I had been to the ATM for my first million dong, and met a gentleman named Tri who will appear again next episode.

And speaking of the next episode: I meet my tour group, get down and dirty in the Cu Chi tunnels and all dressed up on the Saigon River, and eventually bid Saigon farewell in a blaze of jet fuel.

Vietnam Adventures: Backgrounder

This is the story of a story, the background to my current Vietnam trip (in both senses of the word) and how I came to be sitting on a bed in a Saigon hotel watching daytime soaps and blogging.

Enormous text wall coming. The short summary: I’m in Vietnam. But you knew that from the preceeding paragraph…

If you read my Facebook feed, you will probably have heard all this before, in pieces over the last six months. Consider it a refresher. It’s also a chance for me to test that my Facebook profile’s syndicating my blog correctly since I migrated to WordPress.com for blog hosting.

So, without further ado…

At the start of April 2010, one of my closest friends married a Vietnamese girl. (A specific one, not the first one he happened across) As is traditional in such cases, this happened in Vietnam. It also happened a month earlier in Melbourne, for paperwork reasons, but that’s not relevant to this story.

So I found myself with an invitation to a wedding I couldn’t miss, in a country I had only the vaugest impression of from Robin Williams and Martin Sheen. And where they not only don’t speak English, they don’t even colonially speak English. (The French are the European colonial power in question. Thankyou Martin Sheeen)

This was compounded upon by my almost complete inexperience with world travel. I had been to a conference in Los Angeles and a conference in New Zealand, and this prepares you for real international travel like watching daytime soaps teaches you Vietnamese. That’s not a lot, in case you’ve fallen into the immersion/osmosis fallacy of language learning.

As is typical, I left my planning to slightly past the last minute, I arrived in Vietnam underprepared, underimmunized and without even a phrasebook to my name.

The actual trip and wedding went really well, so I’ll gloss over it here, with only the notes that this was my first chance to try learning a language by read signs in shops (fun but not really efficient) and the important (pivotal!) point that I’d only organised to stay for the wedding itself, since I didn’t know any of the other guests well enough to organise anything with beforehand. This led to my makng the solemn promise to return again for a proper holiday.

And so the seed was sown.

The soil for that seed was already fertile. Back in the heady days of studying Computer Science and Japanese Linguistics, before I discovered the joys of tax debt, company finances, insolvency and full time employment, I had a plan. I was going to get my degree in Japanese (didn’t happen), move to Japan and work as a programmer (didn’t happen), learn Chinese (didn’t happen), move to China after five years, learn Korean… etc. The plan was to learn five or six languages and work my way down Asia.

Returning to the narrative, having recently turned 30, it seemed that my life had finally settled down into a happy, comfortable place. So it was time for a change. And being filled with confidence brought on by now being old enough to be considered an adult without having to prove myself (which is also how I got my pen license…) I decided to make it a big one.

So my sojourn plan was resurrected, with some minor modifications.

Firstly, I’ve been a video games programmer for over four years. That’s pretty long: it indicates you were either at one of those rare studios which was around for four years and were never laid off, or you were hired as a video games programmer on multiple occasions. The latter’s quite hard. It’s hard to get hired the first time, but the industry’s small enough that anywhere you apply, someone knows someone who knows someone who’s worked with you. A written reference from Kevin Bacon and Paul Erdős lets you bypass this stage of the interview…

Anyway, I’m an experienced and hirable video games programmer, an industry which seems to be quite strong and growing throughout SE and E Asia.

The other difference is that I am now friends with one seventy-millionth of Vietnam, and thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I’m doing a lot better at staying in contact than I did with my Japanese friends… (Sorry guys!)

So, germination! I returned home, impressed with the kindness, generosity, and general positive attitudes of the Vietnamese we met, as well as having enjoyed thoroughly the chance to apply my linguistics studies.

I was on a complete Vietnam trip. I bought a Teach Yourself Vietnamese book and CD, started buying my takeaway from the Vietnamese place next to my former haunt (Dickson Asian Noodle House) and even managed to enroll in a Vietnamese evening class at the ANU.

I was advised that Oct/Nov is a good time of year to visit Vietnam, which co-incided with the scheduled end of a project stage at work, and everything started to come together. I booked my trip, got my immunisations, and bought new luggage.

The actual trip plan: A few days in Melbourne with friends, fly to Saigon via Kuala Lumpur, a day and a half there before the tour starts, then ten days on the Intrepid Spirit of Vietnam Northbound tour and a weekend in Hanoi with a friend.

Anyway, that’s the background. I think I’ll go find some lunch, and then write up the first actual live-fire trip report.

Where we're going, we don't need pants

The below was originally posted in my OKCupid Journal, as part of moving my “profile completion” bar from 85% to 90%. It’s an insidious system that successfully lured me into using online dating. And now I can’t seem to extricate myself. ^_^


OK, that profile-completion bar is going to lose. I’ve gotten this far, so I really have to see what happens when I fill it. I’m hoping for free chocolate from the sky, but it seems unlikely.

So while I’m dumping text on the Internet, I might as well complain about online dating sites. _Other_ online dating sites, mind you. (OKCupid will get a serve too, but a minor one. Spoiler, it wins in the end.)

If you are in a hurry and just want to see the ending, scroll down to the bolded summary header. You’ll avoid a really bad pun, and some analogies between video games and online dating websites.

I’ve avoided online dating sites for years, because I like to think the Internet hasn’t completely taken over my life (I’m holding on to that belief, BTW) but a friend of mine dragged me into OKCupid to take some test about the furry apocalypse. That’s where this whole profile-completion bar thing started.

Along the way I’ve had one (brief, I’m sorry to say) relationship from OkCupid but was staying away from any other sites because they were either costly (RSVP, eHarmony), ugly as all hell and unusable (PlentyOfFish) or just didn’t show up anything withing a few hundred kilometres of me (every “geek” dating site Google could find.)

This stance changed for no good reason I am aware of on New Year’s Eve.

Plenty Of Fish remains an ugly, unusable nightmare of a web site. It’s the spiritual successor to that old Flash website where you had to click the pulsating squid to go to pictures page, or the upside-down light bulb to turn the music on and off. I don’t remember if it was a satire about how Flash was destroying the Web, or a serious attempt by an artist or designer to try and move the Web away from all the boring text and pictures laid out in a way that’s meaningful and interrelated. I really hope it was the former…

Back on topic, my biggest problem with Plenty of Fish would have to be that it’s matching system is bizarrely unuseful, and most of the people there provide one-line profiles, and maybe a pair of interest keywords. That and you can’t combine their searches.

I like the idea of searching by personality. Numbers are fun. I like the idea of limiting my search to women of an appropriate age and relationship interest. I like the idea of of searching for people who live within 100km of me. So far, so good. But PoF and I disagree about the idea of using all these criteria at once. Heck, if I could have the personality search show me more than just bizarrely distended head-shots, it’d be a step up.

That’s also bizarre, BTW. Is ASP.NET so very bad at image manipulation that they can’t implement a system that can maintain the aspect ratio of a head-shot?

And the final straw in PoF’s haystack of pain? When it’s showing you photos-only, the ones without photos usefully tell you their age and what they’re looking for. So you can see either if someone’s attractive (in a Dali-ish way) _or_ if they’re an appropriate age and are actually looking for the sort of relationship you’re looking for. (BTW, what is “Other relationship” supposed to be. Some people won’t take messages from it, looking like it’s an synonym for fuck-buddy, and some people seem to use it as “friends now which might turn into a relationship if you turn out to match some arbitrary criteria I haven’t decided yet”. Maybe it’s in the PoF help, but frankly, they need all the help they can get with the site already, I don’t want to consume any of it with my inane queries.)

Sometimes it feels like PoF is actively trying to work against you. There’s plenty of video game analogies available here, but I’m going to compare it to some early Wii titles. The ones where motion control was so shiny, developers figured that anything that worked by waggling the Wiimote would sell like hotcakes, and failed to notice that Nintendo were launching with a title or two that showed how to do motion controls _right_, making everyone else who got it wrong (Samurai Warriors Katana, I’m looking at you), look like they’d been caught asleep at the switch. Red Steel actually has this reputation, but I think unfairly. Go back and try it now that we’ve had Wiimotes for three years, and they’re not new and bizarre addons. In fact, I might see if I can find the work copy of Red Steel, and actually finish the damn game. And in all fairness, Red Steel was a launch title, so the developers probably hadn’t tried Wii Sports or Warioware: Smooth Moves to know how it was supposed to feel.

Next up in my outpouring of… I dunno what this is. If it was hate, I wouldn’t keep going back…. The more it hurts, the more it shows I care, as the philosophers say.

Right? Yeah… Next, is RSVP.com.au

It’s an interesting system. Free to browse but costs money to open a communication channel. You pay per person per month. Once you’ve bought credit, you can send pre-canned little messages for free, so once you’ve decided to pay at all, you don’t have to spend the credit unless the person’s at least returned your “time of day”. Not that RSVP cares at that point, they have your money.

It’s a bit like a token-based video arcade. You go in, you can look for free. Once you want to play something, you buy a pile of tokens. Now they have your cash, and you suddenly become extra choosy about what you play, because you’re working from a limited pile of tokens.

They make no effort (that I can perceive) to find the _right_ people for you, and in fact the option to only show people whose “ideal partner” profile you fit isn’t always there. (Again, I think it’s not available when you also try to search for people who fit your “ideal partner” profile).

But once again, the real disappointment is the people. Not that it’s a huge disappointment, mind you, but most of the Canberra women on RSVP seem to hold as their primary interests sports, sports, V8 car racing and other sports. And unlike OkCupid and PoF, not posting a photo publicly appears to be the norm.

The plus side to RSVP is it’s popular. So once I’ve waded through the 143 women within distance, with appropriate relationship interest and age group, there’s a reasonable chance there’ll be three or four whose profiles both interest me and indicate I might interest them.

By-the-by, tall women are hot, but only seem to like taller guys, from what they tell me and post in their profiles. I think this is terrifically unfair. Short women are hot too. So’re women my height. I’m not being picky about height, to be clear.

So yeah, RSVP makes up for poor selection by playing the percentages. That’s actually why I went there, after a friend was stunned I was on a smaller site like OkCupid but hadn’t been to RSVP.

And further, there’s eHarmony. I actually like it, bizarrely. They have a personality matching system, which I’m fond of (that’s why I joined OkCupid in the first place, just to see how it worked. And then didn’t come back for two years) and works reasonably well. I took advantage of their “free communication” weekend, where you can send messages (which normally requires you to subscribe) but cannot see photos (which requires you to subscribe) and frankly, it was oddly liberating. They don’t even post body-shape information, so you aren’t tempted to reject someone because you don’t like the look of them straight off. (This is not a “ugly people need love too” thing. I didn’t say it’s better this way, just different).

As mentioned, eHarmony has a subscription model. You can’t search or browse for people, you have to wait for eHarmony’s magic psychologist computer to send you people who might match. So far it’s had better percentages than RSVP as far as sending me sports-fanatics who think Reading is in Berkshire. It has sent me a couple of Melbourneites, who’re apparently in one of the very northern outer suburbs, about a 600km round trip if they want to go into town, but less than 50km from Canberra…

I guess for what it is, eHarmony’s not doing too bad a job. Sure, for a subscription site, trickling people to you makes sense, rather than letting you find everyone one the site whom you might match in the first week, and then cancelling your subscription before it renews.

It’s kinda like World of Warcraft in that respect. You can’t do it all in a month, and every month after the first makes you less likely to quit as you’re that much more invested. (Trust me, I do this sort of stuff for a living. WoW is like a finely-tuned poker machine, except poker machines are required by law to have a certain payout level. WoW only rewards you until you reach critical mass of social investment, and then feeds off you like some kind of video game leech. Which is completely different from Earthworm Jim…)

However, unlike WoW, I think it’s way too expensive for what you get. I’ve paid ’em once, unsure if I’ll pay ’em again. I have the rest of the month to decide…

Anyway, I guess OkCupid’d better have a turn. I like the site. The matching system is actually really good (by and large), it lets you define “near” and sticks to it, except when it emails me matches, who’re all universally a few hundred kilometres away, and frequently not looking for a relationship anyway. I suspect the email matching thing is ignore criteria in order to find three new people to email me.

Which actually leads in to the problem. My match list here is something like 13 people. I think I’ve messaged all the ones with whom I might have something in common, and a few with whom I have almost nothing in common. I’ve messaged a few people who haven’t been on the site in months. I keep coming back here partly because I’m actually in the middle of one conversation (interrupted by Christmas) and because I had one success here, and am hoping lightning will strike me twice. (Except without the zappy, painful static bit).

So OkCupid gets to be analogised to ArmA 2. It’s a great game, wonderful community which lets me choose to associate and search for the sort of people I want to associate with, and little-to-few of the sports-obsessed, team-killing, V8-racing-watching and crashing-the-only-damned-wreck-helicopter-into-the-sea douchebags that populate such popular dating sites as OkCounterstrike. The downside is that there’s a hundred billion CounterStrike players (all of whom have used the word “fag” as a pejorative in the last 20 minutes) and only a dozen of us playing ArmA 2, on a 30-player map. (And I must confess, I haven’t played ArmA 2 in months, Aion‘s release was too close on its heels and I don’t have the hard disk space for both. Curse you Steam and your over 100gB of steamapps!)

I am starting to see why if I turn off the “visited in the last month” filter on OkCupid, the list goes up to 60-ish. (RSVP went up to something like 500 for comparison. So same level of increase). I guess many of us do it. We come to the site, look around, message everyone who catches our eye, either succeed or fail, and go back to bar-hoping. (It’s a pun, not a typo.)

And I suspect if I lived in a bigger city, I’d be doing better. When I turn off the distance filter, my match list goes through the roof. I sometimes am tempted to message out-of-towners in places that’d be fun to live, but I’m also sometimes tempted to eat nothing but chocolate for a day (three 100g blocks of dark chocolate is below my daily energy intake goal, so this isn’t as crazy as it sounds) but I don’t do that either.

Summary

So, anyway, I wish all the people using online dating sites would use OkCupid instead. It’s attractive, useful, provides actual matches with a number that seems to work, doesn’t make you pay and therefore doesn’t produce arbitrary obstacles to ensure you pay more.

Alternatively, I wish I lived in a bigger city, where OkCupid had more people, maybe?

I’m actually really happy with this post. I might go attach it to my real blog, once the web server’s fixed.

Actively pwning my Wii, old-school

Dear EA Sports active Team,

I have recently purchased your fine product, but have a few concerns I wish to raise with you.

Firstly, despite your strong insistence, and in fact obstinate refusal to proceed without it, a nunchuck accessory is not required to navigate your user interface menu.

Secondly, given the nature of your target audience, shipping a thigh-wrapping strap with a device for making it shorter, and nothing to make it longer, seems a surprising oversight. In case it is not clear, your target audience for a video games console-based exercise assistance program is people who both need exercise assistance, own a video games console, and feel that there is a sufficient level of overlap between these two ideas to spend money on such a program. Many such people will have thighs which exceed your apparent circumference estimations, particularly the upper thigh where you suggest this device is best placed.

Thirdly, it is a breach of Section 53 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 to indicate that your product is “Fitness made Fun and Easy” or to use the phrase “fun, easy-to-learn exercises” when your product holds these two ideas as antonyms. I realise I have not yet fully explored your product, and in fact there may be exercises in your product that match both terms, but surely it would be appropriate to use “and/or” in place of “and”, or possibly ensure that the exercises that are both fun and easy-to-learn are in the first day’s routine.

Fourthly, for a product that purports to encourage good health, it is a concern that your female trainer appear to smile somewhat more frequently and widely than is healthy. Whether this effect is caused by botox, abuse of medicinal substances or simply because she is attempting to reinforce the “fun” aspect of the program by appearing to enjoy herself, it is rather offputting.

Speaking of offputting, my fifth point relates to the representation of myself during many of the gym-style (as opposed to track or game style) activities. The trainer in the Picture-in-Picture window is facing me, as is correct. However, the representation of myself is also facing me, and then undertakes actions with the incorrect arm. If I am told to lift my right arm, and the image of me lifts my left arm, that is confusing. If there were some indication of a mirror being involved, that would alleviate the confusion somewhat, although that indication would probably be hampered by the appearance of a large, lightly wooded grassland behind me, making the existence of a mirror somewhat jarring.

Ante-penultimately, the suggestion in the front of the manual that the player register this game online in order to access cheat codes seems rather out of place in an exercise game, where cheating should probably be discouraged more than it already should be. This issue is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the manual does not appear to contain the required registration code, so access to these cheat codes appears to be impossible.

Penultimately, and this should probably be passed on to any of your VO-script-writing colleagues who may be tempted to similar behaviour, it is inappropriate to describe the player as “owning” anything that is not either chattel or property, unless the target audience exclusively consists of 12-year old male citizens of the United States of America or her conquered territories.

Despite the above comments, I am quite pleased with your product over all, and after a period of time sufficient to ensure that this pleasure is not simply the result of exercise-induced lightheadedness, I will not hesitate to recommend it to my friends who fall within the target market. Although my list of friends is rather limited, the broad appeal of the Wii gaming platform and the broadness of many of my friends means that I feel this recommendation will be of some benefit.

Yours sincerely,
Paul “TBBle” Hampson, Exhausted.

PS. If you were intending to pronounce “pwned”, that leading descender attached to the initial o similarly attaches a bilabial stop to the front of the initial rounded lower middle vowel, unless you are intending to sound like a 12-year old male citizen of the United States of America or her conquered territories.

So, yeah. I bought EA Sports active for the Wii, and foolishly decided, despite my raging cold, to start with the “high intensity” workout. About 10 minutes in I thought my head was going to explode, but it appears to have not done so, and I was able to finish the workout. Mind you, that’s largely because they don’t actually tell you about the “skip current exercise” button during the workout, but rely on you to wander into the help menu on the front screen.

Despite my above comments, I think it’s actually a good thing, assuming I can keep it up. The resistance band however, I’m not hugely fond of. I’d rather have free weights, if they’d tell me the amount of weight I should be carrying for the relevant exercise.

Apart from that, I spent the day downloading Old Time Radio shows: Abbott and Costello [another set], Sherlock Holmes [another set, part 1] [another set, part 2] [another site], Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209, You Bet Your Life and Mindwebs. I’ve downloaded or queued all the above, so if you want to avoid a several-gigabyte download, feel free to poke me into putting them onto a USB stick for you if you’re ’round my place.

This should ensure I have sufficient mp3s to not get bored when I start taking long walks for exercise reasons. Of course, it’d prolly be healthier to walk with someone who can both ignore my whinging of physical discomfort in good humour and whom on with I can carry a conversation for a half hour to an hour, but I don’t have anyone who intersects those two groups, who I feel up to tapping for such a plan.

Oh, and my friends aren’t actually broad. Many of them are broads, but that’s a much harder pun to work into a sentence, without offending them. Not that many of the broads I know are easily offended. ^_^