More Old News Monday, Feb 21 2011 

Gulfstream G550

Image via Wikipedia

Further to yesterday’s collection of links:

The Real World:

  • Are cities governed by predictable mathematical relationships? Physicist Geoffrey West thinks so.
  • The New York Times compares IMF indicators of advanced economies.
  • The Australian government has spent more than $5.5 billion over the past decade to reduce carbon emissions. They aren’t getting very good value for money.
  • A billion dollars will buy you a Maybach 62 Landaulet luxury car, a Gulfstream G550 personal jet, a 104m yacht, a 7-bedroom mansion near Silicon Valley, an island in the St Lawrence Seaway (complete with a castle to use as a summer home), and a Patek Caliber 89 watch to time how long it takes to travel between them all—with enough change to stay in the Imperial Suite of Paris’ Park Hyatt Vendôme for 112 years, should you get bored with your surroundings. And then things get really obscene
  • Even if you don’t own a Maybach, you can use SQL injection to avoid speeding fines. (For the less technically minded, the camera reads and executes the text across the car’s front bumper; it’s a command to erase the camera’s entire database of stored number plates!)
  • Michael Lewis provides the inside dirt on the Irish economic collapse, over at Vanity Fair.
  • Movies get a lot of things wrong about serving in the military. Cracked.com examines just five of them.
  • National Geographic explores the catacombs of Paris; meanwhile, the Japanese government plans to excavate the research headquarters of Unit 731, the secret biowarfare R&D group infamous for live testing on prisoners in WWII.
  • The public, third-party release of 3D printing designs for Settlers of Catan pieces has raised new questions about intellectual property and games.
  • A British immigration officer tried to rid himself of his wife by putting her on a terrorist watchlist whilst she was visiting relatives in Pakistan. His actions were only discovered three years later, when he went for a promotion—when the routine security check revealed that he was married to a terror suspect.
  • Are you geeky? Are you hungry? Then head over to The Necronomnomnom and get cooking! (Just save me some, okay?)

Roleplaying:

Bonus Link: Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. And, yes, there’s plenty more where these came from…

The Death of GenCon Oz Monday, Feb 21 2011 

Entrance to Brisbane Exhibition and Convention...

Image via Wikipedia

Well, it happened again. GenCon Oz was cancelled for another year.

Since the convention’s failure to appear in 2010, organiser Ian Houlihan had been building hype for its return. For three weeks, the management had promised a Special Announcement to its thousands of Facebook fans, and at 12:36am on Friday, they finally dropped the bombshell:

One of Brisbane’s largest games and entertainment Expos “Gen Con Australia” regrets to announce that the annual show will not return in 2011. Show licensees, Eventions Creative Event Management Pty Ltd have concluded that the show cannot proceed in its current format, in today’s economic climate and will also forgo the renewal of their license from Gen Con LLC for future years.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people are outraged. The first comment, delivered a minute later, was simply: “fuckkkkkk you”. And then better-articulated outrage, followed by commiseration, before finally degenerating into a series of ad hominem attacks at those who dared to express their dismay in the first place.

Several convention organisers and professional event managers have told me that GenCon LLC’s licencing requirements forced Eventions into a financially untenable position. Others have hinted the lengths to which Houlihan had to go to secure finance, and the impact on his and his family’s physical wellbeing.

By all accounts, Houlihan’s enthusiasm and commitment to bringing GenCon to Australian shores were exemplary. But the decisions he made, the risks he took and his delays in informing the public all took place in a business context and not in some abstract fandom utopia: they had real consequences not just to Houlihan and Eventions, but to the wider tabletop, electronic and cosplay communities.

So, too, has the domestic gaming industry suffered, from established operators seeking to expand their custom, to new enterprises who rely on the existence of a national flagship event like GenCon Oz in order to enter the market. And at a time when Brisbane hospitality and retail sectors need every last dollar in order to recover from nature’s cruel caprice…

Given recent flood damage to Brisbane, it’s not so surprising that GenCon Oz should be cancelled; Brisbane Convention Centre is, after all, only a block from the river. However, there was no mention of the series of natural disasters which have plagued Queensland this year—once again, as in 2010, Eventions blamed the state of the global economy.

But Australia was barely touched by the financial crisis, and now that the Australian Dollar has achieved better-than-parity with the Greenback, Australians are flocking to purchase imports. Whilst shipping personnel to our shores might be a more expensive proposition for overseas companies, they can capitalise on the exchange rate to increase their profits on merchandise, as can local distributors. The impact of the global economy is marginal at worst.

What GenCon Oz lacked—its Facebook page said as much last year—was capital. Although its attendance reportedly made it the second- or third-largest such convention in the world, stallholders complained that these figures didn’t translate into sales, or at least not enough to justify the exhibitors’ fees and the cost of travel to Brisbane. GenCon Oz’ failure to deliver in 2010 had also shaken retailers’ confidence, and by December, the convention was reduced to holding a fire sale on merchandise to raise funds. All the while, its fans were promised a triumphant return in 2011.

Despite its failures, GenCon Oz still had fan goodwill in spades. Given the country’s first taste of large, US-style conventions, Australian fans looked forward to a repeat of 2008, even given 2009’s poor organisation and aggressive security presence, and the collapse of 2010’s show two months out from the event. But with this latest news, delivered after 18 months of empty promises, that goodwill seems to have soured.

In short, the GenCon Oz brand has become tainted and any subsequent licencee will need to spend several years rebuilding trust before an event of similar magnitude can even be attempted. Celebrity guests, all too often the drawcard for non-gaming attendees, will be less willing to lend their names—or allocate their time months or years in advance—to an event whose reputation and continued existence are in doubt.

For all intents and purposes, GenCon Oz is dead.

All the News You’ve Already Read Sunday, Feb 20 2011 

From left: Damian Lewis as Major Richard Winte...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been nearly six months since I’ve had a reliable Internet connection. However, there was one spot in the house at Young where I could get sufficient coverage to browse Twitter on my mobile, and I got into the (bad) habit of emailing interesting links to myself to view later.

That was some 2200 links ago. I can’t find anything in my inbox now. So, I’ve finally decided to go through them and share the best of them here. Most of them were of only passing interest, but a few were worth passing on:

The Real World:

Roleplaying:

More links as I get to them.

God Wills It Thus Thursday, Feb 10 2011 

On the subject of creative endeavours, I recently entered a Call of Cthulhu adventure into the 2010 Delta Green Mailing List Shotgun Scenario Competition. It’s called God Wills It Thus, and deals with the disappearance of a defence contractor in post-Troubles Belfast, with a special head-nod towards Evelyn Waugh, best known as the author of Brideshead Revisited.

Granted, it’s probably not my best work. I had to shave its 2100-word outline down to the competition’s strict entry limit of 1500 words, and was stranded four hours away from my research materials as I wrote most of it. Nonetheless, I hope it’s at least entertaining. Or that it makes sense.

You can find it, and its worthy adversaries, at The Fairfield Project. Go have a read.

DGML members can vote on their favourites until Sunday, 20 February, at the DGML’s Yahoo Groups page, and the winner’s entry will be published in the June edition of The Unspeakable Oath. I’m not saying to vote for mine, but if you’re a member, give one of them a go—you’ll help out a budding author in what’s all too often a thankless avocation.

A Message of Peace Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

Well, it’s taken me a few months to blog about it, but back in September, I wrote a poem. And it won a prize.

Every year, the Australian Chapter of the World Peace Bell Association, headquartered in Cowra (where Australia’s Peace Bell stands), holds a poetry competition. This year’s theme was “A Message of Peace.” This was my entry:

Silence reigns, our arms laid down, and flames now cooled to ashes,
No frenzied screams, nor violent words, nor blood to vex the senses.

Borne through desperation to tarry, eye-to-eye,
To plot conciliation and bury wounded pride,
Two men sit and weigh their words,
And watch and wait and ponder—
For neither wish to give their ground,
Nor relinquish any plunder—
Their tongues, concealed, like blunted swords,
Their brows are knots of anger,
But their armies are exhausted,
And their terms now put to paper.

With a flourish, sowed the seeds of battles yet to come,
Divided lands and chattels by means which flattered none,
For though rhetoric named them enemies, they wilfully conspire
To enact a foul betrayal, to kindle smothered fires—
As we watch and wait and wonder at the aftermath of war,
Rebuild our lives and learn to live, bereft of cannon’s roar.

Perhaps, then, comes a time for a betrayal of our own:
To smash the fears of hollow men; to tear their ruses down;
To wound their wiles with whispers; to shamelessly unite
To thwart their plans for bloodshed; to quench their flames of hate;
To raise no hand in anger, nor with heedless words condemn
The innocents of other lands to sate our violent whims;
To stand with pride and honour, and pardon past abuse;
To boldly cleave together to advance the cause of peace.

Hindsight may acquit the men—their aims may turn out faithful,
Their virtue unimpeachable, their tongues be naught but truthful—
But how great the cost, should we be wrong, our hope and trust misplaced,
Our soldiers marching back to war, our lofty ends disgraced?

No! We are better than the hollow men! The burden falls to us
To bear upon our shoulders our just and solemn trust,
For in our darkest hour, our deeds alone affirm
That amity shall rise once more, and peace, undaunted, reign.

For some arcane reason the Australian chapter of the World Peace Bell Association chooses to separate entries from its local area into a separate category (possibly *ahem* due to its close affiliation with the local Council…), which meant I couldn’t qualify for the big, Fairfax-sponsored prize in the Open category. Nonetheless the Poets Union (who judged the competition) had this to say:

Commencing with a well-constructed image of the peace-makers at the negotiating table, the poet lets us know in no uncertain term that, though enemies, these leaders ‘willfully conspire/ to enact a foul betrayal to kindle smothered fires’ of war. He emphasises the possibility of betrayal of the people by the leadership and calls on us all not to blindly hope and trust, because the result will be ‘our soldiers marching back to war’. His final triumphant stanza uses all the power and muscle of rhyme and rhythm for its persuasive strength to bring the poem to its superb conclusion.

And I won first prize in the local category. Better yet, though, were the expressions of the local National Party dignitaries as they squirmed through the obligatory reading…

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