Wednesday, March 29, 2006

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Amiga game remakes revisited

To search for information relating to the original games cited in this article why not use my meta Amiga game database search engine?

Just before Christmas I decided I'd have a dabble at dredging the net for Amiga game flash remakes (now incorporated into the database below) and blog my haul for your delight and delectation. In the process I came across a swampload (not to be derogatory you understand; I've chosen my metaphor and I'm going to stick with it) of more traditional, standalone clones for various platforms and felt it would be a shame to toss them back overboard (I wasn't kidding) on the grounds that they weren't Flash movies.

My latest compilation is a medley of pixel for pixel revivals/ports, Amiga-game-inspired homages and official revamps. Many are 100% complete projects, others are designated 'work in progress', while several sadly seem to have been abandoned. I haven't discriminated against commercial games so amongst the freeware you will find links to shareware and retail software. Any games falling into the latter categories have been identified as such so they're easier to avoid if you're skint (or against developers profiting from derivative works).

Your feedback on this one would be greatly appreciated so I can add to the list and correct any goofs I might have made.

This blog entry featured in the May 2006 edition of Retro Gaming Radio (1 hour 26 minutes into the show). Thanks for the plug Shane. :)

Friday, March 24, 2006


Poisoned by aspartame

Approximately four years ago I developed a bizarre condition whereby, out of the blue, my left hand would start tingling. The sensation would rapidly ascend up my arm to my shoulder and then my face. 'Pins and needles' turned to numbness and because the movement of my limbs no longer bore any relation to my intentions, felt somehow alien. I may as well have been swimming through treacle with arms the length of Freddy Kruger's in the first Nightmare on Elm Street; the 20 foot long ones animated with strings as you would a marionette.

This was in fact the least distressing symptom. Visual disturbance in the form of a double or triple kaleidoscope effect followed leaving me unable to focus or discern one object from another. To me people were shadowy, featureless ghosts, and traffic a streaming jumble of over-exposed light. I became totally disoriented, couldn't think clearly, comprehend speech or the written word or draw more than a handful of words from my vocabulary when I attempted to speak. Relief came only from lying down in a darkened room for an hour until the condition abated.

When asked for her advice, my GP gawped at me as though I'd just beamed down from a flying saucer, shrugged her shoulders and hustled me off to the hospital to have an MRI, and later, a CAT scan. The results were handed to a neurologist to examine and he informed me that I didn't have a brain tumour, epilepsy or any other severe neurological disorders which would elucidate my symptoms. Reassuringly good news, you'd think.

Each specialist I saw was more perplexed than the last and could only refer me to someone else. Eventually one of them fleetingly, and with little conviction, suggested that what I was experiencing could be migraine. This surprised me because I'd never suffered from serious headaches so dismissed the idea initially. Migraine, to most of us, involves the sensation of having the skull trephined without anaesthetic. No cranial burrowing equals no migraine, right?
As the 'experts' were on the case, until then I'd resisted the temptation of tapping my symptoms into Google to see if I could diagnose myself - that and the fact that reading about being ill is the surefire route to making you feel ten times worse!

The results startled me; the mystery, inexplicable condition that had stumped so many medical practitioners turned out to be a textbook case of 'migraine with aura', the aura being the visual disturbance that can present itself with or without the incidence of any temporal stabbing pains.
I'd hit the jackpot and yet was seething at the same time given the incompetence of all but one of my doctors. As I delved further into the issue I came across a list of the most common migraine trigger foods/additives. Some of them I could discount immediately because they have never been a component of my diet, while others had to be eliminated one by one through a process of trial and error.

On examining the nutritional information tables of the food and drink I consumed, one substance I found cropped up more than most was aspartame; an artificial sweetener more commonly known as Nutrasweet, Equal or Canderel. It's used in practically everything designated as 'low calorie' or 'no added sugar' as it tastes similar to sugar yet doesn't have the same high energy value.
The most notable offenders in my case were Diet Coke, Cadbury's Options hot chocolate and Robinson's fruit cordials, so I relinquished them all cold turkey. Within a week I was feeling far less foggy-headed and my, daily by this stage, dizzy spells gradually tapered off. Two months into my aspartame fast I've managed to shake off my perma-drunk state and feel I'm finally on the road to recovery.

Looking back with 20-20 hindsight I can see that my dizzy spells escalated around the time I began cutting down my coffee consumption in favour of 'healthier' alternatives (Coke excluded of course as it also contains high doses of caffeine, oh and tooth-rotting acids too, let's not forget about those). I simply didn't make the connection between consuming produce that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other regulatory bodies around the world, and feeling like a paralytic zombie. Was that naive? Maybe I was so fixated on more dramatic explanations I had become blind to the mundane ones.

Sure, I'd read in the newspapers that aspartame had been linked with cancer, but what hasn't been these days? Today e-numbers are the bogeymen, tomorrow it could be oxygen. Before the dust has settled, scientists spin 360 degrees on their heels; everything bad for you is good for you.
I'm not qualified to judge the veracity of the evidence linking the use of aspartame to 92 independent health problems ranging in severity from mild itching to brain cancer, yet I know how it affected me personally and won't touch this toxic filth ever again.

Despite the fact that nut allergies only affect approximately 0.4% of the population, manufacturers are now legally bound to issue their produce with a health warning whenever there is the slimmest chance that it may contain a trace of nut. What will it take to make the same true for produce containing aspartame? Something along the lines of, "if it doesn't kill you, it'll make you wish it would!" should suffice.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Instant screen brightness control for your Mac

The trouble with using your computer for a variety of different functions is that it becomes impossible to designate a single array of settings which allows you to experience them all comfortably. When I'm browsing the web, I like to subdue the brightness and contrast of my monitor to stave off retinal meltdown. Conversely, when I watch a movie or recorded TV show I have to ramp up both parametres to be able to discern the colours and shapes - I gather TV/movie media is produced in this way by design as a show of solidarity for the tireless miners of the world who toil day and night to bring us fresh coal for the stove.

I flit back and forth between these two activities quite regularly and so have to re-adjust my settings regularly too. For the purposes of scientific enquiry I fathomed that making the switch from "who turned out the lights?" to Gizmo-esque shrieks of "Bright light! Bright light!" (or vice versa) requires no less than 30 monitor button pushes!

This button-bashing became such a chore I often found myself skimping on it and subsequently reading painfully bright web sites, or squinting to make out the tenebrous figures when watching movies. My eyes were soon filing divorce papers against the rest of my body. That was until I introduced them to Brightness Control from Splasm Software, a freeware tool which does exactly what it alludes to in its no-nonsense epithet.

The interface consists of a slider and a restore button. You nudge a marker to the left to tone down the brightness, and to the right to enhance it. Pushing the restore button is the equivalent of sliding the marker all the way to the right. So if you adjust your monitor for optimum movie viewing conditions, you can suppress the brightness for reading with a single click of the mouse, and hit the restore button when you want to watch a movie. Now that's the embodiment of efficiency!

According to the web site blurb, the control panel is aimed at those of you with partners who don't appreciate being kept awake at night by the intense radiance of your display in an otherwise snooze-friendly dark room. Given the context this strikes me as a solution desperately scrabbling for a problem. Put a potato sack over his or her head, tie it nice and securely around the neck with some sturdy rope and you won't hear another peep of complaint from your loved one. You'll get used to the rotting smell over time.

Another bothersome dilemma resolved.