My Debut on the Vital Football Network

Oh joy! I’ve finally made my debut on the Vital Chelsea site, a part of the Vital Football Network. πŸ™‚

For the uninitiated, the Vital Football Network is one of the most respected football fan-sites on the Internet, which is managed by the fans themselves. It provides a platform for football fans all over the world to share their thoughts, discuss ideas and make their voices heard. I’ve been a member of this site for a long time and there were occasions when I had the urge to contribute something, but nothing materialized. In the wake of the painful defeat on Sunday, I finally made up my mind, wrote a piece and promptly dispatched it to the site editor. Over there, my moniker is ‘blueklaw’ and you can read the article here.

I must admit, the feeling of seeing my work published was amazing!

Yay!! πŸ˜€

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Spam Magnets

The amount of spam being generated all over the world shows no sign of going down. If I had access to the stats, I’d be able to tell you that [a very large number under 100] % of all mail is spam. Okay, so I do have access to the bloody stats but I’m too lazy. Now moving on, in times like these you’d think that one must follow some basic rules of the Internet. No, I’m not talking about clearing your browsing history after each session. The rule I’m talking about is – ‘You should not give out your e-mail address on public bulletin-boards, forums etc’. But do people listen? NO.

These days I’ve been wasting entirely too much time on Orkut and I must admit, if I were a spammer I’d be laughing all the way to the bank right now. On Orkut, there are babe-magnets (everyone likes to think he is one) and there are spam-magnets. Specimens of the latter can be found hiding in all sorts of places here. All you need is bait to make them come out and walk right into your trap.

The people on this particular social-networking site are not exactly the brightest bulbs on a Christmas tree. But how stupid can you get? I came across a thread in a community, saying –

‘Hey guys instead of wasting time using net why not we start earning for free using iinternet, if u are interested then scrap ur email ids i will send u the info which is needed’.

That’s the exact unedited text. And you think people will fall for that? Of course they will, silly. At the time of writing, this thread has already received 85+ replies. I’m no one to question the integrity of a person, and maybe there really is some money to be earned through this. But posting e-mail addresses in public is surely one of the dumbest things you can do on the Internet. And this is not an isolated case. There have been more. Another one was something like this –

I have yahoo password crack software. Reply your email here, i will send you’

This was also a booming success. What’s even funnier is, when someone with a sane mind tries to warn people not to reply with their e-mails, no one actually listens. After a couple of warnings, the wannabe saviour mutters a few choice expletives at the imbeciles and disappears.

So, if you’re a spammer and looking for an easy and no-risks-involved method for harvesting e-mail addresses, look no further than Orkut. Get an account, lure people with honey-coated promises of jobs, free stuff and what-not, then coax them into parting with their mail-IDs.

Easy as pie. πŸ˜‰

If Only It Were True… :P

Spam

If I were to believe this e-mail, I’ve just won a million US Dollars in cash and a Toyota Highlander. Now I’ve seen a lot of spam in my short life on the Internet, but his one made me wish it really was true πŸ˜€

“TOYOTA INTERNATIONAL LOTTO (HEADQUARTERS)
Customer Service Department Affiliate of Toyota Japan.
#28 Kanashiwa road Tokyo JP

We are pleased to inform you of the announcement made today, You are among the winners of the TOYOTA CAR INTERNATIONAL PROMOTION PROGRAM Participants were selected through a computer ballot system drawn from 2,500,000 email addresses of individuals and companies from all part of the world as part of our electronic business Promotions Program.

As a result of your visiting various websites we are running the e-business promotions for. You/Your Company email address, attached to ticket number 719-266-1319, with serial number 902-66 drew the lucky numbers 5,12, 30, 11, 17, 43 and Bonus number 12 , Your INSURANCE Number: FLS433/ 453L /G MSA and consequently you won in the Second Category of the TOYOTA FORTUNE LOTTO DRAW.

You have therefore been approved for the payment of the sum of $1,000,000.00USD (One Million United States Dollars) in cash, including a Toyota highlander which is the winning present /amount for the Second category winners. This is from the total prize money of US$2,650,000.00 shared among the international winners in the Second category.

CONGRATULATIONS!

Please be informed that your won fund of the sum of $1,000,000.00USD is now with the payee center. Contact our agent and give them your full names so that they will re-insure your winning fund under your full names. Together with the port where your winning car should be shiped to.

To begin your claim, please call our claim agent or send email immediately to:-.
Certificate Agent, Toyota Email Lotto

Mr. Steven Wu
Email: XXXXXXXXX@live.cn
XXXXXXXXX@gmail.com
Tel: XXXX-XXXXXXXXXXX

NOTE: In order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications, Please quote your

1. Full name:
2. Address/contact number:
3. Country of origin:
4. Sex/marital status:
5. Age:
6. Occupation:
7. Tel/fax:

Sincerely,
Mrs Ing Chuny Liu
Hon Cordinator
www.XXXXXXXXX.cn

[c4y6ri0epqd]”

In case you’re curious, here’s what a Toyota Highlander looks like:

2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Maybe someday… πŸ™‚

Roma vs Chelsea – A Few Rants And The View From The Couch

UEFA Champions League

Anger is not an emotion I normally associate with a Chelsea defeat. Usually it’s bitter disappointment coupled with an unwavering optimism that we’ll bounce back stronger. However, the events that occured on matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League left me fuming. And it was not just because of the defeat or even the match entirely. Allow me to explain.

In India, the rights for Champions League matches are allotted to Ten Sports and Zee Sports. Now these two channels are like the poor cousins of ESPN-Star Sports, and have to survive on whatever little coverage of European football they are allowed to broadcast in the Indian subcontinent. And how grateful I am, that it’s only a ‘little’. The reasons for this are plenty – poor presentation, lousy commentators (barring a few times when Andy Gray & Martin Tyler commentate), ignorant TV pundits. The list goes on. But the biggest gripe is their shameful bias towards Liverpool and Manchester United. On matchdays, 90% of the time they’ll be showing live mgames of these two teams, while other matches are either delayed or shown Live on Zee Sports. Zee Sports being the poorer of the poor cousins, is not available on my Tata Sky DTH service and hardly any cable operator carries this channel.

So here I was, my DTH box connected to the PC, tuned in to Ten Sports, watching the pre-match scenes at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. They had earlier told us that Liverpool vs Atletico is on Zee Sports, so it was only logical to conclude that Ten Sports will be showing Roma vs Chelsea. You can imagine my surprise when the host informed the viewers, with a sheepish grin I may add, that there’s been a mistake and Roma vs Chelsea is on Zee Sports.

That wasn’t in the script!

Thankfully, I’d noticed a few days ago while channel-surfing, that my cable operator was carrying Zee Sports. I swiftly unplugged the DTH box from my PC and attached the cable wire in its place. A few minutes and adjustments later, I was all set for the match.

However, it just wasn’t going to be my day. At half-time, I left my chair to get myself some refreshments, hoping we’d be able to overturn the 1-0 deficit in the second half. When I returned, i was greeted by a black screen.

What the hell happened?? Arrrghhh!!!

As I switched to another channel, I feared the worst and thought that there must have been a power failure at the operator’s premises. That wasn’t the case. Other channels were there, only Zee Sports had gone missing!! Another channel scan yielded the same result. I’d been left stranded with a stupid cable connection that was of no use to me now.

As a last resort, I fired up my browser and went straight to Justin.tv, hoping they’d have a decent stream for the game. Guess what? They did. And what a stream it was. On my 256kbps connection, it was butter-smooth and re-buffered only 7-8 times during 45 minutes. If only the match had ended in our favour as well.

Dejection

So what are my views about the match?

  • First, we need a proper striker who won’t go missing in crucial matches. Anelka was nothing if not anonymous during the game.
  • A genuine pacy winger is a must-buy in January. Letting Robinho slip from under our noses feels worse with each bad result.
  • Mikel, who has been a revelation this season, had a poor game. First he sold Deco short with a pass, causing the Portuguese to foul Totti. The freekick led to the opening goal for Roma. Then, he lost the ball which led to another goal.

deco

  • Carvalho’s absence in the defence is telling. Alex does not offer the same pace and mobility as Carvalho does.
  • We lack a Plan-B. Sometimes we are too predictable – full-backs will go forward, swing in crosses into the box. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • The referee had a bad game. Deco’s second yellow was pretty harsh. The ref also missed a couple of dives from the Italian team.

This 3-1 loss is the worst defeat Chelsea have suffered under Scolari so far. That said, I still think we’ll top the group and make it comfortably into the last-16 of the Champions League. I just hope the next time it’s a European night, I don’t have to go through this kind of ordeal again. πŸ˜›

FIFA 09 – Quick & Dirty Review

FIFA 09 for the PC

FIFA 09 for the PC

The next instalment of EA’s football game is here. Where you ask? Apparently the game has released in Europe and has rapidly spread all over the bit-torrent network. Some may have pre-ordered their copies while some might be waiting for it to hit the store shelves in their town. However, the ones who couldn’t wait for the game to release and were not afraid to get their hands dirty, got their hands on it through the generous torrent community. So what we have here is a scenario where people were playing the game one day before its scheduled release. Nice.

Anyways, let’s get down to the interesting part, the things most of you would like answers to. Is FIFA 09 really next-gen, as promised? Does it deliver oh-so-realistic visuals? Have the quirks and bugs in previous versions been ironed out? How does it compare to its arch nemesis – Pro Evolution Soccer? All these and more will be answered!

First Impressions

Okay, I’ll skip the installation part as most of you are aware of it. Started the game, and the first screen asks me to select a language. Did that, and the mandatory declarations about the leagues and the copyrights came up.

I waited with bated breath as the opening cinematic began. Looks like EA have stopped making interesting opening videos since FIFA 2004. Even the video quality was not all that impressive. Not at all enticing. Selected my beloved Chelsea as the favourite team and I was all set.

The Interface

The interface is carried over from FIFA 08, with Adidas Live Season being a new addition. It basically allows you to select a league, for which you’ll get periodic updates from EA. For example, if a certain player is performing well in real life, his stats will be affected in the game as well. And if a player has a dip in form, his game stats will be reduced. Cool, innit?

The much-acclaimed Be-A-Pro mode is also there, with a new camera angle that looks better than the one in FIFA 08. This time around, you can opt to play a single Be-A-Pro game rather than a whole season. The other game modes are the same as in previous releases. Enough small-talk, now let’s get down to business.

Gameplay & Visuals

Sadly despite all the hype surrounding the so-called next-gen features incorporated in FIFA 09, the game did not live up to my expectations. What I expected was pretty clear – smooth, stunning visual quality, fluid player movement, ‘intelligent’ AI, engrossing gameplay. In short, I was looking for something which would make me go “Wow!” and make me want to play the game again and again.


But this was not to be. Now please note, I’m expressing my own opinions here, which may or may not correspond to your views. The first time I fired up the game, I set all details to high including 3-D Grass, Depth of Field and Shader Quality. Then I proceeded to set up my cheap PS-2 controller lookalike. But what’s this? Some buttons just would not get mapped and remained ‘EMPTY’! After a little searching on the Internet, I was able to find a solution for this.

Strike One.

Then I started a quick match and waited in anticipation at the loading screen. Ahh!! Looking good! The match began and being the seasoned footballer that I am, I could’t wait to… what the hell??

Why is the game stuttering??? Is something wrong with my setup? Is my 8600GT graphics card unable to handle the next-gen visuals?

Quit the game, reduced the detail level to minimum and started a new match, hoping for better results. Damn. Not again.

After much research on the Internet, I found many unfortunate souls plagued with the same problem. A solution was found, but the game was still not smooth enough, though playable.

Strike Two.

Okay, so I can manage with a handicapped controller and laggy visuals, but glitches in gameplay? Not at all tolerable. The first glitch is, that after managing to get my controller working, whenever I pass the ball to a teammate, the ball bounces off him, as if the right-analog stick is pressed in some direction. Secondly, goalscoring is insanely easy! It’s as if the keepers have been picked up from a pub team!! Then, in a bid to improve the player physics, they’ve made it such that in a crowd of players, the ball just keeps bouncing off players until someone manages to get control of it. Imagine that while trying to clear the ball in front of your own box surrounded by opposition attackers.

Strike Three. You’re OUT.

My Verdict

Let’s start with the good. The players look absolutely breathtaking, much more realistic than ever. The crowds have been considerably improved. Overall visual quality is pretty nice, with some subtle touches such as sweat on the foreheads of players. The ambiance is well-maintained by the chanting of fans and the crowd noises. There are loads of licensed leagues, teams and players to chose from. The Adidas Live Season is a good concept. The ability to use the mouse to play the game is quite innovative.

Now for the not-so-good. The gameplay is definitely not next-gen. Players can still move only in 8 directions and the fluidity in movement is almost absent. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not so intelligent. Apart from the visual elements, the game is not a big leap from its predecessor. Rather, it seems like 1 step forward, 2 steps backward. After all, it’s not just tricks & flicks that make up a football game. The core element, that is the gameplay, the feeling of actually being in the game, is lacking.

FIFA 09 is a good game, but after so much hype, I was expecting more than just a visual upgrade. There are several bugs that need to be ironed out and more than once, you’ll get the feeling that EA has short-changed PC gamers.

If I had to rate it, I’d give it 7 out of 10.

Issues, Issues!

  1. Where is Andrei Arshavin? One of the best performers of Euro 2008 can’t make it into this game.
  2. Where are the UEFA Cup holders Zenit St. Petersburg? Actually, where is the Russian League?
  3. Klaas Jan Huntelaar, one of the best strikers in Europe, coveted by some of the biggest clubs, does not have a face in this game. But he’s not alone, there are many more like him.
  4. Many gamepads don’t work out-of-the-box with this game.
  5. Graphics on high-end systems are poor, but surprisingly good on mid to low range machines.
  6. Why can’t we assign custom offensive and defensive runs to players?
  7. Where is Mineiro, who has now signed for Chelsea?
  8. When a player is substituted, I couldn’t find out the substitution if no cinematic was played. There could have been at least a simple popup.
  9. The cinematics are all from previous editions of the game.

Okay, so that’s enough FIFA-bashing for now. In short, it’s not a bad game at all, but it’s not great either. So if you love the FIFA series and don’t care too much about gameplay or simply want to soak in all the visual goodness, you can very well go and get this game. Otherwise, in my opinion it would be wise to wait until Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 releases, and compare both games to pick out the one that suits your taste.

More Screenshots!

LIVE Internet TV: Is it any good?

It’s been close to 18 hours since that wretched penalty shootout. If you’d been paying attention like you should have been, then you’ll recall the bit about the streaming TV link I was talking about. So for all those who do remember, here’s my first-hand experience of the whole Internet TV situation.

It’s been around long enough, but I got a taste of it only a couple of days ago. Internet TV actually lets you watch television on your computer using the Internet, for free or for a small fee. In my case it was free, as in free beer. Now you’d think why would someone want to watch TV through the Internet when you can just watch it on the… err.. TV!

According to me, this kind of service is pretty nifty if you don’t get a particular channel in your country, such as in India we don’t receive Sky, Fox etc. Being a football lover, the off-season brings a lot of boredom with it. The only notable sports channels that broadcast the beautiful game in these parts are ESPN & Star Sports but even they don’t show any pre-season friendly matches. As things stood, I was getting bored to death waiting for the new season to start, until I stumbled uponΒ  my saviour – www.justin.tv. The site is one of several Internet TV sites on the web, offering a collection of channels catering to different tastes like sports, news, technology and a lot more. Eureka!!!

It took me just a couple of minutes to find a channel that was broadcasting the match I was looking for, so that was pretty easy. But alas, in my excitement I’d all but forgotten about my pathetic excuse of a broadband connection. It offers me a blazing speed of 256 Kbps which, sadly, didn’t seem enough to sustain a constant video stream. The streaming would be interrupted after every few minutes while the data was being buffered, with a message ‘Not Broadcasting’ written across the top of the screen. Beggars can’t be choosers though, and I had to settle with whatever was on offer.

Twiddling my thumbs while the buffer refills...

But then again, in this age of HD video output, the quality of this broadcast was downright pathetic. I tried other channels to check if it was a problem with this particular channel, but there wasn’t too much of a difference. Instead, I started getting more slowdowns due to the better quality. Switched back to the old channel. To give you an example of what it was like, at times I couldn’t make out where the ball was. The players looked like sprites made up using an 8-bit palette, in full-screen mode.

Remidns me of my 8-bit gaming console of yesteryears...

Reminds me of my 8-bit gaming console of yesteryears...

Inspite of all this, it was quite fun actually. Sometimes it’s refreshing to rewind back to the days before HD, 1080p and what-not. Getting to see a channel that will probably never get aired in India, and that too for free, is quite fulfilling in itself. Overall, I got what I wanted and I was more than satisfied.

Maybe someday I’ll be streaming a live broadcast in full HD on my 100 Mbps Internet connection… I can dream, can’t I?