Quest 4.1.2 is now available

17 January 2010

Quest 4.1.2 is now available.

This release improves the performance of large games.

It also fixes the following bugs:

  • A run-time error could occur when typing "put on" if that command did not exist.
  • Locked exits weren't working in packaged games.
  • Some container-related messages were not present in the LDF file.

If the JAWS screen-reader is running, QDK now shows the old-style menus and toolbars as these are easier for the screen-reader to work with. In addition there is a new “Go To” menu for JAWS users which makes it easier to select items from the Treeview.

Quest Pro users can download the update from http://www.axeuk.com/mydownloads

Non-Pro users can download the update from http://www.axeuk.com/quest/quest412.exe


Alex's Guide to a New You in 2010

4 January 2010

It’s the beginning of a new decade, so it’s time to sort yourself out. Do you want to be the same old grumpy, boring, fat and stupid you of the noughties? Of course not! So turn your life around, try something new and rid yourself of ugliness using my fantastic guide to a whole new you, for a whole new decade!

Step 1: A Positive Outlook

Yes, maybe you think January is actually a rubbish time to stop your life from being crap. It’s dark and cold, and the memories of a loving, laughter-filled and delicious Christmas are fading, to be replaced by the cold reality of your fat, grey reflection staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.

That’s why it’s time to Think Positive! Yes, you really can ignore reality if you just delude yourself enough! Turn that frown upside down! Those tears are tears of joy! You’re not fat, just cuddly! You’re not ugly, you just have an interesting face! You’re not sad and alone in a big scary world full of people you wish would die - you’re just independent!

At the end of every day, try to think of three good things that have happened to you that day. For example, although today has been a fairly average day for me, I can easily think of three good things about it:

  • Today I wasn't brutally murdered by an escaped maniac!
  • I managed to eat all my breakfast without spilling any down myself! Shame about the cup of tea I had afterwards though.
  • I got a letter! That shows there's someone out there who cares! Even though it was an unscrupulous debt collection agency. Still, as they said themselves, it would be a real shame if something bad happened to my house - they're such caring souls!

Step 2: Rebrand Yourself

So now you’re positive on the inside - it’s time to get positive on the outside too. Cast off your old name and go forth into the brave new world with a moniker that tells everybody who you are, and why you’re so great!

I hired a cutting-edge but cheap advertising agency to come up with a new brand. After several minutes of blue-sky thinking and meticulous market research, I now have a new identity to present to the world. Say goodbye to plain old “Alex Warren”, say hello to “Alexwar® sponsored by Anusol”.

Step 3: Change Your Look

Hey, you with the stupid noughties face! Announce your new life to the world with a fresh new look…

Step 4: Give Up Alcohol

You might think that the best way to while away the bleak winter months would be to drink so heavily that you spend much of this early part of the year completely unconscious, and the rest of it utterly oblivious to the misery that surrounds you. Not so! We’re thinking positive, remember? You don’t need alcohol to lull you into your new happy-go-lucky way of life, you just need a mantra.

So, next time you find yourself reaching for that bottle of vodka, just sit down and repeat to yourself, “I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m so very happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, so very happy, happy, happy, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine, I’m happy, I’m not crying, I will be OK, I’m fine, everything is fine, everything is fine” while rocking gently back and forth.

Step 5: A New Career

After following the above steps, you’ll probably turn up to work and realise that it just isn’t fulfilling you any more. And, by complete coincidence, you may find that your current place of employment are more than willing to let you seek out a new life elsewhere. They’ll be simply begging you to leave!

Perhaps you’ll find the job of dreams out there. Maybe you’ll decide that 2010 is the year for nothing but quiet contemplation, perhaps alone in a bedsit or some kind of hospital?

Step 6: Save Money

With your new direction, you’ll have a lot less money coming in, and you won’t be able to rely on your old friends to support you, because they will have stopped speaking to you. But they were useless anyway! They were holding you back, and you don’t want to return to your old ways now - you’ve come too far. Just think positive.

  • Save on transport costs by walking everywhere, or just going nowhere!
  • Eat less! You'll save money, and not be quite so hideously fat!
  • Stop washing your clothes! You may stink, but nobody will complain since nobody talks to you any more anyway! And we all like a bit of peace and quiet - so there's a bonus!

Step 7: Your New Life Awaits

If you’ve followed this guide, you’ll have transformed from a sad, unloved, repugnant waste of space into a much happier one.

May all your dreams come true in 2010 (except those induced by heavy medication).


Most unpopular office sweets ever

12 October 2009

When I was in Hong Kong I went to a shop called Aji Ichiban to pick up some sweets for the office.

I really wanted to pick up some duck kidneys but UK customs forbid importing meat from outside the EU. So, I had to make do with some other weird-looking “treats”, and they turned out to be almost as off-putting.

Usually whenever an email goes out about free food, there is a stampede and very quickly nothing is left. You’d think my colleagues never got fed. This time though, a few hovered around my desk, poking the sweets curiously and only a brave few were tempted to try one, with some trepidation.

It turns out that these sweets are more bizarre and disgusting than most of the food I tried while I was in Hong Kong. “Highlights” of my particular bag of delights were:

  • Liquorice Wampee – this didn't taste at all of liquorice. You know when you're visiting a stately home and there's that kind of musty, old-fashioned smell? These sweets taste like that. It's like eating Henry VIII’s duvet.
  • Ginseng Candy – “like sucking on an incense stick”, said one of my colleagues. I think it was more like licking a school hall floor - kind of woody.
  • Honey Plum – “sweets aren’t supposed to be salty are they?” said a co-worker, before spitting out the enormous seed into a nearby bin.
  • A salty plum stone in a bland boiled sweet which looked like an eyeball – “the worst thing I’ve ever tasted” was one comment, which wasn't far off the mark. Bizarre and disgusting.
  • Lemon tea – this was actually quite pleasant. It was odd to have a sweet that tasted of tea, but it did a great job of refreshing the palate after eating one of the other ones.
  • Preserved strawberries – these were OK. They were just dried-out strawberries, so no unpleasant surprises there.
  • Preserved spiced olive – this sounded like it would be hideous, but it was surprisingly nice - not much of an olive flavour thankfully, just an interestingly tasty mix of sweetness and spice with a hint of savoury.
  • Hawthorne Cake – a sugary wafer, not too bad.
  • Iced hawthorne – just like a sheet of fruit gum.

There were some great grimaces as people munched on what has to be the most unpopular office treat we’ve seen for some time. Mission accomplished!

Here are the leftovers…


Hong Kong Day 10/11 - And Finally...

11 October 2009

Friday 9th October

We got up for breakfast at the Rio hotel, which was an extensive buffet of the usual hotel breakfast fare. All perfectly fine, but we could have done without the panpipe instrumental cover versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bryan Adams being piped into the restaurant - although perhaps, for those who had lost large amounts in the casino the night before, it was the perfect soundtrack for them to weep into their morning coffees.

We got the ferry back from Macau into Hong Kong, and then returned to the hostel and spent the entire afternoon catching up on sleep. At about 6pm we went out and met up for the final time with Will’s friends Syliva and Winnie, and we grabbed a quick snack of some more takoyaki octopus balls, before getting some sushi. We had sea urchin (smooth and buttery); various sashimis - salmon, red snapper (a quite strong but pleasant fishy taste), geoduck (a species of saltwater clam, which didn’t taste of much); and sushi covered in brightly coloured crab roe.

Then we went to a different place for dessert, which was a massive tower of ice crystals like a solid slush puppy, with various flavourings - strawberry, sesame and green tea. The green tea flavour didn’t really taste of anything. There was also a pot of syrup you could pour over the ice, which just made it melt away leaving you with a sweet slush.

We picked up some sweets for our various offices. I would have loved to have picked up the sweetened duck kidneys, but Will reminded me that you probably can’t bring back meat products into the UK (and he was right - there was an announcement when we arrived back at Heathrow about the huge fines and imprisonment you risk by attempting to do so).

We got a bus back down to the harbour to go to the Sheraton again for cocktails with a view, as Syliva and Winnie hadn’t been before - the usual story of not doing the touristy things in your own city unless you’re with visitors. The “Key of Soul” cocktail was nice and fruity, and the non-alcoholic ones were really nice too, but the highlight had to be one called “Elements” which was made from Bailey’s and strawberries. It was like a strawberry milkshake with a kick - delicious.

Perhaps unwisely it was a pretty late night. We didn’t get to bed until about 2am, and we were going to have to check in for our flight at about 6.30…

Saturday 10th October

After about two hours’ sleep, Will’s aunt’s driver Jackie picked us up to take us to the airport. Hong Kong airport is at number ten on the list of biggest buildings in the world by floor space, so that was two ticked off on one holiday (along with The Venetian). It’s nice and modern, but apart from that it’s just another airport. One of the duty-free shops had a bottle of blended cognac on display worth HK$38,000 (about £3000), at what seemed an easily-smashable height. The cognacs in the ingredients all dated from between 1800 and 1930. I don’t know who would ever buy such a thing at an airport - I can only conclude that it was on such prominent display in the hope that someone would break it and have to pay for it. Another shop was called “Caviar & Prunier”. It’s strange how duty-free areas at airports still have this aspirational quality, even though air travel is such a cheap and normal thing to do these days. You wouldn’t get this kind of thing in a bus station.

The plane was half an hour late for boarding, but that was pretty insignificant for a 13-hour flight. It was another pleasant flight with Air New Zealand - I’d happily use them again. Three meals this time - sausage and omelette for breakfast, a ham and cheese sandwich half-way through the flight, and a lunch of chicken curry. On the in-flight entertainment system I watched Frost/Nixon, which I’ve been wanting to watch for a while - an excellent film, and for my non-film-buff, tired self it was nice and easy to follow.

We landed just after 3pm and were home by 5. I felt tired but my body clock seemed correct - it didn’t “feel” like the midnight that it was in Hong Kong. I’d had a bit of a nap on the plane but not for very long.

London smells clean. That’s not something I would ever have expected to say, but there was a notable freshness in the air compared to Hong Kong. The skies are clearer and it’s far less hazy. And the buildings are a lot smaller. It was strange sitting on the train back to Forest Hill and looking out over what seemed like a small town compared to the towering city we’d grown used to.

I think I’ll give myself a break from Chinese food for a while - at home we treated ourselves to a dinner of burger and chips. Not that we couldn’t easily have had that in Hong Kong - there are plenty of branches of McDonald’s, but a large part of this holiday was about trying out the local food. The Chinese takeaway menu waiting on the doormat was actually rather unfamiliar - there’s so much more variety to Chinese food than crispy duck pancakes, sweet and sour and chow mein - in fact these were all things that we hardly saw out there. It just shows how we get a very Westernised version of foreign food, but then maybe that’s because we don’t have much of an appetite for the boney gristle and pigeon’s heads.

Not that we would have tried of half of these things if it weren’t for Will - although there is quite a lot of English around, a lot of people don’t speak it and plenty of menus don’t have any English on them either, so having a Cantonese speaker in the group made it a lot easier, more interesting and fun. In fact we wouldn’t even have gone in the first place without him, so cheers Will!

I’m pretty tired now and wish I had a few more days off before going back to work.


Hong Kong Day 9.2 - Gambling in Macau

10 October 2009

Thursday 8th October, part 2

A taxi took us from the bar across the bridge to Taipa, where several colossal casinos are being built. Recently completed is The Venetian - bigger than its counterpart in Las Vegas, this is the biggest casino in the world, and the fourth largest building by floor space.

Surely there can be no more profound a symbol of the irrationality and stupidity of human beings than these enormous, opulent buildings, funded entirely by the vast amounts of money people lose when they gamble. These monuments are physical oxymorons - telling people that this is a place where they can get rich, while the very existence of such grand buildings is testament to the reality that the only thing they’re good for is extracting large amounts of money from people.

The Venetian is a literally amazing building. We were expecting Disneyland-style tackiness, but clearly absolutely no expense has been spared in making the interior lavish and yet still somehow tasteful. Entering the lobby, you are greeted by the sight of a huge palace of marble and painted ceilings stretching far into the distance.

Walking down the corridor with its huge columns, you reach the casino itself which occupies an area of the ground floor which looked to me about the size of two to three football pitches, about half slot machines and roulette machines and so on, and the other half blackjack, craps tables etc.

In the centre of all this is a bar which although not cheap was fairly reasonably priced. We drank whisky in the hope that things would start to make some kind of sense.

Next to the bar are two curved escalators. They lead up to level 3 which is a huge shopping mall designed to look like Venice. It has canals and gondolas and bridges. It was pretty quiet up here as it was late, and the shops were shut. During the day visitors can take a trip along the canals with a singing gondolier, and marvel at the in-character street entertainers. I’m kind of glad we missed those - the place was surreal enough as it was.

Returning downstairs to the casino, we put a HK$20 note (about £2) into a slot machine and tried to work out what was going on. It didn’t make any sense to us. Lights flashed and things span. It printed out a token for HK$5 and that was it. We put that into a different machine which turned out to make exactly as much sense.

Having failed to see the attraction of the slot machines, we looked at the tables. Bored croupiers sat silently as they shifted cards and chips, and most of the punters were just as silent, looking at the green surface in front of them through cold dead eyes.

What a depressing sight. For all the variety of machines and games involved, there’s no skill involved here, so whatever you’re playing you’re just continually forking over cash and, presumably, occasionally getting some of it back. Maybe we were in fact lucky that our toe-dip with the slot machines didn’t give us any reward. I expect all the gamblers here had some initial luck once upon a time, and now they’re trapped, like drug addicts, forever hoping for the same rush as that first hit.

At the back of the casino, in a bar called the Bellini Lounge, games of a different nature were taking place, and far more interesting. On one side, men taking a break from the roulette tables, and on the other, women looking to take them for everything they had, or at least everything they had left. Each side manipulating the other, each side believing they’re the winner, but once again the house is the only winner in this hall of losers.

The gold diggers sat in a group around a table at the back, drunkenly dancing, waiting for victims. To my fairly sober eyes they were completely terrifying, some of them rather masculine, others made-up and surgically enhanced as if to remove all trace of humanity.

Pop music played too loud, too fast and badly mixed provided an uneasy soundtrack to the human zoo. At the bar, a drunk, 30-something buck-toothed man chatted to two women. Further along the bar, sitting with a man who was probably his father, was a chap in a T-shirt with something of a Noel Fielding look about him. He couldn’t take his eyes off the drunk and his two unwilling female companions. Jealousy, perhaps? Or was he, like us, merely a spectator?

The band returned to the stage to play some more cover songs. Was this a good or a bad gig for them? Is this what they aspired to be, musical wallpaper, passionlessly regurgitating Brick in the Wall and Stairway to Heaven?

Noel Fielding had disappeared, and the drunk’s lady companions had somehow resisted his charms, so the drunk was now sat alone at the bar. He waved at the gold-digger in the low cut black top and tight white shorts, and she immediately descended upon him as if he were a delicious field mouse.

The barman served up a cocktail and a shot each, and the drunken man then fumbled for a while as he struggled to find enough money to pay his bill. The vulture could see that a few drinks was all she could extract from this one, and so she rejoined her fellow fem-bots. Perhaps in an effort to convince her that what he lacked in money he made up for in charm, he ran to the front as the band started Smells Like Teen Spirit.

He appeared to be trying to get on stage, but made do with jumping around and making rockin’ hand gestures at the singer. Returning to his temporary friend at the witches’ table, neither she nor they were interested any more, and he disappeared behind the curtain back into the casino, to try his luck with some different machines.

With his disappearance, the cycle began anew. The Noel Fielding lookalike had returned, and was speaking to the airship Hindenbra, at a safe distance from her gravity-defying bust. His father hung around awkwardly in the background. Nearby stood the drunk’s first two companions, so maybe tonight could still be Noel’s lucky night after all. Meanwhile, a bald man was chatting up the vulture, just one more loser trying his luck against the odds.


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