Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to build a multimedia boat

I been thinking some more ...

And I hope that last sentence didn't have some of you (who know me best) scurrying for cover.

I've been pondering more about the narrowboat. Now, bear in mind that the narrowboat is at least 5 years off in the future and that technology will have evolved hugely in that time. That's opportunities coming like piping your videos to the projector over the airwaves. I already do that with my music with an Apple Airport Express (Airplay format - must not be overlooked) but have to plug things in to get video.

What's the multimedia boat need ? And also bear in mind that this is my personal requirement, which would differ from other people. I'd see it as a Middle Of The Road that gives a great experience without spending megabucks.

5.1 movies, preferably with a big screen - This is the complicated thingy because it needs connectivity, plus it needs speakers and screen hidden in suitable places where they won't get in the way.
Screens at a comfortable height - a watchable screen should be at eye height or below. If it's higher than eye height, you crick your neck looking up at it. So height is utterly critical.
Connectivity for devices - including having other people bring their ipods and laptops
Fitting in with the boat - it mustn't get in the way when not in use
Low power consumption - because there's only so much power in the batteries and running the motors makes noise which other people in the marina wouldn't like. Hell, the whole thing with the multimedia boat is subject to the noise it'd make ...
No trippy hazard - all wires that are permanent have to be hidden away.

That's the rough design I'd be looking at in a boat, with the saloon area in the bow (left of picture) adjoining a galley area in the middle. You could set it up two ways :

Opening to the side as above - And have an L-shaped sofa which could be rigged as a dining table. There should also be room for a comfy chair in the gap to starboard. The hidden bonus here is that the sofa/table could also be re-rigged as a double bed in case of boarders.
Opening in the middle to have 2x L-shaped sofas. This was my original thought but you'd lose that sweet spot in the middle.

The pic above has a U-shaped sofa/bed right at the bow. I don't like this because it restricts access to the bow deck. Instead, this is where most of the electronic gubbins would go. The amplifier, the skybox, the bluray player, the multimedia PC and all those blu-rays and dvd movies. Shelves etc.

About those electronics ...

A narrowboat is steelhulled, which should elminate all the radio frequency interference that you can see. So wireless is a viable option. You just need to have your gateway to the internet have antennae outside the boat so it has a chance at a signal. This would also handle routing all those different signals to all the different devices.

Kit list :
AV amplifier - number one job - to give great sound. But also as a plug in point for extra devices so it would want an HDMI input on the front.
5.1 surround speaker set - the big bit is the subwoofer, which you hide. The other 5 speakers are pretty discreet.
A multimedia PC - the thing here is to design for efficiency, which is a departure from what I've done before. I usually build power PCs with no regard for keeping them small. So this would be tightly packed.
Projector - to be roof mounted with a screen coming down into the bow area. Idea is that it's out of the way when not in use.
Separate blu-ray player - the thing you learn with PCs is not to be too optimistic with how they connect. The software always tends to get in the way or you get unexpected issues like surround sound connectors that don't carry surround sound (that got Asustek on the blacklist). So, you avoid the problem by having a dedicated box to play through.
Separate touchscreen display - because you might want to be using that multimedia PC without the projector on.* And a touchscreen because using a mouse on board could be awkward.
A pair of wireless enabled speakers for music. Cos sound quality out of laptops is nasty.
Wireless keyboard and mouse for when the touchscreen isn't enough.

* One of the things that would definitely change with the narrowboat life would be I Would Learn To Cook. I've been developing a taste for different stuff to eat and the narrowboat change would be a good catalyst for that. And that touchscreen would be ideal for having recipes visible to the galley.

The biggest thing is Power and the limited amount of joules you have available. That can be supplemented by having things like solar power panels but there's a couple of things you can do to improve things :

Choose low power consumption components
Use something different when you don't need the greedy bits

Hence a separate touchscreen and wireless enabled speakers. The projector and amplifier would eat up around 500W minimum, which would munch those batteries quickly. So you need to think of more efficient ways of getting the same satisfaction.

Oh my - this post is getting long. Closing points :

A lot of this would need to be designed in at the start, if not included at the start. The actual buying of the PC, the projector, the amplifier could wait until late. But - you'd want to have the electronics and wires all plumbed in when the boat was built.

That's the most important thing of this flight of fancy - the lesson :

When you're going into something, remember what you actually want. If there's something that will make things easier later, make sure it's thought about early. If there's a choice between two things that are mostly the same, remember the important features (like power consumption).

I wonder when I'll get the chance to put this multimedia boat into being ?

PS I'm trying not to mention the other reason for the multimeda PC ... It would be the gateway into a narrowboat platform management system ... something that would tell you : battery charge, fuel level, water level, loo level, gas level ... and the rest !

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Furry Friends

I've been enjoying watching a series by Kim of the Yogscast that's covering the game Valiant Hearts. (Bear with me non-gamers !)

Perhaps "enjoy" isn't quite the right word though. The game is a commemoration of World War 1 and in its own style, it's gritty and doesn't hide the horrors of what was a terrible war fought in horrific conditions. One of the central characters is the pooch :

He adds a lot of character to the game. He's a smart pooch, resourceful and always with that tail wag, tongue out cheerfulness of a contented muttley. I'd recommend watching the Kim playthrough (now linked!). It's not really a game, it's history coming to life on screen. And presented by someone who continues to be one of the best Youtube people I have the pleasure to watch. That's the strength of Youtube, the people on there can be themselves, with little editorial control. It means the best ones can truly be themselves and our Kim is a little bundle of awesome.

Having a dog in this house hasn't really been an option. I live on my own, so muttley would be on his own all day. Dogs like their people, it's a bit cruel (I think) to leave them on their own all day every day you work. So no dog here. Plus I'd have a lot of work to secure the house up although it may mean I could open my downstairs windows again. I can't at the moment because the neighbourhood cats jump in looking for food.

I've been lucky enough to have had 4 dogs in the family over the years. I can't remember much of the first. She was a Beagle called Tufty and I was a bit young when she was around. She was a good dog for a little while but went a little crazy and started biting people (unprovoked) and had to be put down. Very sad. We think it's because Beagles are pack dogs and Tufty was on her own.

After Tufty, a grand old man called Scruff arrived.

He followed my sister home after coming across her while she was riding. He plonked his starving bones down by the back door and was preparing to die. We weren't going to let that happen and so Scruff became a loving and incredibly loyal member of the family for the next 10 years. It wasn't long before his Irish Wolfhound / Setter cross frame filled out but his fur was always long, black and incredibly scruffy.

Scruff was a very smart dog. He'd do things like figure out his walkies would come after the end of the News but his highlight was finding his way home after losing my dad on a walk. And this was to a house he'd barely seen. We found him outside the front door.

Here's a bit more about Scruff in a tribute post I wrote a couple of years ago. Warning - have your hankie at the ready, there may be tears. I'm choking up here as I re-read it.

Scruff was awesome - and here he is :

Best dog ever. But very old when those pics were taken.

After Scruff came Goldie. He was a short haired golden lab who must have had a bit of greyhound in there too. I'm FAST. Goldie could easily stay with me when I hit the afterburners. We'd stretch each other's legs while on walks. Goldie was a very affectionate pooch too :
Yep. I got too close and I got slurped. Crikey, that must be from near 20 years ago. It's not that old because the new patio is in and that was after I broke my shoulder aged may 21. I don't remember that much about Goldie, he was part of the family when I was away a lot at uni or at work. There came a time though when this supreme athlete of a dog was let down by his strength as his legs hurt him more and more.

If a dog that adores his walks, turns and looks at you with a "help?hurtzzz" expression when you mention walkies then you know it's time to allow them to pass. And Goldie was in so much pain he could barely get into his bed or his chair.

Over to Ben - I mentioned Ben a few weeks ago. Ben's still with us :
But he's also approaching that point where it may be too cruel to have him keep enduring the pain from his paw and increasing trouble with his heart.

That'll be a shame because Ben is a typical Staffy - affectionate, loyal, smart, loving.

We've been blessed with our dogs. They've all been awesome members of the family.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A to Z - H for Haunted

Or Heroes. Or Hands, or even Humbug.

There's lots of good H words. And a decent number of good H albums out there too. That's right ! Time for another A to Z ...

First up is an experiment - Ellie Goulding's Halcyon Days. I'm moderately interested in Ellie Goulding, she has a unique voice and some talent with song writing. But they don't seem together to make great albums. You get sick of that unique voice after a while. It outstays its welcome. Which is a massive shame cos it is a decent voice, in short doses.

Talking of supreme voices, we have the pop pixie Victoria Hesketh, aka Little Boots. She gradually emerged on to the scene thanks to bedroom youtube cover videos. Her first album was an absolute cracker, with songs like Remedy blowing away the rest of the performers when she did it on Late with Jools Holland. It's from the Hands album.

And talking of singers that blow you away live, here's Bat For Lashes with Laura from the Haunted Man album. I think part of the reason this is one of my favourites is that I knew a Laura and she was pretty special. She moved on though, we definitely miss her. (And I got a nice reply when I passed on a congrats ! Happy Pete Was Happy).

I've been keeping up with Maroon 5 as a bit of a diversion. They're in here with Hands All Over. Decent album, finished off well with tracks like Moves Like Jagger.

One of my favourite bits of music is on Goldfrapp's Head First album. It's Voicething, not really a song but it really shows off Alison Goldfrapp's wonderful voice. There's also Alive for a feel good pop song. People thought this was rushed but I like it. It's definitely one of their better albums for how it comes together.

Christina Perri was another gamble with Head or Heart. It's not a bad album but it ain't particularly special either. Well worth a listen but I don't know whether I'll get all her stuff like I do with Goldfrapp, Bat For Lashes and Nina Persson. Possibly a little overproduced taking the distinctiveness away. Highlight for me here is Human. That's a special song. And oh crap, her Lovestrong album is on iTunes right now for £5 - that's tempting ...

Morcheeba have always interested me as a rather different group. You never really know what you're going to get with them but you can guarantee it to be pretty well done. Head Up High was no exception there.

A-ha get in here twice for H's. There's their greatest hits collection (Headlines and Deadlines) and their very first album, Hunting High Or Low with songs like The Sun Always Shines On TV. Well, sometimes we wish it didn't, like when England are failing to draw a game like today - rainpls!

Paul Simon comes in here with Hearts And Bones. This is another album that's loaded with amazing songs. It's hard to think of a favourite here but The Late Great Johnny Ace speaks to me.

There's a couple of David Bowie albums in here, Heathen and Hours. They're ok. But with Bowie it's a case of when he's good, he's BRILLIANT. When he's bad, it's a horrible dirge.

Soundtracks ... You know they were in here somewhere ...
Heroes of Might & Magic 3 - decent game but not quite as good as some others I've tried. This was a cheapie from GoG.com.

ABBA were incredible when they were shining bright. 2 of the 3 Hits albums I have come in here. Favourites from these cd's are : Hasta Manana and of course, when I hear the drums Fernando.

A little bit of classical ? This one is in H because the Gracenote database added the composer to the album title. It's the Planets suite by Holst. You'd recognise a few of the planets here but the most recognisable is Mars.

Bjork adds in a little bit of insanity with Homogenic. She's the kind of singer you follow out of curiosity. Brilliant voice, you never quite know what it's going to do next. Genuine treasure.

This one's from when I was at school - Voice Of The Beehive only did a couple of albums. Their second was Honey Lingers, with magic tracks like Perfect Place.

One of my dad's favourite singers is Neil Diamond and ... I kinda agree (for a male voice!). His Hot August Night double cd is from a concert, which is where he's best. I have a greatest hits studio cd which I donated to my dad cos it's kinda cold. Anyway, Hot August Night has highlights like I Am, I Said.

Oh my - one of my favourite artists is Kate Bush, it's a shame that her best days are way behind her. But when those best days include albums like Hounds Of Love. This is an incredible album that transcends the sum of its songs. There's so much great music here and it tells a story as it goes through. There's the poppy songs at the start but there's also beautiful pieces like And Dream Of Sheep. EMI have spoiled the fun with the original but here's another goddess (Tori Amos) singing it.

Snow Patrol are very prolific. Their Hundred Million Stars was another great album from these guys.

Almost there. 3 to go. And a couple of houses ... Katie Melua's the House is another with some shining examples of that voice, I like Tiny Alien the best.

Arctic Monkeys are in here with Humbug. Not their best to be honest - Suck it and See is better.

And finally, Alisha's Attic didn't last long (3 studio albums, 1 b-sides collection) but they shone bright when they were together. My favourite from The House We Built is Dreaming.

It won't be too long before I'm through the I's ... Still just over 3000 tracks to go in the library.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Directions

I've had a thought in my head for a few days now and it won't go away.

It's a carry over from the last post, where I talked about living on a narrowboat. You think about it some more and you come to realise : This is a definite possibility.

Not just yet though. Before I did make the switch to having my own little castle on the water, I'd need :

To pay off the mortgage so I'd have the equity from the house.
Get healed up.

I've not talked about my health for a little while. I'm still shredded but ... I know more than I did last week thanks to a couple of horrible days on Thursday and Friday. I thought I was having a negative reaction to my hayfever pills. And the two horrible days were when I wasn't taking them. So I'll keep on them while I heal up. And I am healing now, genuinely. I won't heal in time to get any cricket in this year but ... As long as I get my bounce back soon, I'll be happy.

This direction thing ? Back to boats ...

I've pretty much meandered through life, taking each day as it comes. My original long term goal was : Be Happy, Make a partner laugh, Have Kids. That's been frustrated by shacking up with the wrong people and recovering from the emotional fallout that comes from that. More recently it's been from not wanting to inflict the consequences of this skin condition on anyone else.

But with these thoughts of living on a boat, I have a new long term goal. I have something I can look at 5, 10, 20 years ahead and think : That's my aim. Before, that long term aim was a kit car. But ... they're toys with no real practical purpose unless you take up racing. I'm too old for that now, my reactions are too dulled. I would not be competing at the level I would expect.

A canal barge ? Compare them to new build houses and the houses come off badly. Houses are exploding in price and the quality of build is ... not great. The profit motive comes in with cheap materials and bad labourers. You look at the pictures of canal narrowboats and you're gobsmacked by how amazing the finish is. Plus you can pack up and move your narrowboat to another marina if you don't like the neighbours.

I know a close friend is having all sorts of neighbour issues and is upset with the builders too - this is at a new build house location. I remember these things. It was similar with my sister's house, the quality of materials was not up to standard.

So - quality :

Here's what they look like on the outside :
Ok, not so sure about the colour scheme. I'd look at a sky or dark blue with one of my dragons painted on with the name somewhere. Green is another possibility but wouldn't work with the dragon.

Here's the inside :
That looks stunning doesn't it ?

And with a custom build boat, you can extend your own theme like that through the rest of the boat. For me, I'd be looking at having a saloon that can convert into a small surround sound movie theatre. That would need some thought ... But I think I know where the complicated things would go. There would be steps to the front, where a couple of the awkward (amp, front speaker) things would go and a ceiling mounted projector with drop down screen would turn out pretty special. I'd also have a media centre type PC with a touchscreen somewhere to do telly without the big stuff coming out, along with the usual laptops.

One thing to consider there though - a surround sound amp plus a projector take serious power, which you'd need to account for in the design.

Layout ?
That's the kind of layout I'd look for. From Stern to Bow :
Semi-traditional steerage position, this is where the engine and noisy bits go.
Master bedroom
Bathroom - I'd go for this thinner type, other boats have you walk through the bathroom to get from bow to stern.
Galley - with the oven, microwave, fridge/freezer, washing machine mod cons. Some even have a dishwasher ... That's better than my house !
Saloon - the living area
Cratch - an area at the bow which can be used as an outside sitting and munching area.

I'd also look at underfloor heating (yes - really!) because that would save interior space.

I think the dream is real. And there's a few marinas around the Bristol area that are reasonably close to work too.

Name of the boat ? It can only be :
Sleeping Dragon.

Question before I go - what would you name your boat and why ?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Outside the box

In this case, the box would be the 4 walls that we live in.

I been watching the cricket. It's being played at Trent Bridge, which is right up next door to the River Trent in Nottingham. Amongst various things seen floating down the river have been narrowboats ....

The narrowboat is from when our commerce used to be floated down the canal networks. They're from before vans and lorries. The most efficient way to move things was to put it on a boat. Now, it's another form of abode.

So what are they ? Here's a link to the wiki page so you can learn more. But without going there, they are no more than 7 feet (2.13m) wide and up to 72 feet (22m) long. They have to be that thin in order to fit through the locks that let the narrowboats follow water courses that vary in height.

Seeing them on the Trent outside the cricket brought back a few memories from when we had a canal boat holiday. We took a narrowboat from Rugby to Banbury over a couple of weeks in the summer. It was a very relaxing couple of weeks. Highly enjoyable. We were, of course, typically sampling a different pub every night. But there was also that freedom of seeing different things every day and living at a different pace.

Bringing that to now and there's thoughts of : What would it be like to be living on one of these narrowboats ?

They typically have all the domestic mod cons in there like cookers, fridges, freezers, washers, shower/bath, although they tend to be tuned to those you'd find in caravans. Like cassette toilets and everything running off 12V.

How much different is that to living in a house with 4 walls ? I suspect if I lived on one of these narrowboats with space at a premium, I'd be a lot tidier than I am at the moment.

But what would I look for to actually LIVE on one of these boats ?

I tend to use a lot of technology, which means power. But that's not really a stopping point. A lot of the narrowboats come with inverters, which means you can drive things that run off the mains with them. Like laptop power connectors ...

So - power. An inverter to run things but a power budget to run to. I have thoughts of lining the top with solar panels too for making extra power (without running a noisy generator) and a battery to ride over the night. Cooking would typically be done off gas.

Electronics - TV = NEED. But ... The internet is making this so much easier now. We can watch stuff off things like Iplayer and the other services out there. And I could upgrade my phone contract to allow my phone to let everything else hook up to the internet (I have unlimited data but it's the cheaper version).

Anyway - I'm pretty confident I could still watch my cricket in a narrowboat. The TV could come through a laptop or I'd actually probably build a specialist media centre PC for it using low consumption bits and pieces. My current desktop will guzzle a bit too much power for that, I have a Youtube video going on in the background and it's barely using any CPU power (10%).

Music ? Usually quite easy, hide the big subwoofer somewhere and dot the little speakers around. This would be my route to cinema surround sound too. Except instead of a big telly, it would be a projector in the roof combined with a drop down screen. That would work. And when you don't have enough power stored to run a movie, then out comes a book.

Post ? To be honest, 99% of the post I get is utter garbage now. Most of the important stuff comes through online.

Sounds good huh ?

Things that would need a bit of thought though are :

Groceries - although if you pick a mooring point that a Tescovan can get to ...
Going out - you can move around on water but not on land. Could be an idea to base around somewhere like Bristol where you could take advantage of the bus network or even hire cars when you had that need.

I think I could get used to living in a narrowboat. But not yet. It's just an idea for now. Perhaps when I retire ?

And that's another seed for this idea - one of our previous team leaders, when he retired he went to live on a narrowboat. He's probably still cruising the canals.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A to Z - G

It's the 7th one of these !

Yep. Steadily rattling through the albums. It'll actually only be another 170 ish unlistened to tracks before I'm through the H's and the I's are quick after that too. I guess there's a reason why a lot of albums start with letters that are early in the alphabet ?

(Probably cos I have a good few Doctor Who soundtracks which have tonnes of tracks ...)

So how about G ? Do you get the feeling there's going to be a few Greatest Hits here ?

Gabriella Aplin starts it off with a short live EP, it got me interested enough to buy her English Rain album. Excellent singer, although not quite in the Julianne Regan, Nina Persson, Natasha Khan class.

Or even Shirley Manson - in here with Garbage's first self titled album. Lots of supreme tracks here that coalesce very well as an album. One of the highlights for me is Only Happy When It Rains - hang on ... rain = no cricket !

I'm turning into a Jack White fan. He combines raw vocals with equally raw guitar. That said, the Get Behind Me Satan album didn't really have that many stand out tracks for me.

Unlike Ghost Of A Dog, the second Edie Brickell & New Bohemians album. The title track may make you cry but there's plenty more here to sing along to. Or howl along to in the case of Woyaho.

Avril Lavigne is being fairly prolific. She's in here with Goodbye Lullaby. Decent album but I didn't have any real standouts from it.

Gorillaz were Damon Albarn's next thing after Blur. Very different, very characteristic. I like 'em and I'll collect what they do. And M1A1 was nearly my ringtone before I vetoed it in the interest of not having my phone put in a bucket of water ... You know what I mean ;-)

Paul Simon continues to bring out decent music, not quite on the level of when he was with Art Garfunkel but still pretty good. My highlight from Graceland was Diamonds on the Soles Of Her Shoes.

Did I mention the Cardigans earlier ? Gran Turismo is the album that started off that particular fascination. And in a little while I'll be on My Favourite Game (Moo 2). Great track, with promise of what was better to come.

Soundtracks too :
Galactic Civilisations - I acquired this game on GoG as part of a bundle. It's a space strategy game but it's no Moo2 but then I'm biased. The music's good.
Gladiator ? Hans Zimmer has come out with some great movie soundtracks. However ... they all sound the same because he has a characteristic style. Great music but not much variety.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - amazing film, amazing soundtrack starring amongst others the recently departed Eli Wallach. I have the title as my phone ring tone, which causes confusion when people use it as incidental music. Grr.

There's some collections here too :
Glory Of Gershwin - there's some excellent old music out there. This was an album where Gershwin songs get a contemporary touch from artists like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. But sometimes the old stuff is the best, like Larry Adler performing Rhapsody In Blue.
Gold Dust by Tori Amos - I have mixed feelings about Tori Amos. She mercilessly hacks away at her back catalogue and this is another example. The songs are a little different and there's some rare ones here, like my favourite of this set, Flying Dutchman.
Ella Fitzgerald is another golden oldie with a double cd with her best stuff. There's lots here but my favourite is Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love.

I know. Soppy.

Back to collections !
I keep my eye on Dubstar. They didn't do many albums but what they did got my approval. You have Sarah Blackman's pure voice accompanying mostly electronic music. It's good stuff. Ghost is my highlight from this collection. (Warning - sad song)
Robbie Williams - I like this guy's voice. It's strong, yet can also be soft at the same time. He has full control over it and can do magic things with it. My favourite will always be Bom-Bom-Bom-Bom-Bom-Ba-Ba-Bom Road To Mandalay.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - mixed feelings here. They pull out some awfulness (Suck My Kiss) but they can also produce incredible songs like Californication.
Shania Twain - strong voice again, perhaps a little too mainstream. But if someone like her is singing Come On Over at me, I'll be there. Running. I did mention Warp Speed didn't I ?
The Bangles - shame these girls aren't what they used to be. The highlight will always be the heartstopping Eternal Flame.
Eurythmics - Greatest Hits - bit like Dubstar with a pure voice combined with electronic music. I actually prefer Dubstar but these guys had the attention and some brilliant songs like Sweet Dreams.

Queen ! Everyone must have a copy of their first Greatest Hits. I don't think their 2nd and 3rd are so good but their first has songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust and my favourite Don't Stop Me Now.

That's it for the collections - I also have Grieg's Peer Gynt in the collection which has lots of good stuff to go along with the In The Hall Of The Mountain King that you'll know and love.

Next step - H ? 3236 songs to go for 7.7 days of music time !

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

About the boys

Ok, so I posted a bit about the Ladies yesterday so it's the boys turn today.

(Cos I spotted this post from my dear friend CK and couldn't resist doing my own version)

So what would I call the male voice highlights in my library ?

First and always is the incredible Freddie Mercury. He'll be at the top of most people's lists, especially with awesome works like the poignant Who Wants To Live Forever.

Seal has been a long standing favourite too. And following the Freddie theme, here's a Prayer For The Dying. RIP Freddie, we've missed you.

Mark Knopfler isn't blessed with a particularly listenable to voice but his guitar playing is just sublime. Just listen to the interplay on Romeo and Juliet.

Mainstream ? You could describe Jon Bon Jovi as that. Wanted Dead Or Alive is one of those songs that stops me in my tracks so I can sing along.

As is Days Gone By by Dirty Vegas. Gorgeous song.

But what's playing at the moment ? I spotted the Bridge Over Troubled Water album for £3 the other week. Couldn't resist picking that one up, it's loaded with incredible. Here's the title track.

That's all from the top of my head, the top of the library shows me a-Ha and the voice of Morten Harket and the classic Take On Me.

The Arctic Monkeys don't have classic trained Freddie style voices but they draw you in to their songs. Here's me hoping that A Certain Romance comes my way. (Perhaps from someone who keeps confessing on her videos that she's single ? haha - that's me hoping)

The Beatles have also been one of those groups that don't have the sublime voices of a Seal but they still keep you listening to songs like Eleanor Rigby.

My "This Post Is Gonna Get Long" detector is starting to go off so ... list mode !

Bob Marley - Redemption Song
Buddy Holly - Raining In My Heart
Chris Crooner Isaak - Wicked Game
Chris Rea - again not a classic voice but oh so great songs - Let's Dance
Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol - Setting Fire To The Third Bar
Anything by Crowded House - but it's Wimbledon so Four Seasons In One Day.
David Bowie - I think he's inconsistent but the brilliant is extreme - is there Life On Mars ?
Sting - Every Breath You Take
Don Henley - Boys of Summer (and all the Eagles material)
Don McLean - the unforgettable American Pie
Extreme - pretty dire actually, apart from More Than Words

Looking down a Gershwin cd, I see :
RIP Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love
Peter Gabriel - reaching back to Family Snapshot
Meat Loaf - again not a favourite cos of his material but what a voice

Back to the list :
RIP Michael Hutchence - we miss you too - Baby Don't Cry
Justin Hayward - Nights In White Satin is just ... no words do it justice.
Johnny Cash - Walking That Line.
Robbie Williams - Rock that DJ
Lenny Kravitz - Heaven Help
The boys of Mansun - Wide Open Space
Maroon 5 - I wish I had the Moves Like Jagger (link for my dear SQ!)
RIP Michael Jackson - Billie Jean

Back to the Beatles - there was an excellent musical movie a few years ago called Across The Universe. If you haven't seen it, it's a musical movie done very, very right. And All You Need Is Love sung by Jim Sturgess is just one example although it is kind of a spoiler for the end of the movie.

And still looking back a bit :
Neil Diamond is incredible live - I have his Hot August Night album which contains the lovely Morningside
Paul Weller - the unforgettable Wild Wood
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here will always be one of my favourites
Prince has had a huge impact on the music industry, from his contributions to others but also his own brilliance - Purple Rain
Michael Stipe - Everybody Hurts
David Byrne of Talking Heads has been an icon for years in his own way - Wild Wild Life
10cc - I'm Not In Love

And a joke one to finish off. Wierd Al Yankovic has been going for years producing his own unique versions of many favourites. Here's one you've heard before ... differently ...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Like A Girl

I keep a reasonably close eye on the various social media out there and occasionally see things that touch a nerve.

The latest is from one of my favourite Youtube people, Kim from the Yogscast. The tweet was : "This video is important and explains my despair over the phrase 'like a girl' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs FYI... I hit pretty damn hard"

After witnessing the feistiness on the videos, I definitely believe that last bit !

Go watch the video, it'll hopefully challenge some of how you view other people.

The key thing is - why do we use derogatory terms ? Why do we turn ordinary terms into derogatory terms ? Gay used to mean happy people, now it's used as an anti-word. And that's just one example.

I use the word "girl" to describe a few people. In the old team we had the BM girls (Business Management), some of whom were older than me. And I'm getting on a bit. I've had the pleasure to work with and learn from a few different groups of Finance Girls. A couple of whom are retired now. So why do I use "girl" ? For me, it evokes : Youth, Keenness, Energy (and yeah, a definite amount of Pretty too). Our BM and Finance Girls were also highly competent at what they did and gave us immense support.

Oh - there's the Little Canteen Girl too as another label I used. Wonder how she's getting on now ? Haven't seen her for ages. Anyway, that term was meant affectionately, I hope she'd have taken it that way.

My reply on the Twitter was that I throw like the proverbial girl. Which is both correct and incorrect. I can still power throw ... but if I do I'm highly likely to follow it with a scream of pain as my arm tries to follow the ball. I was down to maybe half a good throw by the time my cricket career was finished last year. That's down to a torn rotator cuff injury which did actually heal to some degree but got reinjured a few years later (badminton again).

My answer was to try and avoid fielding in positions where I'd be out of range of my throwing ability. That worked out because I'm more suited to being close due to agility, speed and general crazy/idiocy.

I'll continue to use the word "girl" as a descriptor but hopefully it'll always come across as a mark of respect instead of the opposite. I used it as a mark of Youth, Keen, Energy, Pretty.

For the Little Lady who sparked this all off, there's a couple of people in the Yogscast who need a mention here. I watch almost all of what they come out with. They're the Kim and Hannah I've mentioned before. Why do I highlight them ? Because they consistently come out with videos I think I really high quality. They make me laugh, they make me sad. All as appropriate for what's happening in the game. I've enjoyed watching their playthroughs more than I have enjoyed playing the game.

It's not just the commentary, it's the emotion that they inject in there as well. And a huge sense of Fun too. They pull that off in a way that the Yogscast boys struggle with.

So yeah - if it's a case of saying which videos I prefer, I say #LikeA(Yogscast)Girl. (Zoey's included there too but hasn't been playing games I've been interested in lately)

I do think there is a place for some derogatory terms though. You can't have helped see that there's a World Cup happening at the moment. And what does that bring ? Footballers ?

Cheating, scheming, foul mouthed, pathetic and a bunch of other words I could use !

Compare - Prasana Jayawardene - he broke his hand in the First Test against England but continued to play through that game. He ground out a few runs to help his side to a well earned draw.
Any Average Footballer - they'll go down like a shot if someone even waves closely at them. They'll try and trick the ref into thinking they've been fouled. They'll play act serious injuries in order to get opponents cautioned.

That's why I don't support football, I have no respect for the players. Don't use Like A Girl as a term for weak, use Like A Footballer. It's far more accurate.

Cricket gives another example. The ladies in cricket don't have the power of the men but what they lack in power, they more than make up for in skill. When their world cup was first televised, you could tell that some of the commentators had a "why are we here, this is a joke ?" attitude. Until they saw the girls play. And what we saw was a lot of Smarts being applied to game as well as lots of skill. Deftness and agility replaced power. It's a different game and equally good to watch.

Women are physiologically more suited to jobs like flying fighter aircraft. On average, they're shorter which makes them more able to resist g-forces (fact). Plus there's that multi-tasking thingy. So why don't we see more women flying in the military ? You'll have to ask our politicians and senior military people about that.

It's definitely not a physical issue, our FNC Girl (Little Lisa) could easily run rings around me and I'm quick. I gave a little cheer when I heard that our Lisa would be involved with us again as she definitely fits that Youth, Energy, Keen collection of tags.

So yeah - derogatory terms. Think before you use them. They may hurt people in all kinds of ways you never considered. They attack confidence. They hold people back.

I'll close with - Yogscast went to E3 recently. Who did the serious reporting there ? The Yogscast Girls. And it was good, informative stuff too, covering the questions we wanted answering.

May all our reporting come at the quality #LikeA(Yogscast)Girl.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sale season

Otherwise known as seeing what's got the big discounts on Steam and GoG.com and trying to resist buying Stuff.

I've been ... neutral so far I think. I've not been a good boy cos I've actually bought some stuff but I've not gone into Crazy Bad Boy territory either. Well. There's still time.

I think I'm actually more curious about what goes on sale, rather than actually acquiring some of the things that hit the sale. The places I keep an eye on are :

Steam - this is the number 1 digital distribution network on PC. Most games are available on here, up to a point.

It pays to do a little research though before buying anything on Steam, as there's a lot of garbage on here. I like my space strategy games and there was one that came out recently called Stardrive. From what it promised, it looked like just what I was looking for - a modern and much better Moo2 with a very well sorted ship building system. Just the ticket. But ... it was a buggy, unfinished mess. And it's just one example of where stuff like that slips through the quality filter. I have a few Early Access (unfinished) games in my wish list but wouldn't consider buying them until a release quality version came out. I just have them in the wish list because of their promise.

GoG.com is my other place - they sell a few new games but mostly concentrate on the older ones. They go beyond what Steam do by offering freebie extras with their games. Things like manuals, reference cards, artwork, maps etc on pdf and soundtracks in MP3 and sometimes FLAC. They typically don't have copy protect either, which is a bonus because copy protection schemes can really spoil your gaming by getting in the way.

What have I acquired so far ?

Age of Wonders III from GoG.com. This is another fantasy strategy game. It's quite a heavily populated genre, with the Warlock and Fallen Enchantress games popping up as well. I went for Age of Wonders III because it looks finished, whereas Warlock and Fallen Enchantress have been steadily adding more to a starting game that ... wasn't. Oh and the GoG.com version gives me the soundtrack which I've been enjoying.

That's one thing about GoG.com that lets me be selective, if there's a soundtrack I'm more likely to get the game. No soundtrack means I'll ignore it. And there's some pretty good soundtracks on GoG.com like all the Baldur's Gate soundtracks.

Il-2 46 is another from GoG.com. It's a combat flight sim from the World War 2 era, based on the Ilyushin-2 Sturmovik flying tank. I find flight sims a step up from the space combat sims I cut my teeth on. A plane flies through air. Yep. That seems obvious doesn't it ? But what makes that interesting is that there's an interaction between the wings and the fluid that makes up the air. It's not quite as simple as pointing and going. Go straight up, plane will stall. Lose too much speed, plane will stall. It's a challenge to keep some in the air and even more of a challenge to hit anything.

Looking forward to trying out a bit of flight again. The last time I spent serious time in a flight sim was Falcon 4.0 (horrendously bugged) which did a very accurate and deep model of the American F-16 Falcon jet fighter. Taught me a few things about how the weapons worked too.

Over to Steam ?

The resistance has broken with 3 games (so far) on Steam. I've reacquired Dragon Age, plus a couple of indie titles called Infested Planet and The Banner Saga have appeared.

Dragon Age Origins is a game I enjoyed a fair bit when it first came out - but never finished. So why reacquire it ? Seems a waste of money right ? Maybe. But the game plus all of its downloadable content (including the Awakening expansion which I never had) was only £5. And it's a pretty good one too. I'm looking forward to hearing Claudia Black as the acerbic mage Morrigan. It also looks better due to higher quality textures being provided by people who make mods for the game.

Infested Planet looked interesting. It's about a squad of marines who have to survive attack by waves and waves of alien bugs. Not quite Tower Defence but close. It's a genre I seem to be drawn to ...

And the Banner Saga was a role playing game that caught the attention of Youtubers for a little while. Story looks good, replayability doesn't seem so good. But if it's on sale for almost nothing ? Mine :-).

It won't quite stop there. I won't get much more but Assassins Creed IV might appear as an Assassin-y Pirate-y Stabbin' Cannonballin' adventure that will show off my system. My PC is a few years old now but with the graphics card replacement, it can still keep up with most modern stuff.

I may also get 2 games called Chronicles Of Riddick and Blackguards on GoG.com. Riddick is more likely. I don't think I'd play the game much but they're offering it for $3 (maybe $2 - it hasn't quite gone on sale again yet) including the soundtrack, I'd pay that for the soundtrack.

And I do believe I hear that fantasy world calling.

Cya !

Will try not to get eaten by the dragon.
Oh ! Before I really close, I've been playing with the Gimp again. Hey ! Not that type of Gimp ! This one is an image processing program. I've needed one of these since giving up on an ancient copy of Photoshop Elements that I used to use (had no Mac version). The Gimp is decent but I wouldn't recommend it. The selection method boggles my mind. But - here's one thing I made from it :
That's the one I can use - it's for my favourite Youtube person. I'm maybe 80% happy with this one. The first 4 characters are great but the rest go a little too wiggly. I'd prefer them to be in a straight line. That manufactured U could be better too. But ... I keep getting fed up with that selection method in Gimp and give up before I get a result I'm 90-100% happy with. Still - not bad and I think it would look pretty cool on a t-shirt.

Can you guess who's badge it started as ?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Coming back to work ...

... is always better when you are greeted by Pretty Ladies who wave at you.

Mind you, I did have to edge around, jump up and down a bit and do manic-mini-wave at them before they noticed. (Not quite, they were nattering but not quite that engrossed).

This week off definitely did me some good. When I downed tools, I was absolutely mentally and physically shot. That's from time catching up to me as well as a lot of missed sleep and some of the implications of my physical condition.

I'm definitely improved energy wise (although I did have a little stress attack this morning which my legs didn't appreciate). I was a lot more engaged at work today and the random thoughts were coming out again. That's my key strength at work. While I can follow the orthodoxy that Good Business Practice tends to demand, I'll also throw out the rulebook and make it up as I go along. As long as the mental energy is there to spark it off.

I like having that spark. The randomness keeps me unpredictable.

So what have I been doing on the break ?

Listening to lots of music. Hey ! It's me. Ok, I've not made that much of a dent in that battery of unlistened to music but I've taken a bit of a bite out of it. It was at 9 days unlistened before, now it's at 8.3 days unlistened. That's cos I'll listen to tracks one by one before listening to the whole album. I get a better appreciation for the individual tracks that way.

Some artists make outstanding albums, some artists make outstanding singles. I'd put Arctic Monkeys as an album maker and Ellie Goulding as a single maker. And then there's the Cardigans ...

I have a new Super Ultimate Mega Favourite Song. It's Song For The Leftovers by A Camp, who were led by Nina Persson of the Cardigans. I linked it in the What The F A to Z post (at the end). I guess it touches a nerve "We are the best leftovers of the night" ...

Been watching sport. Lots of sport.

The week started with Le Mans. I didn't watch all of it, the mental exhaustion put paid to that. I was totally and utterly beat. That weekend turned out to be :

Cricket on the telly - hours of play are 11.00 until 18.30. England vs Sri Lanka. Decent game, very close at the end. Glued to the finish, which was a well earned draw by both sides.
Le Mans on the desktop - 3pm BST until 3pm BST the next day. It was a good Le Mans this year, with Porsche, Audi and Toyota providing the leading runners. They all had problems, Audi won despite losing one of their cars to a rain induced crash and having to change the turbochargers on the other two. Never really knew how it would work out.
Footie on the telly - conveniently after close of play in the cricket. I had the footie on mute because you really don't gain any benefit from the commentating.

The England footie started at 11pm and as the players were running out on the pitch, fatigue hit bigtime and I tried for sleep. (Hitting the record button so I could watch it the next morning).

I think I've caught up on some sleep. The physical condition I'm managing is trying to heal up now. The cuts disappear after a day or so like normal. But ... the self discipline slips when I'm trying to sleep and I end up attacking myself, making more cuts.

Heh - self inflicted wounds and all that. My answer is to try and keep the self discipline and above all else, keep the wounds clean. I think that's helping above everything else.

It does seem to be working. A quiet week has seen my legs get much improved. I'd have almost passed them fit for cricket a day ago (before I attacked them again early this morning).

Enough about my difficulties though.

It was good to be back in work today. It gives me a sense of value. People value my knowledge and experience and they know that if I don't know something absolutely, I'll give them a hint of where to go to find out what they need.

And it wasn't just the Pretty Ladies on my way in to the office, as I was walking to my desk - what do I see ? Another Pretty Lady walking my way - this being the one that has a massive radiant smile just bursting to jump out. She's a little shy so the smile doesn't come out too often but when it does ? Everything seems right.