Sunday, October 04, 2015

A tale of two movies

Currently watching the ending bits of Avengers - Age Of Ultron.
For something so heavily hyped and with the excellence of prior movies in the sequence, I was expecting this one to be really good.

And it is a pretty decent movie too. However ... it's not nearly the best in its series. It's strange, the avengers movies don't seem to bear up that well to repeat viewings. I think I know why ...

There's more action in a couple of minutes than there were in the whole of The Martian. Yet I think The Martian is the film I'll keep going back to over the years. I'm definitely hoping people give me the excuse to watch it again numerous times over the next few weeks.

So what's missing?
It's the story at the centre of the movie.

So - let's compare ... Martian vs Avengers.

Action - there's just about enough in The Martian. Not too much, not too little. Also note that one of the disaster events in the book was missed out, it wouldn't have fit in with what they did with the ... spoilerdelete ... bit. On the other hand, there is the Avengers which has loads of explosions and ... when things were getting quiet again, time for another explosion to stop the audience falling asleep. I found it wsa too much.

Characters - there's very little in the Avengers, they're all pretty flat cartoon characters, although Hawkeye shows some signs of development. The Martian is all about the characters, at least its central character and how he comes to terms with his situation and stands up and deals with it. Even when things go wrong, especially when things go wrong.

Getting the feels - I've been noticing this more and more. Certain movies stir up the inner feelings that bring tears to the eyes. I'm not talking about the cringeworthy stuff. I'm talking about where you identify with what's happening with the characters and what they're going through. It's a sign that you're invested in the characters and their story when it evokes the feelings. That most definitely happens in the latter stages of The Martian. I never got it in the Avengers.

(I'm trying really hard to avoid the spoilers !)

Making you chuckle - The Avengers has a couple of ongoing themes running through it that are intended to make you laugh. They fall flat. The Martian has a slightly nutty central character who meets his situation with humour. That said, some of the humour is removed and some of the attempts by the screenwriters (illustrating the Hermes plan) really don't match up with the original writing.

Hollywood strikes, hollywood causes problems.

Hollywood also caused problems with some of the more human science in The Martian, there's far more in the book and (I haven't read any reviews yet) it makes some of what is glossed over, make sense. I dunno about you, I wouldn't want to be living in a driving seat for 50+ days. That's explained far better in the book and I really don't know why they would cut that.

I'll close with ...

Go see The Martian ! I hope you'll love it. But ... see it as a prelude to reading one of the best books I've read in recent years. It was a 2 and a half hour film but ... the bits missed out genuinely add to the story. There's that thing that all books share :

They are a conduit for your imagination. The better books will let you play out the story in your mind. Your brain fills in the gaps and brings it to life.
They convey feelings and thoughts like no film can.
You can put them down and come back. This is very important. It means the story plays out in its own time, rather than being limited to the time dictated by the dvd, bluray or sitting in the cinema time.

That last point is telling. The Martian film is very good but some of the bits they miss out mar the perfection of the science behind the fiction. The book is absolute perfection in its fiction.

Go read it !

PS I don't think I'll bother picking up the Avengers comics.
PPS The Avengers gag reel did make me chuckle. But not nearly as much as the one on Guardians Of The Galaxy which I must watch again soon.
PPPS I am Groot.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Bring Him Home !

So I watched Everest today.

It's a film about mountaineers on our highest mountain (except for K2) who successfully manage to reach the summit but ... drama ensues as the mountain is battered by a massive storm.
Nah. Kidding.

I watched The Martian today.
My advice ? If you have the slightest interest in science, if you like a good story, a bit of drama and of course, humour, this one has it all. It helps that the book is one of the best books I've read over the past few years. The science is top notch, the drama comes in through accidents that are totally plausible* and there are a lot of feels in here.

*(Interstellar was a great film but most of its drama was caused by people being diabolically stupid and, while the visual science was groundbreaking, the actual science was appalling.)

Here, a lot of the drama comes in through unintended mishaps, things going far too well (BOOM!) and real life physics having some fun.

Oh - go watch the book after you've read the film. (uhoh - mixed words. Getting mentally tired and probably need time off). The two have roughly the same story but they very definitely get the best out of both forms of media.

Film - great visuals in the scenery, plus it brings out the emotes of the characters. It paces the drama really well, the film feels just long enough and goes by fairly quickly. Ridley Scott does well here. I have mixed feelings about Ridley Scott, he's made some great films (Alien) and some turkeys (Prometheus). This matches his great direction with an incredible story.

Book - has more great stuff. The film is already 2 hours 20 minutes, which is getting on the long side. The film skips over a couple of detail parts in the book, which probably would have made it a 3 hour film. I don't think people really want those (despite what Peter Jackson and Chris Nolan think). The book can go into the deeper thoughts of the characters and explains things much better than the film. That's not to say that the film will lose you in the science, it's just fleshed out more in the book. A couple of minor plot points were missed off the film too.

I'm quite looking forward to reading the book again. I must finish Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama so I'm not doing a book abandon. I know someone who I think would quite like to hear what I think of the Rama book ...

Yeah - I really enjoyed The Martian, although I am a bit of a space nut. Combing stuff that makes a space nut happy with engineering, survival stuff and great science makes me a very happy filmgoer. I'll definitely be getting this one when it comes out on bluray. AT FULL PRICE !!!!

And there's not many films I get at full price now, I have so much of a queue of films to watch that I can afford to wait until they go in the 2 for £25 or even better 5 for £30.

I'll go see it again in the movies too. Did I mention that it was getting me in the feels at certain points ? That seems to be happening more and more in films.

Other stuff ? I'm going to cancel the Warcrafty stuff. I bought 3 months of game time which will be enough for me to see all the stuff you can do with a single character. After that, it can get pretty grindy. That is, doing the same thing over and over again ad nauseum. Plus I've seen the signs of addiction coming in where you end up playing a game because you feel some sort of obligation to, instead of having fun with it.

I've been on another game instead ...
I'm getting close to where I can get that view, it's just under halfway into the game. In my previous playthroughs, I tended to reload saves way too often. Get seen when you're trying to sneak ? Reload. I'm keeping that to just when the hacking minigame has a bad result or if the chat sequences decide to go contrary.

I play through with the nonlethal style, knocking out bad guys instead of putting holes in them. You have to be sneaky for that to work. Why ? Partly cos it feels better, guard dudes have families ! But mostly because it gives you a very minor experience boost that may get you ever so slightly more powerful by the end of the game. And it's a tough game too ...

As I found when trying to bring a rocket launcher to a gunfight. Didn't work. I was shocked ! But - if you're fighting someone who has a big gatling gun for an arm, it helps to have rapid fire on your side. Not a rocket launcher which is far too easy to miss with and takes ages to reload.

Time to leg it - I'll be remembering watching The Martian while wondering if anyone is going to give me the excuse to watch it in the cinemas again ? Hopefully this time without the kiddies (who should have been in school) who didn't have the patience to sit through 15 minutes of film, let alone 2 hours +. No parents in sight and they seemed on the borderline of the 12A cert ...

That's one thing about watching movies at home, it costs about as much with bluray/dvd, you make your own food (and can therefore trust it more) and you have a pause button in the case of too many fizzy drinks.

PS Go watch The Martian.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mine ... All Mine ...

Gaming can be fairly odd.

I touched on this in the last post where I talked about Warcraft and Needing to get my character up to maximum level, level 100. Staying in the game past the point where it got unhealthy (my neck hates me today).

It's weird when a game hits "need". I went back into Warcraft because I got interested in the storyline again. Ok, it was actually another, similar, game called Wildstar that got my interest up in WoW again and then the storyline got my attention. It's strange ... the last few expansions to Warcraft have had mixed opinions :

Pandaland - people loved this ! But I found it to be very grindy. The charm of the Chinese themed Panda-people didn't overcome the tedium of going through the zones. The story didn't grab me.
Draenor - this one starts with a well crafted ride through a story that puts you centre stage. That strong story does seem to be fizzling out a little too though.

They've been bringing in Farmville type aspects as well. Pandaland had a farm which steadily expanded, Draenor has the garrison. This just increases the addiction nature of the game.

But wait ? Isn't a game supposed to be about the fun ?
Some games have an odd conception of the word fun. Warcraft has improved, although at a cost of a lot of its soul. It's far easier to make money and be prepared for raids than it used to be. Previously, if you did quests at maximum level, you'd get very little credit. Now, the experience you got turns into gold. Makes it easier to make money. However, at the same time, the game has been massively dumbed down from what it used to be.

But that's one game that's been getting it right with the mix between gameplay, story and keeping the player interested. I mentioned grindiness earlier ... I made the grievous error over the weekend of checking out mining in Elite ... I'd done mining before in Eve. The two games are similar ... and different with the job of mining.

Elite and Eve - you bash away at rocks with mining lasers and get minerals from the rocks. In Eve, the rocks go into your cargo hold. In Elite, you use collector limpet drones to pull in the mineral fragments.

Getting them home - When I mined in Eve, I would be running two accounts. One was a miner ... but the mining barge cargo capacity was tiny and you lost way too much time going to the station and back to drop off the goodies. So the second account ran an industrial barge (space truck) and did all the running around. It worked well. In Elite, you don't need the second account plus they haven't implemented any commander to commander trading mechanisms.

(Elite is far from complete for a multiplayer online game).

Safety - With Elite, you can play in solo mode, which stops you getting molested by player pirates. This is the reason I actually bought the game. It is locked to online servers but I don't play games any more to be at the mercy of those who put an unhealthy amount of time in, getting them better Stuff than people with less time. The unhealthy ones then bully the slower players. I think that suggests an unhealthy mindset. As unhealthy as the people who I know will play these games for days, continuously. Get outside ! See the Yellow Face !

Oh - in Eve, you're completely at the mercy of online griefers. In civilised space, there is a police force called CONCORD who blow away griefers. Trouble is, a good griefer will be able to blow up a very expensive mining ship before they got shot by CONCORD and they'll do this in a very cheap ship. The alternative is to be in alliance so you can mine in lawless space, keeping an eye on the intelligence channels warning of pirates entering your territory. If you see the enemy appear in the local system, that's usually too late and they may get you on the way to safety. It's a dangerous universe.

Mining in these games is oddly cathartic though. It's like you're getting cash without much effort, it's just a bit slower. But ...

Where do the proceeds go ?

Elite - you just sell the bits to the stations for a bit of profit and it makes the owners of the station like you a little more. After you sell stuff, it essentially disappears into nothing. Compare that to :
Eve - the players drive the economy. Out in lawless space, no ships get built unless miners get the metals. No ammo gets made without miners. So it's in the best interest of the shooty players to protect the industrial players.

Oh and there's also the difference in how much control you get :
Elite ships are more fun to fly :-).

It does get to feel a lot like a job though. That's a big reason why I left Eve. There were always those players who could put in massive amounts of time. There's an immense learning curve. And then there's its hold on your time while you're doing the Player V Player group stuff. Basically, you go away from keyboard for too long and you'll be left behind, which is when you die horribly. I hear my alliance, Volition Cult, is actually doing pretty well at the moment - good on 'em :-).

It kinda comes back to story.

Warcraft - your character is running through the lore of the land via a series of quests where you are righting wrongs, clearing out the bad guys or in some of the highlights of the Cataclysm expansion, going on Indiana Jones (or Harrison Jones) inspired adventures.
Elite - there's no story in the game, outside of what you imagine for your commander. Ok, there are the stories in the Galnet news but these are somewhat pithy and you don't influence them as a player.
Eve - the players drive 80% of the galaxy. Massive alliances shape the structure. Little players get caught up in that. The political structure is ever changing and the balance is managed by the people who run the game.

I'm actually going back to a wholly single player game for a while. It's called Deus Ex Human Revolution and tells the tale of a near future dystopia where cybernetic implants are making their mark on our society. They help amputees, assist others with enhancements but at a cost, the body rejects the implants. The story opens as one group finds an answer to that problem. It's a pretty decent story too, I've played it through a few times now and still find it interesting.

Not tonight though - I'm on the road tomorrow which means an easy night tonight and I'm already yawning. Will those yawns now translate into quick to sleep later ? I doubt it. That's not how my life is going at the moment. Still not getting as much sleep as I need.

Ok, maybe a little garrisonville ... Cya !

PS A little extra - I'm not trying to advocate either Warcraft, Eve or Elite as games I think you should play. All I will say there is - play what you find fun. Different people get fun from different things. I actually get more smiles from people distracting me from the game, than from the game itself. And if the game becomes more like work than fun ? Find another game, there's tonnes of them out there.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Social Anxiety - I haz it ?

I wonder ... Let's see :

(aside - I just copy/pasted thinking it would get me the pic and it dropped in the blank for Tuesday's Thursday Thirteen. Oops).
I have some of those. Not all of them. But I do recognise them in others. Let's see ... but first ...

Haven't posted much. I don't think I've had that much to post really, although something's coming something about a certain car manufacturer cheating the emissions tests. But only because it involves the strangeness that adding pee to the mix of fuel and air in a car engine ... makes it cleaner. Less emissions and all that. They do it for ships too. Dunno about aircraft. Very strange.

I've been gaming perhaps a little too much, my Warcraft mage is now level 100, although she needs another 1400 gold to build her very own castle. She ? Yeah. My mages are female. It started out as a test of whether female characters in online games get different treatment. They did for a while but then it got pretty much established that a female character in game was probably more likely to be male than female. I know why I keep playing with the female characters, it's the voices.

With the Mass Effect game, I'd much prefer to have Jennifer Hale voicing the character than the bloke. Some games have gender based mechanics but that's thankfully extremely rare now except with character interaction. You hopefully know what I mean there ;-). And then games like Dragon Age Origins came along ... And you could have interactions with characters of the same gender, you could have interactions with 3 characters, one non player character member of your party would even open up interactions with 4 characters ... at the same time. Progress !

And this has kinda gone in the opposite way to social anxiety hasn't it ?

Go to the bathroom to escape - nah. I don't do this. But there will come a point in social interactions where I feel the press of TOO MANY PEOPLE and I have to escape. Sometimes it's just outside, sometimes it's run to the hills and head home.

Feel very uncomfortable without a phone or other crutch - I have to admit, I have internet addiction. I am a loner who has a compulsion to interact with people. I prefer interacting with Special People. Like having messages coming in, looking at the phone and hoping there's no poles nearby to walk into. Or nattering over the interwebs while gaming, to find that I'm ignoring the game and chatting instead.

That's Warcraft at least. Elite is a bit different, because you have lots of off keyboard time in that game where it's flying to stations or docking in stations (I use a docking computer because I'm lazy).

Dwell on a small awkward moment for longer than is necessary - I think I do this, although I can't remember any examples. Perhaps it's the thinking about it long after the moment has gone. Those cogs you hear grinding will be my head thinking of myriad ways that the moment could have been less awkward.

There's a certain mental paralysis ...

Never go to a social event without a person who makes you feel comfortable - I think I'm getting better at this. I never used to go to the cinema on my own, although there's a few times I have done over the past few years. It started with Gravity, where I had a birthday evening to myself. Even had my birthday meal in McDonalds ! The Shame ! (It took longer to get there than it should and I was feeling embarassed about rushing a Wishing Well meal, thought I wouldn't have enough time and it looked packed).

See ? That's a classic example where I've overcome that to a degree but only so far. I still prefer to go see films in the cinema with other people, it's better as a shared experience that you can talk about afterwards.

Follow said person way too much - I think I've freaked a few people out by paying them perhaps too much attention. I suspect little Kim of Yogscast felt like this, although she still responds to the occasional message of mine over the Twitters ! Hurrah. There's a few more too. I try to give people space now by not badgering them too much over the messages. Maybe. But I do think of other people constantly, a very few very special ones in particular (their names strangely spell ASK ...).

Worry about people beginning to find you obnoxious - oh my yes. My last First Date had someone disappear off for a little while. I thought she'd legged it ! Imagine my relief when she came back. But with the people who I have been in contact with and then contact suddenly ceases (as it has done a few too many times), the dark bits of my mind start telling me I've done or said stuff they didn't like.

And then a message from a good person comes in and those dark bits get banished to a little corner by all the grinning brain cells.

Faking an illness to get out of a social event - maybe, maybe not. Recently it's been my outsides and they have given me that excuse to not socialise. But I think I've managed to hide the damage and the embarassing bits enough to get out the house and into those social events. But then I think back to an incident with Ravenwolf where she was really looking forward to seeing Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Bristol Hippodrome. I didn't really want to go and that came to a head on the night when I was utterly exhausted. We didn't go. I can't remember all the circumstances around that but I think she was going to go with her mum, how come she couldn't get a lift ?

That's in the dim and distant past. I think I've improved enough now to be in proper control of when I go to social events. Things like declining invites with work colleagues (where with one group, it can just end up being a drinking session - meh). Or really looking forward to hopefully seeing Cupid's Gift again ? Maybe when her ankle is improved enough to let her out of the house.

Or if another friend wants to check out Bath Xmas market. Bristol Xmas market is coming again soon ! Bring on that Happy Cookie Place :
Cookies and cakes that are larger than your hands are awesome. Even if you have little hands.

Don't buy anything necessary because the cashier is intimidating - Hmm. Dunno here. I think my grin dissolves most intimidation from cashiers. On the other hand, I'll walk out of a shop if I think the people who work there are being obnoxious. This includes not speaking to me if I'm trying to get their attention or the old classic :

I was hunting for a car to replace my Rover (awful car). I was walking maybe 20 feet ahead of the mob, including my dad, I was obviously checking out what they had. Salesman walked right past me and started speaking to my dad. I took this very personally ... I think he realised his mistake when my dad said it was me looking for the cars. Let's just say we didn't even open the doors of the Mazda MX-3 he tried to point us towards.

I still have some of my social anxiety but I think I'm beating it. A couple of wonderful ladies (Cupid's Gift and LTK) have been helping out my confidence a fair bit over the past year.

If you recognise some of the symptoms above in you, hopefully you find that special friend who will help you with the social anxiety. Someone who will be that shield to keep the anxiety at bay. Someone who will never find you obnoxious. On the contrary, I suspect that person will be highly honoured that you chose them to be that shield. They'll understand ... or you wouldn't have picked them.

Closing ?
Yep. That means you :-). Get out there and show the world who's boss.
And it's ok if you need a friend with you :
They'd be overjoyed that you chose their pokkitz.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Long breaks

It occurred to me earlier that I don't believe I've had an extended break off work for ... many years !

Christmas time doesn't count, although I've managed to wangle a fortnight off every year at that time. Nah - most of the time I've had off has just been single weeks. That's usually enough for me, I start climbing the walls if I'm off for longer.

Thinking a little more, the last time I had a fortnight off in the middle of the year was 2005 and the visit to the States with Ravenwolf and family, which had an ... emotional ... aftermath. Less said about that the better. Ok - I was out there for a fortnight with them in Orlando, they had another fortnight after in Miami and then when they returned, Ravenwolf announced she was leaving. Heart - in tatters.

:-) Enough of that :-).
Some of the old pics are still worth bringing out again.

A couple of things made me think though - I think I had this aura of invincibility at work. Or indestructibility. I'm always there, I'm rarely away with sick days. Even with various stuff, I've not taken more than a day or two at a time to recover. Let's see :

Nose Job 1 - happened on a Thursday, I was off work on the Friday although I had one of the colleagues (Diablo) pick me up to retrieve my car from the cricket ground. I was back in work on the Monday. I had occasional other days off work too for getting the snozzle checked out by doctors. And then there were 2 days having the operation to have it straightened. Nose Job 2 was on the NHS so it's still a little bent, although that's how I see it, other people can't tell.

I was back playing cricket by the end of the season, which was good because it let me face down any potential psychological demons before they had a chance to grow over the off season. Not saying I got any runs (maybe 8) but it saw me facing up to quick bowling.

One important thing here - you may not have many days off sick but, especially with head injuries, there can be long term effects that you don't realise are there. With Nose Job 1, it deeply affected my memory and I think I still feel those effects 12 years later. A once nigh on perfect memory has gaps, where I cannot form a memory. Weird. For 18 months after, I had a mix of amnesia and false memories, where I'd form an actual memory of Doing Stuff that I hadn't actually done. I'd just mentally rehearsed how I'd do it and that would become actual memory.

The really strange thing is that I can remember some details of that day very clearly. Like the layout of the A and E, the depressing feeling of wicket keeper captaining a side that was being run ragged in the field and the shot that caused Nose Job 1. I think I dropped an easy catch behind the stumps too. Memory is a strange thing.

I've actually been hit on the head three times with the cricket. The second time, I was in a helmet and carried on playing during the game, helping our side to a comfortable win. And then I nearly threw up in the changing room after the game.

Three times ? This was really stupid. I was practicing the wicket keeping in the nets and because I was going into batting practice next, I left the helmet off. Cue a freak event ...

Legside delivery (where a keeper standing up is unsighted)
Top edge from the batsman
No time to get the hands to where the ball is now going
Lots of blood. Happily no lost teeth but that's where it hit.

That one probably concussed me for the third time as well, I couldn't feel hunger or lack of it for the next fortnight. Yet I still came in to work the next day, although this was because I didn't want to miss out on an End Of Project meal out in town which I knew Snow Queen was going to. Definitely didn't want to miss that, she was one of the fun things about my last project. I did take the next day off, which I spent in a mental fog. (Wednesday - practice, Thursday - work + meal, Friday - I dunno)

Even with my current and recovering condition with my outsides, I've barely been off work for the maybe 4 years it has been affecting me. I've been lucky there. If it had been serious Psoriasis, this can develop into Psoriatic Arthritis where the condition attacks the insides as well as the outsides. PA is a serious life changing condition with heavy consequences, especially as the treatment involves immuno-suppressants which have their own serious side effects. My joints have been seriously affected to the point where cricket is a distant possibility but I can still run quick if I need to.

Yep. I've been very lucky. Others haven't.

And I'm thinking of 3 people in particular who are fantastic friends :

The one who broke her back, you wouldn't know it. I've been really lucky to be able to count her as a friend and valued colleague over the past year. She's been keeping an eye on me and giving me someone to talk to and lots of encouragement. She's been the knowledgeable ear I've needed to keep me sane.
The one who is suffering from very heavy depression at the moment. Your friends are here for you little lady. I hope you can beat those demons and remember that old strength that made you the Heart of my last team. The one everyone else always looked to for a chat, a chuckle and a little bit of kick ass attitude. You can remember !
And the bubbly chuckly one who is recovering from a broken ankle. Get well soon dear one :-). I have something waiting for you when you're recovered enough to accept visitors who will love to come over to be reassured that you're ok and on the mend.

All three of those lovely ladies have helped me out no end over the past year. My confidence has improved with them showing me bits of my personality that they seem to like, which I wouldn't see in myself. Bits of me that they think are special which I discount as being just ordinary.

That's something very important - even a quiet word, a smile or a happy chat can do wonders for people who are a little lonely.
Do me a favour. If you have a friend that's struggling, keep an eye on them. Don't be too intrusive, that can drive them further into their shell. But keep an eye on them. Reassure them that they don't have to fight those demons alone. That they are loved. I'd have really appreciated this when I got hit in the mouth, I was on my own with that.

Showing that you care for how someone else is doing is the greatest gift you can give. Be generous with it, it costs nothing but gives reward beyond measure.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Monday Randoms

Oh noes ! Monday ! Don't worry, it's nearly finished.
There's still a little Monday left.

I can't quite remember what I've been getting up to this weekend ! Let's see :

More pooter stuff, more on that in a bit.
Rugby watching - England won but weren't exactly setting a Fear US marker for the rest of the teams.
More rugby - it was great to see Japan come from behind to beat South Africa in the dying seconds of that game. True giant killing effort and you know it's hard won in rugby, because that's how the game's played.
Grand Prix "racing" being meh as usual.
Lots of Warcraft, although perhaps not as much as you'd think.
Tonnes of music listening.

Techie stuff first - the decision to get that new router is turning out to be an excellent one. Before, I'd need to power cycle the Little White Box every evening or so, because the music stream would break up. Once it started to go, it wouldn't come back. Now it does ... The audio has coughed a couple of times that I've noticed but it didn't stay broke.

More techie - how does it do this ?
All streaming depends on buffering. The Littlewhitebox audio stream goes at about 1Mbit/s but not always ... It'll stream a little ahead (only a couple of seconds) to account for any difficulties the network may have. If you watch youtube videos, there will be a light grey in the timeline bar ahead of where you are in the video, then a dark bar for the rest. The light grey is where it's buffered some more in to keep a steady video in case of internet wobbles. For mine, the little blips are where it hasn't managed to catch up with the buffering after the network has done something else.

The network is also a bit quicker too. Part of that will be that psychosomatic feeling of "I have spent money on this, it must be better". Come on ... you know what I mean there ! But it's also in quantifiable things like being able to upload pics to Facebook faster, even if the pic is on the desktop and I'm uploading from the laptop. Oh and having Facebook or Twitter loading with Firefox starting up, previously, Firefox would load faster than the wifi connected and would get confused.

I've also got an answer for my Macbook Air wifi troubles. (More info at the link). On mine, 5GHz wifi works fine, 2.4GHz is just broken. It doesn't work and this is across a couple of routers, locations and networks. The solution is to use a USB wifi dongle. Sorted ! And this got tested over a few hours streaming music. I'll use the built in wifi as standard but have an option now for when I'm elsewhere.

So that makes my network gear :
Apple Littlewhitebox Airport Express - I'd thoroughly recommend these if you want to throw an audio stream across the room to a proper hifi using wifi. It'll send high quality (1Mbit/s up from 256/320) audio across the network, which I pipe through to the amp with a digital optical connection. No loss there, the audio is as good as it can get. Better than if I was using a wire across the room.
TP-Link Archer D5 modem/router - very happy with this purchase. Hopefully I'll still be happy with it after a year or so of letting it do its thing !
TP-Link Powerline networking pair - these did their job, although they're partly redundant now. They'll be handy if I upgrade my telly to one that looks for a network connection, or if I add networking to my Xbox 360.
TP-Link USB wifi dongle - I bought this for my old Windows laptop to have it talk to the 5GHz wifi on the old router. Now it gives me an option to get around the problems with wifi on the Macbook Air.

(Disclosure note - no compensation has been given for the recommendations given above, all stuff bought with my own money ! And that does mean no Lego Millenium Falcon for me, definitely no Lego Death Star, see ? Endorsements can be a good thing)

What else ...

Way too much World of Warcraft. What can I say ? The story has my interest. For now at least. That's how it has gone for me in previous expansions to the game and my experiences have been counter to what other people say. Pandaland was seen as one of the better expansions but I have to say I found it fairly meh. This expansion has been seen as fairly poor ... but I'm caught up far more in the story in this one. Not sure why. Perhaps it's the Garrison. I'm happy I came back in, although I know that it won't last.

It can't last because, funny as this sounds, it has a nasty effect on my body. I tense up more, which my upper body doesn't like. Still, there's more variation here than in Elite. I can see me staying in until the next game comes. That'll be No Man's Sky, which has heaps of hype about it.

Talking of hype ...
I'm currently reading Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke but I'm really tempted to dive into The Martian again. Can't wait for that film to come, hopefully it lives up to the expectations I've had for it since reading the book. It has a magic combination of :

Great science
Drama through accident
Accidents having a "yeah, this could easily happen", rather than the stupidity causes in a film like Interstellar
(Interstellar was an amazing film but most of the drama in that was from the stupidity of the characters)
Excellent (sometimes dark) humour
Wonderful characters
Keeps you guessing, keeps you reading.

Yep. I really enjoyed that book and I'm looking forward to seeing the film. I suspect I'll see it a few times with ... the work-ish friends (CK, CQ, BD), a gamer friend (Luth) and Cupid's Gift if her existing arrangement to see it falls through due to her injury.

Heal up soon Cupid's Gift !

PS My healing ? It's continuing. There are still a few awkward spots but the damage is still steadily receding. Completely healed by Xmas ? I hope so.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday Thirteening ...

Here it comes again ! Yep - another Thursday Thirteen.

But first ... router report ... Pointy Things Are Better. Proven. After avoiding gaming over the last couple of evenings, I had a good session today. Whereas before, I'd be disconnected sometimes after only 5 minutes or so, it survived a maybe 4 hour session. Ok, the server coughed (and is still fallen over at the moment) once but that's a problem at their end.

Yep. I suspect I need to keep an eye on the addictive part of my personality. It's taken to returning to WoW a little too well, although in its defence, I hadn't played for a few days.

Happy with the techie purchase, I hope the post from yesterday was useful !

Week Two Questions! Copy, Paste, Share & Tag! ?#?Thursday13?
1.What do you think the best invention is?
The pizza cutter. What else could it be ?
2. Are you a pessimist or an optimist?
I have to say optimist. I do make tonnes of back up plans but that's my paranoia saying things can and will go wrong and I better be prepared. But I do look for positive outcomes instead of instantly going to the "It's all going horribly wrong"
3. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
The ability to turn people's frowns into smiles. To cheer people up. To make them happy. Perhaps I'm part way there ? People catch the Grin when they see me smile at them. But it's not proof for everyone. The relationship with Ravenwolf fell apart because I couldn't find an answer to bring her up out of her depression. Work in progress maybe.
4. What do you think your life will look like in 10 years?
Hopefully with someone to share the music, toys and movies with. I have to say I'll still be working, thanks to the Beloved Mr Osborne, I'll not be able to retire early. I'd like to have had my boat built and be living on it.
5. What is the best thing about living in your city ?
The people I know in it. The colleagues at work. The work-ish friends who drag me out to the cinema. The friends who I can send messages over for chat when I'm feeling lonely. The bubbly chuckly Cupid's Gift who brings out huge smiles when a message comes in.
Yep. That's me, hoping there are no poles nearby when a message comes in. From a few people actually !
6. What are your hobbies?
Playing days in cricket are pretty much done now, although I have to say that I won't throw out the boots, gloves or whites just yet. I still watch lots of cricket, I'll watch the motor racing (although Formula 1 is paint drying watching foregone conclusion with the state of the teams at the moment). I watch an unhealthy amount of scifi and read almost as much. And then there's the games ...
7. If you could invent a holiday, what would it be?
Space jaunt.
8. What was the last thing you bought?
Outside of munchies ? That'd be shopping and petrol on Tuesday and the router on Monday.
9. Do you like to cook?
I like to throw things in the oven, forget about them and pop them out in half an hour. That said, I should really learn to cook better so I can choose my own ingredients for increased healthiness. That said, last time I tried eating healthy, my body erupted with all the damage that's almost repaired now.
10. How have you changed since you were younger?
Slowed down a little perhaps. Still indulging in the strange thinking. Perhaps wiser from being older.
11. What was your first car?
The Fiesta doesn't count. My first proper car was an Astra 1.6 Mk1. It had a beard. Yep ! Seriously ! The rust under the front bumper resembled a scabrous growth that Clooney would have been proud of.
12. What is the worst movie that you've seen?
Jupiter Ascending would have come close if it wasn't for Battleship. Jupiter Ascending at least had Mila Kunis attempting to have some fun with it. Battleship had zero redeeming features.
13. If you could meet anybody in history, past or present, who would it be?
Hmm. Tough one. I could say various people who will get irrationally irritated at the person I suggest. It'd make them throw things at the screen. I dunno why people get like that at people they don't know. Although see earlier comment about Mr Osborne.

I think I'd like to meet my ancestors. See what they did. See how they lived. See who they were. Because they are my own personal history.

That's it for this one ! I think this will go on Facebook as well. Soon.
Haha. There's a reason why I use pictures of dragons as my profile pics ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Three times better

I've worked out that my new router is precisely three times better than the last one. Exactly three. Not two. Not 4.2. Definitely three.

Why ?

It has 3 Pointy Things !
Actually, I can't see any Pointy Things on the last router, which makes the new one infinitely better.

Daftness aside, there is actually a good reason why More Pointy Things Are Good on stuff like this. But first ... I wanted to natter about buying techie stuff. The kind of procrastination I'll go through before parting with money. There is a dazzling array of choice out there for what to buy. Hopefully you'll find this useful and it'll save you money !

Who to buy from ?
Listen to people, check out the opinions of ordinary people. Don't go by what selling websites tell you or retail places. Or if you do, go by the opinions of places that are too massive to care. Personally, I look up what I want to buy on Amazon and check out the customer reviews. Ignore the high star ones, they usually say "This did exactly what it said on the tin". Go by the low star ones, these tell you about the shortcomings. Stuff it can't do. Whether you'll be buying a replacement in a few weeks.

Definitely whether you'll be buying a replacement.

Remember what you got before too. I personally will refuse to even look at anything Belkin* make because everything I've bought from them has been poor quality, sub par and just not very good. Things like an FM retransmitter for sending audio from MP3 player to car stereo which ... needed me to take the aerial off the car to work, got jammed very easily, didn't remember its settings because the battery backup failed. Asus are another company on my Bad Stuff list where you will see a lot of their gear on the shelves.

*(Other people's experiences with Belkin may vary - but I've had a few bits and pieces from them and they've all been poor).

Oh and never go by that "Relevance" thing when looking at places like PC World and their list of routers. The only "relevance" there is "what do we want to sell you", you should be going by "what do I want to buy". Buy the best kit, not what is clogging the shelves in the stock room because no one else will buy it.

This time around, I ignored everything else and just looked at TP-Link because I've had good experience with their Powerline networking kit. (Disclosure note - this is not an ad, TP-Link won't have a clue who I am and have definitely not offered me any compensation for saying they make Good Stuff, more's the pity - that cash could go on a Lego Millenium Falcon). Other people :

Philips - made a router which kept blocking the net.
Belkin - see earlier comments about their other stuff.
Netgear - make my Virgin Media Superhub and V+ box which .... aren't good. I would not choose to buy anything from these people (despite their reputation) given a choice.
Linksys - actually pretty good, no complaints with my last 2 routers from them.
D-Link - don't know them.
Asus - previous motherboards have been feature incomplete and unstable. A transformer pad and a laptop owned by the family broke. So that's all their kit that we've been exposed to failing in some way.

Shop around
My last two techie purchases have been from Argos, which amazes me because they were always behind the times with prices. I.e. they didn't keep up with the market, sold old kit at high prices. I bought the TP-Link Archer D5 device for £43, it costs £58 from Amazon, £95 from Maplin and an Archer D2 costs £60 at PC World (they don't do the D5). Admittedly that £43 was reduced from £90 but hey ! If it's discounted and you want/need it, grab it from the cheapest place.

Know what you're getting
If you are an ADSL subscriber (internet through the phoneline), don't get a cable router. Conversely, I could get an ADSL modem router because you can make it work with the cable internet.

What to get ?
The tech specs of these things are horrendously confusing. Ignore anything to do with speed, it's utterly irrelevant. Just done a little speed test on a 300MB file :
From desktop to laptop - 125Mbits/s. Other way - 90Mbits/s
That's actually pretty good and the file copied both ways in well under a minute. If your devices could go any quicker, you'll save ... seconds. And that's on a big file. How often will you handle files that size ? Not often. You need enough speed to handle the broadband connection (mine is 30Mbits/s which is good enough for streaming HD video). So ignore speed, it's irrelevant except when you're doing several things. It's good to be able to stream audio to the hifi and not have it interrupted by transferring photos from laptop to desktop etc.

How many Pointy Things ?
Yep. I started off with that as a joke but it is actually a serious consideration. The £40 price point is where routers with 3 Pointy Thing antennae start appearing. Why does this matter ? An antenna receives and transmits but can only do one of those at a time. It cannot listen while it shouts. So with my audio streaming, Antenna 1 listens, Antenna 2 tranmits it to the hifi, Antenna 3 listens for everything else. Like the wifi jammer that is in the neighbourhood. (Anything operating on the band can and will interfere, poorly made baby monitors and microwaves are notorious for it).

So more Pointy Things are something to look out for. They may not be what you want on display but you're going to hide the thing away aren't you ?

Dual Band
Wifi works off 2.4GHz (old stuff) and 5GHz (new stuff). Not all devices can talk at 5GHz, like my printer and camera. But pick up Dual Band if you can, because phones and laptops will really like it. It's away from all that white noise baby monitor and microwave interference.

Bigger is better - up to a point
The laws of physics are kinda boring but we all have to pay lip service to them. One of them is wave theory (indirectly related to good surfboarding). Every wave has a speed, frequency and wavelength. Speed = Frequency times Wavelength.
Wifi works at the speed of light : 300,000,000m/s.
Frequency : 2.4GHz or 5GHz (2,400,000,000Hz or 5,000,000,000Hz)
This makes the wavelength either 12.5cm or 6cm. To pick this up, the antenna has to be the same length. Or you can cheat and make a "dipole" that's a half or a quarter the length. More about dipoles (warning - it's geeky) at the link. This is why the Pointy Things attached to routers are about 12-13cm, it means they can send and receive the signals. "Folded" and "Short" dipoles are why you can get wifi adaptors smaller than the USB plug they're attached to. Not as strong but still do the job.

Some devices (like phones) hide the Pointy Things inside ... but they're still there.

Sockets - they look like new type phone sockets but are slightly bigger. Get a few of these, mine has four and they're all in use. One goes to the cable modem, one to the desktop, one to my Powerline widget and the other has a long lead to plug Random Stuff (like the work laptop) into.

Security - all devices will have WPA/PSK encryption which you MUST ACTIVATE AND CHANGE PASSWORD ! They will also have a firewall which you should turn on. There will be very little difference in the security offered by different systems but you must remember to use it.

Haven't had me dinner yet so my coherency is starting to escape me but ... Summary ?

Speed - irrelevant
Buy from people you trust
Buy from manufacturers you trust
Check out independent people's opinions
Discount opinions where you think someone's been paid to give it
More Pointy Things Are Good - science backs this up

I hope you've found this useful and not too geeky !
And ...
Cya !

Monday, September 14, 2015

Techie Battles

I've been fighting the tech again today.

Not just at work, although that's a given at the moment. We've just "upgraded" to Windows 7 and AbominOffice and the network has crumbled. Cloud computing is all very good if the network infrastructure is able to handle it. I have my suspicions based on what I see at home and how I see the work machines behave. They freeze often when doing things like simple writing of emails, which suggests that they're phoning home and freezing while waiting for a reply.

Add to that, this Windows 7 desktop will send small data packets (about 10-20kbytes) to the network quite often. You can bet the work ones are doing the same. What are they ? I never found out for this machine. Multiply that by several thousand machines and you get a problem.

But enough about work ...
I've been hunting the techie stuff again ...

But before that - Warcraft. I'm back in the old game again. I dunno - with Elite, I kinda got burned out on it. The trading gets very samey, very quickly, even if you're trying to avoid doing a 2 or 3 station loop. I've never been one to enjoy grinding like that in games, it always felt a lot like work and not fun. Warcraft has felt a lot like that in the past but for some reason, I keep going back to it.

Add to that, my dodgy wrist apparently taking a massive dislike to all that joystick time. Instead of having your hand flat for typing or mousing, the joystick forces it vertical (like if you're holding a mug). Also add in the need to have very fine control over the movement of the stick for when you're flying the space craft. It's that fine control that really kills my wrist, the muscles don't like balancing against each other.

Warcraft is different, I play it with one hand on keyboard doing movement and combat stuff and the other on the mouse. My mouse at home is on an elevated deck which I think is helping that wrist, whereas at work, the mouse is flat on the desk and I believe I strain the wrist by tipping it back. The drawback is that the playstyle hunches me up, tenses me up and my back and shoulders hate that. Wrist happy, back unhappy.

But ... I've been getting frequent disconnects from the server while playing Warcraft. Apparently, that's a problem in my old cable modem (Virgin Media Superhub). These have a few problems, including flawed firmware updates that cause this disconnect problem (it thinks the game is a filesharing piratey thingy). There are other issues like the breaking of my audio stream, which goes through the router. The printer that refused to connect to my desktop (curiously, it now refuses to connect to the laptop). The knowledge that my ISP has decided that they're going to roll out free wifi access, using residential customer routers.

That last point is why I've decided to - grab a new router. That exploitation of my wifi connection is annoying. It comprises my connection. It is not what I'm paying the ISP for. They should be paying me for it ! Not a happy bunny and I am seriously considering moving away from them for this and irritations with my TV system.

Where was I ? The router is what connects all of your devices to the internet. It arbitrates traffic between everything. So my desktop shouldn't see the traffic going between laptop and audio device. It gives security. It doesn't mysteriously decide that your devices are hacking the internet and block them like an old Philips router of mine did.

I've acquired an ADSL wireless modem router from TP-Link. Actually from Argos, which surprises me as they seem to be becoming my go to choice for pooter bits. This is very strange. But it does go to show that you should shop around with no preconceptions as to how much people will charge. Except Maplin. They'll always charge +10%, although you'll get stuff there that you'll struggle to find elsewhere.

What's it do ? It can do two things - either connect to the internet through your phone line or, in my case, connect through a cable modem. Herein lies the first problem. The cable modem will only recognise a device if it's plugged into it when the cable modem is powered up. Just means it needs to be power cycled plus a little wait. Hmm - this post could get long so I shall summarise the various problems tonight ...

Setup disc didn't work. It was dumb and assumed I'd be connecting via the phone. Fix - all routers have an address you can type in that will take you to a configuration page. Something like (That's not what mine is now and it's strictly local addresses only, this is not accessible over the internet). You can set the router up correctly there.

Problem two - the Airport Express didn't want to play nice. It is only accessible over wifi, so part of the prep was to take it off the old Aquarius network that I was shutting down and have it make its own wifi network "Littlewhitebox" (name chosen because it's a little white box). The Airport Express is how I get music from laptop to hifi, so it's ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that it works. It didn't want to answer to Littlewhitebox. Grr. One factory reset later and it connected up right.

My networks have followed a pattern of Artemis, Aquarius and now I needed a couple more names ... The new ones are Athena and Ariadne. I like those. I still get a flash of this lady for Athena :
Name that show ... and for bonus points name the characters who she's doing Mischievous Things to.

So - Macbook connects through Athena, which works off 5GHz. Ariadne works off 2.4GHz. My Macbook has a major problem talking to 2.4GHz but I can work around that. It's fine off 5GHz but my printer and camera are not. They have to talk over old wifi. One point I'm pleased about with the router is that it can separate the old 2.4GHz from the new 5GHz, which keeps the Macbook happy. Now if only it could ...

Talk to the printer. It's an old Kodak printer that used to have problems talking to my desktop. It would talk just fine to the laptop. Now it'll talk to the desktop but not the laptop. Urg. Hopefully the camera will cooperate.

Cue the next problem - I thought I'd test it by watching a Totalbiscuit stream of him playing the new Starcraft expansion beta. And the stream breaks up a lot, causing a very worried SleepyPete. Actually not a problem with the network - it's good in cases like this to have independent devices. My Macbook and Desktop (Win7) run completely different software underneath everything, which is a godsend when troubleshooting. Macbook ran the stream just fine (it was yet another problem with Flashplayer)

Curse you Adobe !

I think things are configured now, although I'm going to give Warcraft a miss for tonight. Hopefully that'll go ok tomorrow. I got home a bit late today after spending a while at the Mall buying stuff (actually just the router) so there hasn't really been time tonight.

Especially as I need to check that last piece of the puzzle ... camera ! It connects over wifi as well. On the old network, it would talk to the Macbook just fine ... and refuse to talk to the desktop. Hopefully that'll be consistent this time. And I have found it, after a "I can't find it!!!" panic. It was where it should have been - laptop bag. Oh and I need to investigate all of the settings for the router. Even the ones I don't have a clue what they mean.

Right - I've rabbited on enough ... One last pic ?
Don't forget your firewalls.

PS I'm hesitant to mention - no dropouts on the audio tonight (but then again, all the bits have only been on for a couple of hours) ... good sign.
PPS TP-Link do Good Stuff ... but their manuals and automatic setup are dire.
PPPS And some head scratching later and flicking the "Client Isolation" switch on and off (it stops  all devices on a network from talking to each other but does let them through to internet), things magically work ... Hurrah !

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Thursday Thirteen returns !

This is a meme from way back and I've kinda missed it. I'd usually do them with themes like music, movies, books, things like that. This one is questions :

First weeks questions! Copy, Paste, Share & Tag! ‪#‎Thursday13‬
1. What's a nickname only your family calls you?
Dunno actually ! The family doesn't really use a nickname for me. But with the gamer people, half of them use Ice, some of them use Keela, others use Sleepy and the PA mob gave me the name Dwagonman which is now my Twitter @.
2. Chocolate or Vanilla?
Chocolate. Bad for you but so good. Do I ... smell chocolate ?
(I have that one, should really have snapped a pic of mine instead of being lazy and asking Google !)
3. What is your favorite quote?
Crikey. There must be one of these in my head somewhere, rattling around. And my mind is going to the classic from Andromeda - "At the end of the universe when everything collapses in on itself, there will be three entities left alive. Tyr Anasazi, the cockroaches and Captain Dylan Hunt trying to save the cockroaches."
4. What's a song you secretly LOVE to blast & belt out when you're alone?

There are so many ! Let's see. The Veronicas Untouched is so powerful, 03.45am No Sleep by The Cardigans is dreamy, Shy Boy by Katie Melua sums me up pretty well I think, I will always stop and sing along to Apple Tree Man by All About Eve and I Can't See New York by Tori Amos but ... there's always The Incidentals by Alisha's Attic. Wonderful song.
5. What's one of your biggest pet peeves?

Bad drivers and queue jumpers. They kinda mix together.
6. What was the last thing you ate?

Wispa Bites. Lush. But not as gertlush as Pixie or Snow Queen cakes.
7. If you could change your name, what would it be and why?

I don't think I would to be honest. I'm quite happy with my first and last names, although I've gone by various nicknames over the years. See 1 ! Alisha's Addict is one I went by in the long gone past. I did think about converting to using my middle name at uni but that lasted ... 1 minute.
8. Favorite pizza topping?

Pepperoni !
9. What did you want to be when you were little?
An astronaut ! Perhaps this explains the fascination with Elite ?
10. What's your favorite flower?
Sneeze ! Says the hayfever tending person. There's a person who's struggling right now ... Oh wait, you meant plant ?
11. Which of the 5 senses do you consider to be your strongest?

Hearing. My eyes were pretty good with the cricket but have been fading with ancientness. But my hearing is still good enough to discern between many sounds together and I have that sonar thing that tells me where people are.
12. What's your favorite food that begins with the letter "S"?

SUNDAE ! What else could it be ? Make it a chocolate one.
13. Name the last song you listened to. 
Currently listening to 03.45am No Sleep as I test the link I put above and Heartland by U2 is going over the other speakers.

PS This has been one of those nights where I've started kinda halfheartedly playing a game, in this case World of Warcraft (not actually resubscribed yet but I think I will) with a new Gnome called Nanoice. She'll be a monk miner engineer. I've not done that area yet and I've never done a monk. It'll be new and curious. But ... people are better. And my attention was definitely being drawn to a series of Cute And Fuzzy Animal Pics appearing on Facebook that have definitely brought me smiles :-). And they need something in return :
It's like something I wrote somewhere ... Play game, see message from Pretty Lady, get distracted by messages from Pretty Lady, close game, natter, smile.