Friday, August 22, 2014

Bring me cookies

I'm off work for a week !

Hurrah !

Yeah. Having a break for a bit. It does help that I can have a week's worth of leave for the cost of only 4 days of annual leave, courtesy of us having Monday off anyway. I'm not quite sure how I'm doing actually. Some times, I feel absolutely mentally and physically shot. I definitely need the break but I'm not in quite the same bad way as I have been on some of these.

A quick summary :

My ankles hate me. A lot of me is still shredded but my ankles are the most painful. Most of the shreddies aren't actually painful, just messy. But the ankles have been badly swollen and I'd actually admit to pain from them that's been extremely distracting. However ... if I'm moving around, they're ok. I have full stompiness available, except for the first few steps.

My hips hate me too, I'm not quite sure what's happening there but sometimes they hurt so bad I'll get close to letting a howl of pain out. My neck too, that's been feeling like grinding glass in there when I move it but it doesn't make me quite as uncomfortable as the hips and ankles.

But - I'm not actually that bad. I'm counting on the aches and pains subsiding as my body decides to return to normal. The aches are there due to swelling from the damage so as the damage repairs, I should normalise. My ankles and knees are already normalising.

Yey me.

I suspect switching some of my diet over to the pasta bakes is really helping there. The extra carbs are giving my body the energy it needs to keep on fighting. Plenty more of those to come tomorrow as well, it'll be Twenty20 Blast finals day and I fully intend to grab a pizza at half time. Timings are awkward actually, Doctor Who starts up again too and I NEED to watch that. (It'll keep on the recorder until Sunday)

Intentions for next week ?

Tomorrow's the county cricket final. Monday will be the first one day international. It's in Bristol, so I suspect rain ;-). I intend to have a very light week, trying to leave my shredded body alone enough for it to get some healing in. I think if I can give it 3 clear days, it'll make a massive improvement. But things like the ankles don't get that chance when they're under socks and in shoes.

We shall see. It's that mental battle again.

Sunday will also see the Belgian Grand Prix. It's known as the fans' GP. I'd love to go, was considering it this year but alas, haven't healed enough to consider putting any plans together. Perhaps next year. Things like motorsport tend to be better on telly because they have cameras all over the racetrack but I'd like to go for the experience of it. The smells, the sounds. All that good stuff.

I'll be listening to a massive amount of music. iTunes tells me there's 6 days to listen to still, that grew with :
Foxes - Glorious - it was going for £3 (dirt cheap) so I thought what the hell, I'll try that. I'm listening to the first track right now and ... very mainstream but promising. There's a good voice there.
Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack - awesome movie, excellent soundtrack. It's the "Awesome Mix Number 1" album.
Bobby Vinton greatest hits - this was playing in Frankie and Bennys the other day and I went "how come I don't have any of this ?"

I have a new quest that'll be indulged at some point when the food runs out. There's a Harvester restuarant next door to the local Tescos. The quest is to eat my way through the menu. It'll take a while because I'll only go in there when doing shopping but ... it is sooooo good. As a suggestion of how good, there's a good Dominos pizza shop there too. I'm a pizza fiend, yet the Dominos will have NO CHANCE next to that Harvester.

They're that good. Hopefully they'll stay that way. There is a downside though, their vegetarian selection is derisory.

I'll go see Lucy at some point too. It'll either be with Cyberkitten and BionicDwarf or ... someone from Okcupid ;-). Yep. Been having a very pleasant natter with a lady on there today and she'd like to see Lucy. Maybe ? That would be particularly awesome. (And I owe her a post about why I find cricket so special)

But it started today actually with a wander around the centre of Bristol. I find doing the shopping wander therapeutic. I don't usually buy much but it gets me out walking around in relatively fresh (as city air gets) air and around people. That's another of my contrasts. I can get really uncomfortable in a crowd but I also have to be around people.

Perhaps the Big Grin needs to be fed some answering smiles occasionally ? It definitely got those today. My ankles called an early close on the town run and sent me home via the cookie shop. And the girl on the cookie shop stand definitely caught that grin.

It was amazing - and so was the triple chocolate muffin.

That might end up being my epitaph (hopefully in a few decades) - Here lies Dwagonman, powered by smiles in life.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A to Z - J for Joy of music

Another day, another music post :-).

It's the J's this time. Not so many this time around.

It starts off with a soundtrack - the Jade Empire soundtrack. This game was the first that Bioware tried on a world and combat system they invented all on their own. Before, they'd done games based on the Dungeons & Dragons rules. This one had mixed reviews, perhaps it was a little too simplified to make it go on consoles. Great atmospheric oriental style soundtrack however.

Alanis Morissette is in here with her debut, Jagged Little Pill. It still stands up as an excellent album today. Stand out tracks include the hypercute Perfect.

I've always been a huge James Bond fan. The movies are usually highly worth watching. My favourite Bond I think is Timothy Dalton. He was a suitably tortured Bond personality, yet definitely fit the role of master hit man. My collection is from before his time though and includes songs from the Connery and Moore era. My favourite is Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better. I suspect a slight crush on Barbara Bach's super spy ...

I get some of my pointers for new music from Itunes Single of the Week. It's a freebie from random people. One time it was Lucy Spraggan. She's a singer songwriter who won X factor with her own songs. And if they're songs like Tea Or Toast, you'll know why. This one came on in the car and I almost blubbed. While driving. Fantastic song.

An old classic ? U2's Joshua Tree is one of their better albums. I don't follow them too much because a lot of their music, while excellent, mushes into anonymity. And their political views are batshit crazy. But it's not about the politics, it's about songs like Where The Streets Have No Name.

And that's actually it for the J albums ! Short and sweet today - so ... how's me ?

I'm seeing genuine progress. When I let it happen. My legs have been swollen and my ankles super sore. But ... that's because I've been attacking them. I managed to leave them alone more this morning and was rewarded with less pain throughout the day. Hopefully I can continue that theme.

I've also lost something and can't find it. It's a full stone in weight. You can probably tell I'm quite happy about that and I'm trying not to find it ... How have I lost the weight ? It's the pasta addiction I think. My body has a habit of developing cravings. They'll be pretty random and form a conversation with myself that goes pretty much :

Body : "I need food !" "Give me what I need ?"
Brain : "Ok, what do you need ?"
Body : "I dunno, just gimme food !"

And I pile into the biscuits, which just leads to the craving continue and the weight going on.

I think with the pasta bakes, the food need was probably carbs. My usual diet is solid protein. I guess I may have needed the carbs to give me the energy to fight what's been holding me back.

I have a week off work coming soon. I'm hoping to heal up some more over that week. 6 more working days to go though.

Cya soon !

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Into the shell

The news is absolutely full at the moment with stories about a lost titan.

I've not watched everything he was involved in, not by a long shot. But what I did see of Robin Williams convinced me he's a one of a kind and an absolute gem. I watched as much Mork and Mindy as I could, he was an absolute genius in that.

A truly funny, insane, witty, exciting, sensitive person. But with a dark side.

Depression touches us all, to a lesser or greater degree. It definitely touches me, except when my manic side masks it. It's nearly taken me from this world. I was having a particularly hard time with work (this is last century, the relevant people are no longer in the organisation) and while on the motorway, the thought hit me that it would be so much easier if I tugged the steering wheel all the way left at 70-80mph. That would have been painful and in the car I had, possibly fatal (bit weaker than a modern car). What stopped me was :

My mom may have followed me if I'd done it. I don't think she could have handled another loss.
Knowledge of what something similar does to people. I still have questions there, it's about an incident almost 25 years ago where I don't know where the cause was deliberate, malicious or accidental.

But yeah, I was seriously considering taking the easy way out. (that's the easy way out for me, I'd have been 24 with my only massive problems being bullying at work)

However - it's only easy for one person. For everyone else, it's absolute hell. What if I'd taken someone else with me if I'd tried to crash the car ? I have a repeating vision of me crashing a car with my dad in the passenger seat, it stops before Bad Stuff - but that vision still scares me because I've had similar precognitive visions that have since come true.

Is precognition an actual thing ? It can't be supported by any scientific theory but ... I've had a couple of vision/dream scene that have since happened. Weird.

Anyway - we were talking about depression.

It hits us all in greater or lesser degrees. When it hits, it's utterly crippling. Not just from the feelings of being upset and useless but also due to the negative feedback cycle it traps you in. It's a pit that drags you in deeper.

An example is me with my skin. If I left it alone, I bet it would heal fairly rapidly. However ... I keep attacking it rather more aggressively than I should. When I do, there's a voice inside going "What the hell are you doing ?" Yet I continue to attack and set the healing back. The condition is such that while I think I'd enjoy watching the boys play cricket, I'm not in a position psychologically where I can face watching a game I should be playing in.

The really tragic thing is when we don't recognise the symptoms overwhelming someone. We bear part of the responsibility for them taking that "easy way out" if we do not recognise and act in time. We should not feel sad after the event, we should be helping out before the terrible happens. Depression is treatable, whether that's from :

Medicine - to restore chemical imbalances in the body
Hugs - to convince someone they're loved
Smiles - to say "I'm happy to see you"
Friendly ear - to allow someone to talk through their problems
Kind advice - sometimes this is telling people what they want to hear
Honest advice - telling people what they need to hear
Positive reinforcement - making someone feel valued

A few of those are why I'm happy to continue coming into work, even though I'm struggling desperately with pain at the moment. (It's affecting my concentration - and it's due to those self inflicted wounds). I get smiles from the ladeez and my opinion, knowledge and expertise is valued by my colleagues.

If you can help someone out who is struggling, don't hesitate. I still feel bad about a situation many years ago where we spotted a female colleague disappearing at a great rate of knots into a meeting room in tears. Me and a male colleague looked at a female colleague with pretty much a "help!" look. I think my instincts had decided a lady was the appropriate person to help and that us boys may make matters worse. But I still feel there should have been a "Hi {miss} what's the matter ?"

Always remember though, if someone is sharing their problems with you, then they are trusting you in confidence. Don't betray that confidence, it'll make them feel as if they're the subject of mass gossip which will make their condition much worse as they'll be less likely to ask other people for help.

Ok - I think that's enough of my soul bared for one day !

Quick shout out to the lady who kinda triggered this post from things that appeared on Twitter today. I know when I talk Yogscast, it's usually about the ultra adorable Kim who I would love to meet again. But this time it's about the equally adorable Zoey. Our Zoey also makes great content, I especially enjoyed the Pokemon series, uniquely Zoey, definitely fun. You never quite know where it's going to go next and that's a common theme with what Zoey does, which makes it interesting.

But Zoey also struggles with depression. Big Hugs for Zoey ! While she had an evening on the livestreams last year, the depression is making it too difficult for her to appear on camera. I sincerely hope she manages to conquer that one and give us a smile on camera. There's two reasons :

1 - I'm genuinely curious to know what she looks like. I can usually judge roughly how someone looks from their voice and that voice suggests there's a shy and very pretty smile lurking below twinkling eyes.
But that reason, my curiosity, pales in comparison to :
2 - It would represent a major victory in a battle against a serious condition and hopefully a "I did it once, I can do it again" that will make it easier the next time.

So, Zoey, if you end up reading this, I hope you do conquer your anxiety. But don't feel pressured or rushed, only do it when you're ready. In the meantime, we'll continue to cheer for you and hope that Fiona keeps those hugs coming :-).

Friday, August 08, 2014

A to Z albums - the I's have it

Seems like I'm really crashing through these albums now :-).

There's still about 2700 tracks to listen to, I'm wondering if I'll have listened to them all by the time the 1 year point (end of October) comes around. So - how about these I albums ?

But before I do - a shoutout to an amazing film : Guardians of the Galaxy. If you're a scifi fan, GO SEE IT !!! It's the best film this year by a long way. Varied characters, an adorably psychotic raccoon and his guardian tree steal the show. You're never quite sure where it's going to go next and the humour is ever present. Hugely funny. I wanna see it again because I was definitely out of sorts last night when I watched it. Excellent music too.

First up for A to Z is a collection - I Am Sasha Fierce by Beyonce. This was another speculative buy. Beyonce has a decent voice, has done some decent songs but ... I'll not collect the albums like I usually do with someone I like. The saddest thing about this collection is that the best track, Crazy In Love, isn't actually on it. Why ?

We have soundtracks again ... The legendary game Baldur's Gate spawned a couple of companion games called Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale 2. They're based in the icy far north of the Dungeons and Dragons world of Faerun. I didn't play these the first time around cos of ... time ... and I was still trying to get through Baldur's Gate. These are more party based than story based. I really must give it a good run. Why do I own it ? It was part of a GoG.com bundle ! Which means soundtracks ;-)

Alisha's Attic have been one of my favourite artists and Illumina is the album I consider their best. I suspect they were going through the ringer here, there's some serious emotion in these tracks. But my favourite is a happy one, The Incidentals. Actually, it's loaded with incredible tracks, from Barbarella to Wish I Were You which shows off the different characters of the two girls voices. Highly recommended.

The Hoosiers had a distinctive first album, followed by the Illusion of Safety. Sadly more mainstream than the first ... But Sarajevo was the standout for me.

I've always been a fan of Clannad and there's a lot of their albums coming under L ... But here we see a collection album, In A Lifetime. It collects together a lot of their best tracks and is well worth a look as a Clannad sampler.

And now something completely different - Art Of Noise with In Visible Silence. This group is electronically dominated, not much singing here. But there's lots of outstanding instrument play, check out the guitar on Peter Gunn.

More soundtrack ! Independence War and its sequel are another couple of space sim games that came out and aroused lots of interest. I actually bought the second ages ago yet never played it (lent it to someone and lost it for years !). They appeared again dirt cheap from GoG.com. The music is outstanding ...

About these soundtracks - I get them in the sales when the games are selling for maybe $2 or $3. Even if I don't play the game, the music is usually worth picking up as part of the package.

And talking of that, I've never played or seen Indie Game, The Movie but it's another Jim Guthrie soundtrack which stands up on its own as a quality bit of work.

Short one next - we didn't go as far as buying their album but Stiltskin's Inside was definitely well worth picking up as a single. Grindy guitar for the win.

But I tend to go for soaring lady vocals instead. Cue KT Tunstall with Invisible Empire / Crescent Moon. My favourite here is Crescent Moon. It's not just the voice, she's a master musician with the instruments too.

Not so much soary vocals but definitely wonderfully cheeky stuff comes out of the gifted Lily Allen. Half her songs are too rude to link but great to listen to. I think from the theme of half the last post, I'll pick the gorgeous song Who'd Have Known.

A golden oldie - Sleeper emerged with songs from the classic The It Girl. It's a definitely poppy album but Click Off Gone redeems it from that and is a fantastic album closer.

It Girl kinda spawned a nickname for a dear friend. A) She looked after our IT and did a wonderful job of it. B) She was the one everyone wanted to be friends with. I think that's the definition of It Girl isn't it ?

Maroon 5 is in here with It Won't Be Soon Before Long. Sadly I don't have any favourites from this. It's more of the same from Maroon 5, which is high quality pop music. I like it.

And to finish off, a pair of iTunes Originals albums ... These are special Greatest Hits style albums that go past collecting the best tracks together, they also include short snippets of interviews with the artists which add so much value. I have these from Norah Jones and The Cardigans.

Norah Jones is just such an adorable person and has a distinctive husky, oh so sexy voice. Lots of highlights here but I'd pick out Sunrise. It's not just the voice, it's how it's complemented by the band.

And talking of a band that combines with an amazing voice, The Cardigans collection was done before my favourites of their albums (Super Extra Gravity) but this collection is so good it may attract a post all of its own. I'm not kidding - when I finished listening to the collection, I started listening to more Nina Persson A Camp and Cardigans tracks from Youtube.

Cardigans highlights are : 03.45 am No Sleep, For What It's Worth, Please Sister and Communication. I guess with Communication there's a lot of synergy with my own situation as I struggle to connect with people. Cardigans lyrics are exceptional. They can combine ultra dark lyrics (e.g. domestic abuse) with ultra cute melody.

And Then You Kissed Me (which I won't link) is a prime example. And what Nina says about it on the interview : "it starts up totally innocent and then someone throws an axe at you ... [giggle]", with that spoken in that clipped Scandinavian accent that just makes the singing crisper.

This collection does miss a few - In The Round, Daddy's Car and all the A Camp stuff is magic. But - a collection can only have what exists when it's made. Keep watching for what I say about Long Gone Before Daylight, most of which is on this collection.

J will come soon, I've listened to all the tracks, but will listen to them through as albums before I post. I'm actually listening to L tracks ...

Cya next time !

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Genius and Understanding

I have pictures today !

Two of em ...

First up - the Crazie mob are off to the movies again. We're looking forward to seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. There's been lots of praise for this one already. I dunno what the critics are saying (they don't like the movies I like) but word of mouth has it that this one is awesome. Perhaps we need more like it ?
Haha - Firefly (and Serenity) was awesome. It had its characteristic setting, which ranged from rustic rural cowboy ranching to ultra modern scifi cities. It was based on a small transport ship which had character all of its own. The crew was an assortment of richly varied characters. You could tell how they'd react (well, apart from Mal) but it was absolutely gold how they interreacted.

Yet a series which was so well received, was so well written, had so much more going for it than the average Star Trek (I'm a fan of Star Trek but it could be very patchy in quality) and had so much potential to go places got canned after 15 episodes only to be resurrected for the single spin off movie, Serenity.

A waste of so much potential. The lead, Nathan Fillion, is doing ok - he's been the lead on Castle for I think 7 seasons now and still keeping that interesting.

Other pic ? Here we go :
I've been on the Okcupid again.

I've got a profile there that I think is pretty decent. I believe it's well written but still has that distinct character I try and put in most of my writing (the formal stuff has rules). I have one of my better selfie style pictures on it. Yet ... no one looks at the profile. Not even in response to :

Peeking at other people's profiles
Sending messages to other users there

(You can trust me - they're appropriate non creepy messages although I have told one person that I recognise her from other stuff)

Yet at work and outside, hell even in Sainsburys tonight, the Big Grin gets its people joining in with big smiles of their own. It's pretty universal. Women see the SleepySmile directed their way, they smile back. It's as if they can't help themselves.

You can probably tell I'm very happy about that.

However - I would like that SleepySmile effect to be special for a particular person. Who'd I like that person to be ? I dunno yet. There's a couple of very special ladies who I have had my eye on. One's at work, one's online. I'm not sure about the one at work, I think she may be involved with someone else which is where I steer clear. But the one online is actively looking for someone, yet doesn't reply to messages that effectively say "Hey ! Here I am !" (not in those words - lol).

One of them was pretty much "Seen Guardians of the Galaxy yet ?" which is effectively the point of that site, to get together singles who would otherwise not meet.

So yeah,

I'm at that table, sipping me pint (of coke), wondering if I'll ever understand that section of society that makes life worth living. Perhaps I need someone female to give that profile a good going over ? Saying that, it needs people to actually look at the profile for that to do any good.

Wish me luck !

PS It's still a little too early really. I'm not healed (by a long shot). Some of the damage fixes within days, most of the damage is lingering. My ankles are really sore and swollen. But ... there is light at the end of that there tunnel, it is improving and I'm understanding the condition better.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Calling Time

I had hoped that I'd have recovered sufficiently to at least make myself available for at least one game of cricket this summer. Alas though, I'm still pretty shredded.

Most of it is self inflicted wounds. Most of the cuts and slices repair themselves to invisibility properly, within 3 days. It's just the persistent bits that cause a problem, because those are the ones I redamage when my guard's down.

But, even with the skin problem, it was getting near the time when I'm just simply too old to justify being on a cricket field as a player. There's 3 disciplines in cricket :

Batting, bowling and fielding.

I turned into being pretty decent at all 3 and (when intact!) could have commanded a place in the sides as either batter or bowler. I've batted everywhere in the order, having the technique to survive as an opening batsman against the best bowlers. My bowling was very dangerous and I've won more than a few games for my sides by taking wickets at crucial times. My fielding was ... interesting ... sometimes good, sometimes horrible but I'd put all the effort in that I had available.

Curiously, the form never came at the same time. I'd either have a good batting year or a good bowling year. Much of that was to do with injuries, the year after my introductory season was blighted by groin strains and a back problem that put a major dampener on my ability to bowl.

Anyway - one reason for calling time is that my ability to perform the roles is no longer what I would expect it to be. And if I'm not performing highly for the team, then I don't consider myself worthy of a spot in the team ahead of other people who are keen to play. It actually goes further than that, cricket was becoming seriously hard work in terms of being able to run around on the field. The first two games last year were played in cold, dreary conditions where I just literally froze. As in, not able to go Warp Speed because the muscles had turned to concrete.

Batting - I've never been a big hitter but in the later years, I felt I was costing the team wins by batting too slowly. Perhaps that's a sign that my glasses were affecting batting more than I thought but it was mostly strength lacking in arms that were a fraction behind getting the bat where it needed to be to spank the ball around.

Bowling - it literally became dangerous for me to bowl. The damage to my shoulder means I have no control over the length it comes out at. Combine that with an action that naturally curves the ball into the batsman and you get something potentially lethal. It's a head high ball that's following them as they try and duck out of the way.

Yet there's still the feeling on the field when you see bowlers who are truly pathetic (we've had some who claimed they can bowl, they were trusted to ... and then bowled half an over of wides) and you know you could have done better. But that's coming from a strike bowler who was regularly economical and wicket taking. A key bowler if you will.

What did I do to the shoulder ? In the 97 season, there was a pitcher called Alex Fernandez. I'd been watching baseball at uni and the team I followed was the Florida Marlins, who had Alex Fernandez in the team. However, he missed the playoffs due to a torn rotator cuff which meant 18 months out of the game. (It's the muscle group that holds the shoulder together). He retired 4 years later aged 31. I heard of this after injuring my shoulder playing badminton. I'd gone for a jump-smash, missed it and tried to switch my shot to an underarm flick. My shoulder got levered out of the socket somewhere in between the two shots.

Cue a couple of months of not being able to pick anything up with my right arm because it felt like the arm was being pulled out of the socket. When I heard the diagnosis of "torn rotator cuff", I didn't think much of it. Didn't sound impressive. You can bet I went "Oh crap" when I saw the Alex Fernandez story ... As things worked out, I had that 18 months off bowling because I didn't play much cricket at uni and it was patchy after I started work. I do however have a pic from when I helped a work side gain a knockout trophy. I got wickets in that game :-).

But - all good things ... While I did get a few good years able to bowl again, I reinjured it a few years ago. Could have been a few things. I had 3 years out of the game for personal reasons. I lifted a 28" CRT telly on my own (oops) and I think I reinjured it playing badminton again (in a session at the gym at work).

I do feel it's sad though that the real kicker for calling time on the cricket is the skin condition. Although you could also say that it's forced a decision that's been coming for a long time now. I'll be 40 in a few months .... And that's a lot of years spent abusing natural fitness.

I've never really been one for training. In fact, the times I have trained have actually led to me getting worse. There's one particular series of circuit training where I gained zero aerobic fitness (where I've always been lacking), yet lost all of my extreme speed. That natural fitness has usually seen me get match fit during net practice or I'd catch up quick in the first couple of games of the season.

No - even without the impact that the skin condition is having, there's a few signs of Too Old that make cricket a really daft proposition :

Shoulder - goes without saying. It's not just the bowling, it's the throwing too.
Hips - I've damaged my groin muscles a few too many times. Ouch.
Knees - have always been unhappy that I have massive leg muscles.
Back - another one I bust with the bowling.
Hands - a lifetime of fumbles takes its toll

It got to the point where I had the option to go say hi to the boys, when the two teams I played for had their game this season. But I didn't want to go to the field where I should have been playing. It's as if it would have been too much psychologically to have it hit home that the cricket field is not a place I should be as a player.

As it happens, the Crazie mob was going to be enjoying How To Train Your Dragon 2 at the same time. Cricket mob to watch or movies with the Crazie Mob : No contest.

I'll still keep watching the cricket. It can be a compelling game, where the result is in doubt all the way up to the end. If you're lucky. Sometimes, the result gets obvious quickly and it's just a matter of getting there. The excitement of a Last Over Can Go Either Way game makes up for all those.

I'll make the plans for it too :
Lords for the Interservices T20 games will be an annual pilgrimage.
And I may well put the narrowboat on the Gloucester & Sharpness canal where it's in range of Worcester, so I could nab a fortnight in the summer to cruise to Worcester to watch a few games.

Yes. I'd quite like that. The alternative would be to cruise to London for Lords and the Oval, however moorings in London are supposedly much tougher to get hold of.

I'll leave it there - don't be afraid to call time on something like cricket. If you're not enjoying it and it's doing you damage, then consider backing away from it. I just hope you don't end up with feelings of unfinished business. (I never got a 50!)

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 ?