Monday, February 28, 2011

Need a game ...

Been busy in the evenings lately but probably busy at all the wrong things :-)

I've been gaming a lot lately and also trying to keep up with all the recorded stuff lately. Babylon5 off dvd has taken a back seat while I try and stay ahead. After a little flurry of book reading, I've stalled after starting Inversions by Iain M Banks. It's not the author's fault, I've just gone SQUIRREL and got distracted by other things.

Like ?

I've been back in Warcraft now for the last few months and have been enjoying it far more than my various spells in Eve. The spacer MMO (Eve) tends to be a long tedious grind to support Player V Player (PvP) action. The trouble with Eve's PvP is that you have to go looking for it. Unless there's territorial stuff going on (which happens more in the alliance we're in now), looking for PvP means joining a gang that then goes looking for trouble. Problem there is, trouble either gets caught in the open and annihilated or trouble runs away. The "Rush" that comes in an even fight is quite rare. I don't find 20 vs 1 fights challenging or interesting.

Warcraft's PvP is structured differently, at least on the server I play on. It's based primarily on battlegrounds, which have strict limits on how many can take part. Warsong Gulch is 10 a side and you have to capture the enemy's flag from their base and take it back to your's 3 times to win. Arathi Basin is 15 a side and is based on dominating 5 control points. It's well designed and makes for a dynamic and engaging sequence of play where the "Who's going to win?" can change very quickly.

It's the kind of gaming that gets me drawn in and checking when the next Tol Barad (another domination type battleground with 40 a side Total Mayhem) is going to be. It gets the blood flowing.

Oh - it probably feeds the addiction prone tendencies due to the buzz from winning through Burning Stuff. My character plays with Fire and has talents like Firestarter and Pyromaniac. The people who know me personally will have just hidden in concrete flameproof bunkers.

There's just one problem with Warcraft now - I think I've taken my main character as far as it'll go from what I can do on my own. (1 more upgrade to come) I could hit the dungeon queues to get more Stuff but that tends to lead to frustration due to having the wider Warcraft player base inflicted on you. Most of the players of Warcraft are under the age of 20 and like to act like they're younger than 10. That "Rush" does funny things to the mind.

That's why I like to stick to just doing things with the guild, it's a collection of people who play the game a lot like I do. They play hard but are also prepared to have a laugh. Always have to remember that you're playing a game, taking things too seriously can put a definite dampener on things. That's a good attitude to take to everything, always be prepared to laugh at the work in full knowledge that the world will not hesitate to laugh at you if you let it. The Warcraft people are better than the Eve people. Eve people like to think they're a better class of player but it doesn't show when playing with them. Except for the Volition Cult corp, they break the mould by being good to be around.

Laughing at our mistakes helps us pick ourselves up when we're down. Plus it helps reinforce a bit of "yeah, I'm whinging but I'm not whinging at you". A few of our people at work are getting a lot of stick right now because we've just introduced a new information management system which wasn't ready. Not their fault but they're the closest people to us so they're the ones who get their ears bent over it.

Need a game ?

I've hit that point again where I've got a bit bored with the games I have and need something new. I have my Formula that beats Settlers IV. My Krogans are unbeatable in Moo2 if the start is good, my Sectoids are even better despite the start they get. Civ 4 is too big scale a game to play casually. Just finished another Mass Effect run. Warcraft is good but too much of a good thing makes the good thing go stale.

Starcraft II is looking like a contender, I've gone big into real time strategy games in the past. Plus there is also a case for letting the brain cool down a bit by reading a book instead of having to keep up with twitchgaming.

Ha - it'll cool down even more in the summer when cricket comes round again :-) I'm smart but when I start running around something happens in my head that means I have trouble counting even to 6 (balls in an over). Or I let the random thoughts spill out of my head like in a blog post like this one :-)

One thing I will hope to do is have fewer late evenings getting home. That's not just work, it's things like heading off to the Mall for emergencies. But it would be good to have 6 hours to myself in the evening instead of just 4 plus what I sneak in after midnight.

How long until the next Tol'Barad ? Must go check :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Just how do you work out what to do next ?

Thinking about work here and how we get through all that work that we need to get done. I work in a post with a work profile that can be best described as having a baseline of work that we need to get done so the project moves forward. On top of that, we get questions coming in that are usually on a very tight timescale and require some techie/engineering braincells to figure out :

Where to look to get the information
What information is needed
When info is "Too Much" and clouds the issue
Figuring out what the question actually means ...

People can ask one question but they're really meaning to ask a different one. However, they can't ask the question they're really intending to because they will either dictate the answer or it will be an answer that no one wants to hear. Or they're not really sure what the question should have been in the first place.

Anyway, back to the original thought. Priorities. With a heavy workload, what do we decide to crack on with first ?

I dunno how I look from the outside but my inner scheduling tends to reflect my thought processes. That would be thought processes that rebound between utter chaos and absolute order. I'm capable of thinking in the absolutes of computer logic but can also come out with the off the wall longitudinal thinking (longitudinal thinking = even more obscure than lateral) directions that no one in their right mind would go to, usually because the radical thought has been trained out of them.

(I just wish the chaos could be a bit more controlled and spontaneous, I'll often think the inspiration thought quite some time after the moment has gone)

What kind of jobs do we tend to do ?
Baseline repetitive tasks we can do without thinking
Deep Thought investigations
Quick 5 minute jobs
Jobs that if we sit and stare at them, they will never get done
Things that need an Idea Foundation before you can start

There's more to it than that but you get the basic idea. Those 5 minute jobs are usually things where people say "no need to do it now". I like to get these out of the way asap. If I don't, in 5 minutes I'll have gonSQUIRREL (name that film) when the pretty blonde lady* walks past and completely forgotten what they'd asked me to do. And in an hour or so, the fella who's asked for the 5 minute job gets as embarassed about reminding you as you do about forgetting.
*(we are blessed with pretty dark haired ladies who work for us too)

Yep - get 'em out the way quick.

The difference between the Deep Thought stuff and the baseline stuff is curious. I enjoy the Deep Thought stuff as it lets me harness my brain some more. It's new and interesting and tends to be open ended. Your result depends on how smart you are at digging out information. And I get a kick out of finding stuff out. But the baseline stuff still needs to get done or we miss dates and people give our bosses a hard time (which then gets passed on). It's much easier to say "Yep, all done on my end" than "Ummm, will get to that soon".

That last one is a thorny one. It's those tasks where a lot of inspiration is needed to get something made. Inspiration isn't something you can force, it has to come naturally. I used to produce certificates for people who leave the project and I'm doing one again as a bit of an emergency job. They're custom made for the leavers and pick up highlights and lowlights of their stay with us. If you sit and stare at them, the inspiration to fill the template doesn't happen. But if it's sitting minimised behind the word document you're reviewing, those random thoughts have a habit of tapping you on the shoulder.

That job's almost done now after just a day of incidental thought on it. And it's got some things in there that are sure to provoke the guffaws. Muahahaha.

Everyone will have their own way of prioritising their workload. I think mine works reasonably well as a fit for how my brain works. I fall back on the baseline load when there's no fastball investigations to do, or when baseline starts to pile up. I get the quick & easy tasks out of the way before my Goldfish memory makes me forget. The inspiration tasks benefit from the chaotic part of my brain ticking away in the background.

I also like to get the preparations out of the way the evening before. I'm not a quick starter in the morning, so doing that prep the day before allows it all to get done efficiently. Doing it in the morning only leads to PANIC and huge potential for distractions (like Pretty Lady with task only You can help with - yes, I'm a sucker for that) meaning your prep is rushed and flawed.

I've not mentioned training yet. We have to do a certain amount of training each year. It's a necessary evil that helps us be more efficient. And with a flexible working hours system, less hours needed for a task means more chance to disappear on the Friday afternoon. Why spend hours doing something the hard way if a training thing would have shown you the quick and easy way ?

Being more efficient doesn't make training interesting though ...

Right - time to wrap up and see what the Next Game will be after finishing the Mass Effect series again. Tomorrow (after Teacake Raid!) will be more baseline task, this time with a difference as I'm checking the evidence behind what we're accepting, which means learning how to interpret that evidence. I can do that because today I got the fast task done which was promised complete by the end of the week.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Just read : Helsreach

It's another of the Warhammer 40k Space Marine battles books ...

Happy to say it continues the standard set down by Rynn's World. Actually, it's a better book because it paces its action well but most important, it doesn't lose its action focus. You know when you're reading something or watching something and you suddenly go "How the hell did that happen ?" You feel as if you've missed something critical, you've blinked and you've missed something important. That's what I mean by Action Focus, when a narrative loses that the reader/watcher starts thinking "what did I miss ?" instead of "what's coming next ?"

Helsreach is set on the Hive World known as Armageddon in a Hive City called Helsreach. In the Warhammer 40k world, the Hive Worlds are those where the population has grown so much and the world has become so polluted due to industry that they have to collect together in cities with numbers in the upper millions. That said, conditions on Helsreach seem better than the Orestes Forge World of Titanicus.

Anyway - the Orks are coming again (just like Rynn's World) and a contingent of Space Marines from the Black Templars are going to save the day. Or at least allow the defenders to hang on grimly until the bitter end. The Titans are also in play here, which is one of the subplots running through the book. When you have the elite superhuman warriors of the Space Marines and the Princeps of a 80 meter tall Titan, who's in charge ?

The character at the centre of the book is Grimaldus, a Space Marine Chaplain recently elevated to effectively being the right hand man of the Chapter leader. Let's just say he's having a confidence crisis. Matrix quote : "Don't think you can, Know you can". Grimaldus doesn't even think he can justify himself being in the Reclusiarch (religious leader of the Chapter) position and firmly believes he won't survive the assault on Helsreach. A confidence deficit like that can be highly infectious ...

We have our supporting cast for Grimaldus, which includes crazy Andrej, the Major and the Adjutant, the Crone, the priest and the various members of the Guard and Grimaldus' squad. The author (Aaron Dembski-Howden) does a good job here. The Space Marines are a little more Human too. In other books, look at a Space Marine the wrong way and they'll kill you. And these are the troops charged with being the first and last line of defence of humanity. The Black Templars want a good fight but they know what they're fighting for. A common fault with a lot of books is that the characters are all the same. Not so much here, there's a good selection of disparate characters struggling for survival.

And that's what this book is. The definite message coming through here is that in war, there are no winners. There's just the survivors and the dead. And the survivors may not have much to look forward to after the war ends. With that kind of message, it's all the more important for the author to keep the reader interested in a way that Turtledove's WorldWar series fails to do. There's only so much depression a reader can take ...

Bah - I'm rambling again ...

This is another book I raced through quite quickly. It's paced well, it's not too predictable. As is usual for WH40K books, the body count is catastrophic ... The epic scale of the campaign is dealt with admirably, with the Action Focus being retained all the way through. I'll be looking out for more from this author :-)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Playlist

It's been a while since I did a music post, so here goes (all links go to Youtoob) :

First up, I blame this song for giving the idea for this post :-) I listened to the Alisha's Attic Illumina album yesterday and The Incidentals is the opening track. And what an opener. If anyone's looking for that special Valentines track, look no further.

Second one is much newer, from Paramore's latest album. It's The Only Exception. Now in official video with decent (not a concert phone recording) sound to do it justice !

Number 3 is a classic by Seal. Come the future, may we all live in a Future Love Paradise.

Hopefully there will be a few people out there lucky enough to see The Look Of Love tonight.

Or maybe that special person is your Number 1.

Hopefully you don't have a stalker like how Lily Allen is going in this Who'd Have Known video :-)

Seventh is an old one from the Making Movies album. Love the video, it's Romeo and Juliet.

Can I be someone's Man In The Moon ? I probably talk even less :-)

I've been run aground .... Oh to be washed ashore at Martha's Harbour.

Finally (for the positives!), if you end up in the Dog House, sometimes that's not so bad if you're The Man Of The Hour. (Norah Jones)

On my own tonight for Valentines, like most nights for the past few years. I'll console myself by diving into game later (Hawaii 5-O and munchies for now) where I'll see what the guild is getting up to. Thinking of the Swedish, time to close on an Anti-Valentine :-)

I wrote a week or so about the distinctive accent the Swedish Girls in the guild have. That's not a negative, it's more of a contrast to how native English people speak. Whereas the natives will slur and blur the syllables together and generally mangle the language, the Scandinavian accent introduces distinctive clipping and intonation. It's a much purer form of English. I have an iTunes Originals collection album for The Cardigans, with the introduction to And Then You Kissed Me being read by Nina Persson. One sentence is "it builds slow and then it's like someone creeps up behind you with an Axe". That Swedish accent really puts bite into that Axe.

Hopefully your Valentines evenings turn out better !

Actually, I'd argue for spending the Valentines as a quiet night in with your loved one. What happens when you hit the restaurants ? They're packed with other people doing the same ! Why be a slave to 21st century corporates telling you what you should be doing. Share your Valentines dinner with a crowd or save the night for when it can be Special. For that matter, why is this night special and not all the others ? Is it important for a reason specific to you or your's or is it following the crowd ?

If your loved one needs a bit of TLC or some spoiling, you shouldn't need Valentines day as an excuse. Treat 'em when they need it. A day labelled "special" shouldn't be the only one in the year where you make someone feel special.

PS Wonder if that Scandinavian accent is why I like bands and singers like the Cardigans, Lisa Miskovsky, Bjork, Lene Marlin and ABBA. Sometimes different is not just good, it's incredible.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

More book - Storm Front

I'm almost through my next book ... And that's after finishing the first in another series at the weekend.

The latest book to finish is Storm Front by Jim Butcher, which opens the series of Harry Dresden crime novels. It's not a genre I often go for (I prefer sci-fi) but I got caught by a rather wonderful series from a few years ago.

Yep - these are the books the Dresden Files series was based on.

The central character is a Wizard, struggling to make a living as a private investigator and part time police consultant. It's set in Chicago and we have a colourful cast in there which includes Murphy the police Lieutenant, a mob boss, sexy reporters, tenacious vampires (maybe I got confused on those last two) and all manner of fantastic creatures. The writing style, character and setting have a lot in common with the Mike Hammer shows which I watched 20 years ago, with a little bit of extra magic sewn in.

The magic is what makes these special, it opens up all sorts of possibilities that set Dresden apart from being A N Other crime series. Looks good on telly too.

What's the difference between this and the telly series ? Firstly, the first book (Storm Front) was shown in the middle of the run of 12 episodes instead of being at the start. I guess that's down to the scope allowed in a TV series. At 300 pages, the book can lead you in to the characters and the world of Dresden's Chicago. That's a bit optimistic for a 42 minute TV show. There are differences in the characters too, with Bob being a spirit of air and not a long dead sorceror.

You can recognise certain scenes from the TV series, although the scope is a bit lower to make it affordable. In a book, it's your imagination that translates the words on the page to make them come alive. On TV, your imagination takes a back seat to the skill of the director and their pocket book ... Must watch the TV series again soon.

This is another book I got through fairly quickly, with the dry humour carrying the reader along. Various threads interlace and intertwine throughout with Harry often being the fall guy. Most importantly, the narrative stays consistent with the rules that become apparent as things move forward. Sticking to rules makes the difference between you going MEH or leads you to believe in the fantasy escape. When the rules get ignored or rewritten (like in series that are well past their sell by date), that's when the reader gets lost.

After one book, I'm looking forward to getting some more :-) Only a fiver each from Amazon (although I'll be checking out bookshops in Bristol centre "soon") which will be well worth it.

Must watch that series again soon too.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Thinking - high def and 3d

I was watching Resident Evil 4 (Afterlife) the other night, which was making me think even more about switching to 3d stuff.

It's a bit too early for 3d yet though, as the technology is still in its early stages. Not "very early" as there are 3d displays available commercially now. Not just PC displays, those have been around for years but it's breaking into domestic television displays now. Just one issue with them - I already wear glasses, so having to wear another set to make the 3d work is something I'm not even going to tentatively consider.

There's light though, as 3d tellies that don't need glasses are starting to come to the market. So, armed also with the knowledge that I'm likely to switch my blu-ray player for one that can play dvds, I felt happy to pay another £2 for the 3d version of Resi Evil Afterlife.

After the opening scenes, I was starting to drool for a 3d setup. Looks incredible and that's backed up by the sound as well. They just keep making well watchable Resident Evil films. They're not for everyone, as they are very action heavy and video-game silly with the T-virus science stuff but I enjoy them. And that's what counts at the end of the day. I'm a big fan of Milla Jovovich as an actress too.

Anyway - Resi Evil Afterlife - incredible looking film that definitely took the superslomo action thing to heart. May write more about it at later date because I feel the need to watch it again.
(the 3d blu-ray has an option to play in 2d as well and refuses to play 3d unless you have 3d kit - buy now for promise of more later)

How about stuff that's more in reach to the average person ? That would be High def vs Standard def. This isn't nearly as clear cut as the difference between TV sound and proper cinema sound. The difference there is stunning, with £500 worth of cinema sound amp and speakers giving a mind blowing upgrade. It's not really the bass to back up the action, it's the clarity and placement of incidental noise that makes you feel as if you're in the scene. On the other hand, HD vs SD is one that will be with the jury for a very long time.

I can genuinely see the difference that HD makes in blu-rays like Iron Man 2, where the scene in the greenhouse dome brings out the extra detail available. But ... do you really want to pay loadsamoney to see sharp pictures of grass ? No. Didn't think so. Most of the time with broadcast stuff, I wouldn't know I was watching HD unless I hit the Info button that tells me I am. I have 2 examples there :

1 - cricket on Sky at the moment. Sky Sports isn't something where I get the HD for free, I'd have to pay an extra £7 a month for it. Looking at the quality of image I do get, I can tell it's not HD because there are the compression artifacts (blocky pixels) that follow the ball around. When the camera is moving a lot, the ground goes fuzzy and then sharpens up when the camera stops. That's how video compression works, by cheating with giving a little less information on the bits that don't change much.
2 - Formula 1 coverage from last year. It actually looked sharper than some HD transmissions, even though it was coming in standard.

I'm still unconvinced by HD. A lot of it depends on the quality of the transmission. The cricket and motor racing above were getting excellent transmission quality, watching not so old reruns tend to show the bad as the networks skimp on the quality. I don't get the sport or movies in HD because I ain't gonna pay that extra £7 a month but I do get a few other channels free. Guess what I record in given the choice ?

Yep - even though I don't think there's much difference between high quality SD transmission and HD signals, I still set the recorder for space hogging HD :-)

I'll shelve the 3d upgrade plans for now until it becomes usable and affordable but I'm glad I got the (cheap!) high def telly. I suspect it's making some SD stuff look far better than it should do ... although that could be partly down to a Cable TV box that gets more out of the signal than the satellite box did.

PS Blip count = 0 since playing 2 dvd's on the Xbox and 1 blu-ray.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Kaspersky - ENDEX

I'm usually quite loyal to the stuff I buy with the reason for that being a lot of research before I take the plunge. When the time comes to renew old or worn out stuff, I'll usually go back to the same people. There's usually Very Good Reasons why I'll go away from what I know.

So what has drawn the ire this time ?

Tis the anti-virus software ...

Kaspersky have an excellent reputation that's up there with the Norton's and McAfee's of the application world. But ... there comes a time when a reputation isn't enough, especially when the user (and buyer) starts thinking that the company is trading on their reputation instead of Quality Product. In the case of Kaspersky, there is a long list of sins ... They start with the 2009 AV product and magnify with the 2010 IS product.

I run 2 PCs at home, a desktop that's fitted for gaming and a laptop that I use for occasional gaming (like when I've forgotten to do something unambitious) but mostly for music and network stuff. Both need antivirus because I use internet browsers on them. I ask only a few things of my antivirus :

No firewall - it just gets in the way and interferes
(there's a firewall on my router)
Minimal performance impact
No weirdness*
Adequate detection rates

Detection rates are the most key feature. I had an incident at the start of this year where my Eve login details got stolen by a keystroke logger, with McAfee being the one on watch at the time. If your AV doesn't spot the Nasties, what's the point of it ?

No Firewall comes in with the No Weirdness. A domestic internet security programme typically doesn't need a firewall, as that service is being done by the router that connects to the internet. I.e. hacking attempts are stopped before they get to the firewall in the machine. For anything that slips through, the firewall built into Windows (or other OS) is perfectly adequate.

Even worse than no firewall is a botched firewall, which is what I got with Kaspersky 2010IS. With several computers in a house, it's very useful to have them connected together on a network. For this to work properly and the machines to see each other, there needs to be nothing getting in the way of Windows sorting itself out. This is where the issue with Kaspersky was happening, it was tagging new networks as "Public" without prompting.

What's that mean ? You can connect to other machines (if lucky) but other machines cannot connect to you. And because there's no prompting, the poor hapless user has no clue whatsoever as to where the problem is. That is, unless they apply Machine Logic and get lucky.

This comes after their 2009AV software being responsible for weird minicrashes on my desktop. Think 10secs fine, 1 sec stop and repeat that. Highly irritating and it cleared as soon as I switched from 2009AV to 2010IS. And there was also startup instability on my laptop, where turning the power on didn't necessarily mean a usable laptop after it settled down. Since switching across to Avira, the laptop has been far more stable and smoother. There's that "Minimal performance impact" thing - Internet Security products tend to do too much and slow things down.

They had an awesome reputation but I feel that it's burned itself out due to too much keeping up with the competition. Just because everyone else is doing something doesn't make it a good idea.

The latest sin is a popup ... "Re register or lose protection". It'll wait until the machine's been idle for 5 minutes and then when the mouse is twitched, the popup will come back. That's just plain rude.

So - it's away from Kaspersky now as they've finally burned out all their goodwill. Now it's Avira, which has already detected 2 threats (leftover from Kaspersky) in the first scan.