Friday, May 27, 2011

Trainee plumber

Think I'm going to turn myself into a trainee plumber soon.

The jobs seem to be adding up ... They're fairly minor at the moment but being just minor doesn't mean they don't have to be done at some point. What needs fixing ?

1 - taps in kitchen. No big deal, just the hot tap sticks open and needs a towel in hand to close it. No big deal, it's not like it's locked shut and I'm needing to boil water to do the dishes.

2 - washing machine. I suspect I'm going to have to replace it again on the usual "They don't make 'em like they used to." It's about 6 years old, so just long enough out of the guarantee for the built in gremlins to come out of cryosleep. No big deal in changing over a washing machine, although see No 3.

3 - washing machine fittings. The cold water shut off works ok but the hot water shut off weeps. Or rather, if there's nothing on the other end it'll spray. Answer, don't take the thing off the other end. Will have to take a good look at this when I change washing machine (I haz plan).

4 - Dripdripdrippy cold water tank. Switched out the ballcock & valve, no result. Still dripped. Then I got muscly ... Bending the bar got the level down :-)

5 - Loo flusher. This is the current "needs doing urgently" because it's slightly icky. What I'll need to do is replace the siphon thingywidget that makes the flush work. I have a backup plan that's keeping things ok for now but I'm just restricted to 2 litres of flushing water rather than 6-8. I have the part I need to fit but will need to fight Old Bits (think - rusted in place) to do the switchover.

But not yet, cos I'm away for a week :-)

The loo flusher is the only one of those that really needs fixing NOW but it's a little daunting in what I'll need to do :
Cistern emptied of water.
Prevent new water getting into cistern.
Take cistern off wall.
Switch over siphony thing.
Put cistern back.
Cross fingers and hope for no leaks.

I'll get it done some time but I have a feeling I'll need to stock up on WD40.

Oh and Blogger is pants right now. The occasional logout it'll do for you was ok (if annoying) in the past but is now yet more annoying because broken formatting means you can't log back in as easily as before. Why change stuff if the change is for the negative ?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Surprise runabout

With the impending car change thing, I've started taking more interest in the freebie local paper. Ok, probably not much point in that because the car ads in there are all Used car and I'm looking at new. But there is the occasional story in there worth reading. This week's Wednesday paper arrived today*.

*Current paper boy waits for rain or Saturday. Dunno why but he doesn't get the job out the way when he could, plus if there's a chance to deliver while it's raining he will. He'll also leave the paper hanging half out the letterbox so it gets wet. Never did that in my day ... honest guv ! (I was a paper boy for a few years, which is where overdeveloped leg muscles came from)

Anyway - today's paper. What's of note there ?

Only a Bristol Motor Show :-) Ooo - shinies.

I hadn't been round the centre of Bristol for a while, so this would be a good excuse to combine having a look in record & games & book shops for stuff I bought already with having a look at all the various cars on the market at the moment.

Come into Cabot and what's on show : Lexus ... Toyota ... Dangerous. Lexus were closer so I got caught talking to one of their girls first. They were in Brand Uniform mode, 3 bottle blonde ladies in matching outfits. (Erm - wasn't I supposed to be looking at cars ?) Anyway - it looked good and the little lady who ended up talking to me for far longer than I thought I'd be chatting was very articulate and coped with my provoking questions quite well.

Not provoking as in "this car is rubbish" but more "why is this car better than the Prius ?" There's been a lot written about both cars and at least half of that is just plain wrong. Lexus Lady achieved something today, I've put the CT200h back as an equal to the Prius instead of it lagging behind. Seems like some of that Brand Loyalty comes from a sense of "WE LOVE OUR LEXUS" from the people who work for them.

So the odds just shifted back to 45-45-10 Lexus-Prius-Honda. Gotta say, the Lexus does look good in blue. I could have a Prius in a week with just delivery miles on it but 95% of Prius are white. Meh. White's not a bad (non)colour except when it's the only colour you see something in.

Who else was there ?

The Bristol Motor Show is being held in the open air around the fairly new Cabot Circus shopping centre in the middle of Bristol. There's not too much space in there but there's enough for the more popular models to go on show. Lexus just had their CT200h on show and to be honest, that's the only one in their range that is in reach of most.

Toyota had their Prius, Aygo and Yaris models on show. All small city cars. Only interested in the Prius of those, although their red looked good. Ford were up next, showing off their Fiesta, Ka and Focus. The current Fords still do the brand proud with tightly packaged workmanlike quality. The Fords are good with feelings of "it ain't gonna fall apart" but don't really inspire. Same with their staff, who were enjoying their day out in the fresh air.

Lexus Ladies - we're keen, we love our little car and think you will too
Ford kiddies - gosh this makes a change from being in the showroom all day

Guess which of those I'd rather buy from and it confirms the impression I got from Lincoln Lexus.

Who else ? Jaguar were the next stand and I avoided them like the Plague due to potential for the IWANT factor to take over. Jaguar make very sexy (and rather expensive) cars.

This took me to the Galleries for a little interlude of looking around the usual shops wondering if they have stuff I haven't bought yet. (Usually it's stuff that they don't sell anyway). Outside the Galleries was Mitsubishi. Shiny but way too big. Got no need for a 4x4 so I have no interest in looking at them.

Gotta say, the Alfa Giuletta looked very Shiny inside and out. Much shinier than their MiTo. The Giuletta impressed me actually, whereas the MiTo looked a bit tacky. Wouldn't have an Alfa though because the chances of getting through a warranty period without a claim on those is slim to remote to nonexistent. There's probably more chance of me bowling again than one of those staying reliable.

There were more cars on show, from people like VW and Hyundai but not that much I'm actually looking at. Nissan brought their supercar along with a few 4x4 and crossovers. Same comment as Mitusbishi. It might be shiny at what it does but that purpose is the complete opposite to what I want.

Good day out all told.

Didn't buy anything (as usual) but it got me out the house for a bit (never a bad thing). And it's got me a bit more info too, with me reminding myself what the little Lexus is actually like instead of what the car reviewer people tell me it's like.

Must ... do ... test ... drives ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Old car, new car

Once upon a time there was a company that made decent cars.

Not special cars, not terrible cars. Just solid, reliable cars that did their job. They do cars of all sizes, trucks too. Nothing really spectacular, well - not often. They weren't a company for producing the awesome but then again we've rarely seen anything really bad from them. (Bug Eyed Scorpio is one I can think of)

Cars for everyone.

And then they take the humble Fiesta and make something rather special out of it :

(piccy was taken a few years ago when snow was a bit of a novelty ...)

That's my old Puma in the foreground. The Puma started life as a little Fiesta and then got a bit of attention on the oily bits to make it feel like a gokart. It got a bigger engine with Clever Stuff that gave it great power at tickover and at high revs.

(Yeah - with great power comes great responsibility. But that's boring. We want to go round corners at Silly Speeds. Responsibility be damned)

Oh and it also got a futuristic body that had a tendency to make small children go "MOMMY MOMMY IT'S A SPACESHIP". Yes. Remembering that still brings out the Silly Grin. (A semi photographic memory and occasional perfect recall has advantages)

Best car I've had so far. The Focus struggles in comparison. It's a shame that people like Ford aren't making the Puma any more, like it's a shame that my sister's Toyota MR2 isn't made now. To get similar, you need hot versions of normal road cars.

But they're not special.

All the people who I know have had a Puma have something in common. They all want another one. And with cars, that's very rare. You might take a second Focus to replace your current one but that's because it fits a need. It's not a "IWANTIT", it's a "I suppose it'll do". It's a decision made with the head instead of the heart.

Ahh - time to scan rumours and see if a decent version of Honda's CR-Z is on the way. I'm looking at 3 cars at the moment. Lexus are now a distant 3rd because it looks like they botched it with the CT200h. Toyota's Prius is my head's current favourite with its hybrid geek magnet. But I think the heart is hoping for a faster CR-Z to come along.

We shall see. I suspect a Prius would draw out a few "IT'S A SPACESHIP!" of it's own :-).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spaz-ing out

No, I'm not being rude to disadvantaged members of society, I'm looking to talk about my latest Big Game.
(warning - this post is a Scattergun post)


Aka SPAZ. It's an indie game that's actually still in development, although you wouldn't know it from the current package. I'm almost saying "final" package there because "final" is the perceived quality of the current beta. To non pooter people, there's several stages to software development :

Alpha - bits work, other bits aren't included yet. Bit like getting the engine into the car but not having a gearbox. It's the way things are done - finish bits & polish them and then move on to the next thing.
Beta - everything's just come all together and it's representive of a finished product. This is the testing phase where you hunt bugs and make sure it all works together.
Release Candidates - not everyone does this but people like Microsoft do it for pre-release versions of their Windows stuff. There's only so much you can do in a lab, for really complicated stuff you have to expose it to users.

And finished product that goes on sale. To be honest, far too many software people never get beyond Beta and some even try to release Alpha rubbish (Sports Interactive's CM3). I'd definitely describe Dawn of War II as Beta quality, I've not got too deep into that because it keeps crashing. Waste of too much money.

If you think I'm blaming developers there, think again. It's often the publishers that force software on to the market long before it's ready. Or, like Lucasarts, they will refuse to allow patches out that fix crash bugs (KOTOR).

Oh hell - I'm going way off the point again. This was supposed to be about SPAZ !

Here's one link -
That's the site run by the developers. There's a big hefty Buy It Now on there which would take you to Impulse, which appears to be Stardock in disguise. I'd forgotten I'd had dealings with Stardock before when boredom overrode prejudice making me buy GalCiv. The prejudice was there because of the attitude of the GalCiv developers on usenet forums, you should only trash other people's games on forums if you have a good one of your own. And I thought Galciv sucked. Didn't even finish a game cos it was as tedious as yesterday's FA Cup final.

Difference between watching cricket and football - cricket you're waiting for something to happen but you're quite able to do something else while it's on because the action happens when the bowler lobs the ball. Football, you're also waiting for something to happen but you have to stay glued to it in case it does. There's a subtle difference there that you'd only get if you're a fan of cricket. Or rugby.

Did I warn about a scattergun approach ? Doh - time to add a comment up top.

Space Pirates And Zombies - top down shooter with space ships. And zombies, although I haven't seen the zombies yet (I'm using selective amnesia with the TotalBiscuit preview). Some games I classify as tedious. Other's as playable, more as Pretty Darn Good (I'm selective with what I buy) and the occasional one as "OMG I have a sore neck".

The last one comes from firing the game up, doing a few missions and then before you realise, it's gone dark outside, your neck has frozen and you think you should have gone to bed ages ago because you gotta get up for work in an hour and on top of that, you forgot to have dinner.

Addictive personalities need watching. Or alarm clocks. I'd actually prefer the "watching" choice of those two especially if she was pretty.

Moo2 is the original "OMG I Have Sore Neck" game and Master Of Magic was up there too. Warcraft has it up to a point. It demands you do Just ... One ... More ... Quest ... but suffers from running out of things to do. How about SPAZ ?

It has a storyline mode tying it together, which points you towards exploring the galaxy. Early days for me so far but what I've seen so far is HARD. I finally beat the Graveyard mission last night after much bashing of head on desk. It gives just enough to keep the gamer interested while keeping the complexity down. A lot of modern games have gone so overcomplicated that they're just Not Fun to play (Football Manager).

Dungeon Overlords on Facebook (which I quit just not too long before Sony online gaming imploded) fell foul of the overcomplication. So much depth included in there but it got tedious and boring to play, especially with resource leaks (game slowing down when you Did Stuff) endemic. I never actually got to the deeper parts of Dungeon Overlord because the Time Invested vs Enjoyment Gained was not equalling Fun.

I'm enjoying it so far. At 25% off (£9.50ish) for the "Beta" version, it's a bargain. As far as beta goes, I've not made it crash yet and I'm fairly happy with the balance and gameplay. I think I've got my value out of it already. Can't talk too much about gameplay here with words but there's a "WTF is ... ?" by TotalBiscuit that's linked on the SPAZ site.

Take a peek - you may end up getting drawn in by TB's video too. Although I will say, he's a great commentator but sounded like he wanted to get let off the leash as narrator ...

Monday, May 09, 2011

Looking for magic

I've been reading stuff again.

Not so much actual paper books, although I am a little way through Ben Bova's Exiles trilogy at the moment. No, I've been reading alternate timelines written by a fella who goes by the forum name : Whatisinaname. That's a link to him on an Alternate History board. To get to most of his stuff, you'll need a login on there.

So what's it about ? I first got to reading his Star Trek non-Federation Timeline. He'll take scifi and then introduce something different ... For example, his Non Federation Timeline is set in the same Star Trek universe we know from the various TV series but the POD (Point Of Divergence) is that the Brits went ahead with the HOTOL project.

HOTOL was a Space Shuttle competitor that would have seen a single stage to orbit space craft that landed and took off mostly like a conventional aircraft. If it had survived, I bet we'd have seen a lot more space development than we have from a rather sluggish NASA. There's actually a Son Of HOTOL in development at the moment called Skylon. (Link to Reg report) Crossing fingers that this gets off the ground. So to speak.

I'm digressing again - the Non Fed timeline takes the events of Star Trek but instead of a unified earth, we have 2 major powers. There's the Royal Space Corps led by the Brits and the Commonwealth, with the UESPA taking the place of the Star Trek Federation. It's well worth a read if you've got an age to read through it all.

Gotta say, his English could use a bit of work but his ability to keep the narrative interesting is much better than some established authors I could name. I've just finished reading his British Stargate thread and am eagerly waiting for more.

What's that about magic ?

There's a very famous quote : "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The very best sci fi authors don't attempt to explain how their stuff works, it just does. To the reader, descending into technobabble tends to take the gloss off the magic. It feels like padding to flesh out the episode to the 42 minutes demanded by the TV execs. Better stories establish their rules early on and then play with narrative within those rules. Or they'll just ignore rules and make it up as they go along a la Doctor Who.

But even there, Doctor Who has certain rules it will follow. And a fez.

The Jack Campbell Lost Fleet books are a great example of keeping the scifi magic, as are the David Weber books up to a point. In the Lost Fleet, the equipment rules are established early :
Ships run on fuel cells, giving them limited range - cue needing to stop off along the way to resupply
Weapons are grapeshot, missiles, lasers and null fields
Can't cheat light speed

And a few other rules. They're established early, being integrated into the narrative instead of being allowed to dominate. The same holds true for David Weber Honorverse books, although lately the narrative in those has been allowed to submerge underneath irrelevance.

That's the good, how about the bad.

I've been having mixed feelings about Iain M Banks books lately ... His early Culture books are about a society managed by Minds (highly advanced computers), some of which will run ships with others running space stations. There's also the Drones (less advanced mobile computers) and their companion people.

It's magic. When he's talking Culture specifically, it's a magical universe where anything is possible. The explanation for why things happen is handled without descent into technobabble. But you still need that magic to make the books Interesting. That's where Matter fell down, I wasn't particularly interested in reading about the industrial age society that dominates this book, I wanted Space Ships.

Heinlein does particularly well with keeping the Magic intact, as does Larry Niven. It's not so much about the science, it's how to write great fiction in a scientifically advanced world. R.A. Salvatore is good at this too, although his specialty is magic in a fantasy world.

I suspect finding that magic is one reason I may be a little off gaming at the moment. The games I have are ageing and not particularly fresh. (Plus there's game breaking bugs like those introduced in Mass Effect 2 Arrival). I have my hopes up for Mass Effect 3, although that'll be waiting until next year. I'm also hoping for a bit of magic in Iain M Banks' Surface Detail, which is due at the end of this month.

Right - my hair is still damp after shower, time to look for a little magic before bed time :-) (a few chapters of Exiles I think)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Game on !

New cricket season has started :-)

Which means instead of my evenings mostly being taken up by keeping up with recorded stuff, gaming or keeping up neighbours with loud music, occasional evenings are spent being the Comic Relief on the cricket field.

I approached this game with trepidation cos I've done literally no training this year. I'm one of those obnoxious people who has natural fitness. I may have a spare lorry tyre around my waist but I can still run quick and throw myself around. Which is rather useful if you have no technique to back you up. Cricket's a game that rewards practice, as the practice lets you hone all the complicated technical things the game involves. Everything needs to come together in those fractions of seconds after the bowler sends the ball down. People with no practice behind them tend to be all arms & legs & unintentionally fielding while upside down.

We had awkward conditions tonight. There's been no rain in Bristol for what must be a month now, so the pitch was a bit hard underneath. However, because we play in the evenings, that's when the dew starts coming up making the ground a bit greasy. When I ran my first single I was wishing I was wearing my spikes as my feet nearly kept going with the intention of putting my (ample) bum on the floor. Lots of cloud cover (and light drizzle for a while) made for swinging conditions that were making me wish I could still bowl.

Bowling woulda been fun out there :-)

What are spikes ? Trainers are fine for indoor sports (mostly) or artificial surfaces but for playing on grass you really need something more grippy. Footballers and rugby players have their studs, athletes and cricket players use Spiky Shoes. Mine are a bit old and encase the foot in leather (who said "is the leather a bad thing?") so I'm acquire a set from Globe Sports "soon". Make mine a pair of the Original Pro boots.

Why do you need them ? Simply put, it's dangerous not to. Cricket calls for fast acceleration and lots of leg power being used to turn. If you attempt to field in flat soles, you'll tear muscles due to compensating for slipping. Spikes let you field better and keep your legs intact.

I'm rabbitin' again aren't I ? How was the game ?

Early season affairs can be quite comical as those who have practiced try to put what they've learned indoors to good use. And then there's the numpties (me!) who didn't practice at all. That said, we had a decent game tonight. I definitely enjoyed it although I have a few things to relearn and a few things that need to improve a lot.

Relearn - with the batting, I can be very still. You need to move your feet very quickly while batting to get into position to play your shot. If you aren't in the right place, you'll miss or hit very weakly. Either way, you don't achieve very much. I have a couple of things that I try to see if I can trigger myself into moving when I need to. Need to remember to use those ...

Score - I got 10 runs tonight, bit laboured again (missed stuff I shoulda smashed) but I achieved a couple of targets : Don't get lowest score, Don't get out first.

Fielding was pretty comical at times. I make up for missing practice by running like a headless chicken and throwing myself around. I missed one fairly easy catch but made for it by taking a smart running catch late on. It was too dark to see it which is probably why I caught it. I'm weird like that.

What I need to do is wire my brain into doing baseball slides (long leg barrier to stop ball going past) as well as making sure I'm in the right body position to pick up and throw. I missed another catch which may just have been in range because I was a) on the wrong foot to launch and b) didn't commit to a dive.

Must do better. Will do better :-)

Close game - they needed 10 off the last over to win, with that going to 6 off 2 balls. Very close. We finished off strong though with 3 catches in that last over. I held one, after being inspired by a catch by the bowler that he nearly wore because it was getting rather dark.

That was a theme for tonight. One of the catches our side held was going straight towards someone's mouth. He could have opened wide and had it for dinner :-)

Did I get away without breaking anything ? Almost. I have a finger that is trying to be bigger than my thumb (dropped catches hurt more). My replacement knee pads are a waste of time because I skinned a knee through them. And I appear to have a bruise on my (rather too large) belly where I edged the ball into it. But apart from that, no groin strains, didn't need to throw Big and my legs appear to have survived. Should be no problems coming out next week.

Right - wall of text alert went off half a post ago, so I'll sign off and look forward to making some sensitive souls run away tomorrow when I show the unsuspecting people a PLAGUE FINGER ! (it's gone purple - lol)

PS Tonight saw a first ... I'm usually in a Floppy Hat but due to the light tonight, I wore a cap for the first time in probably 20 years on the cricket field.

Monday, May 02, 2011

In the doghouse and out again

I ended up in the doghouse for a couple of days ... It's birthday season at the moment and I hadn't sent a card to either my mum or my nan.

Doh !

Fixed that by heading up there this weekend just gone. Decent weekend, we headed off to my sister's place to check out one of the pubs down there. My techie knowledge expanded a bit too.

Windows Vista - is an obscenity (knew that already, remembered it this weekend). My sister's Vista laptop got rebuilt a couple of months ago (hard disc failure) and she's looking to get her iTunes library back on it. iTunes has a very nifty feature called Home Share, which lets you sync libraries between different machines. I use it to progressively back up my library, taking advantage of the "show me what isn't in my library already" feature.

Works well if Vista allows it. Which it wasn't. (iTunes application, reckon Vista was blocking it). Vista was also not allowing our other Windows 7 laptops to see it.

In the end, not so much of an issue, because there is a workaround that dates back to before Home Share became available. Awkward to use but it does the important thing - it Works.

Apple reliability - Apple used to have a rock solid reputation for quality. Dunno why but they've been allowing that to slip in recent years. Maybe it's because the workers in their Foxconn factories aren't happy bunnies. My original iPod was 100% reliable, plus my LittleWhiteBox Airport Express worked 100% before I allowed a firmware update. I refuse to allow iTunes to update now due to issues.

iPod - my 4th Gen 16GB has let me down a couple of times. There's the can't sync error which is solved by emptying it and refilling it. I was about to head off home yesterday, only to find "Shuffle - 0 songs" on an iPod which was full. Cue factory reset to fix that. Shouldn't happen if the software was up to the job.

Airport Express - This either works standalone, setting up its own wifi network or it can join in on a wifi network that is already there. It switches to standalone just fine but you have to put passwords in when you're making it join another network again. Those settings should be remembered, those software flaws are making it forget.

iTunes - the last 3 times I've allowed it to update itself, I've had to uninstall/reinstall to have it talk to the Airport Express over Airplay.

We expect better from a premium brand like Apple, it's disappointing when these silly software flaws spoil the experience. It definitely means that I will not consider changing my computing to Apple machines.

What else ? Volvo cars.

Yes. My dad retired and bought a Volvo. Don't tell anyone.

To be honest, it's not a bad car. It's plush, solid, well put together and has a decent amount of toys. It should also last well. What is it ? It's a C30 2.4 litre with an automatic box.

I found driving that to be quite a useful experience as it allowed me to give a Long Cruise test of an automatic gearbox car with cruise control :

Auto box - Gotta be honest, looking at the specs of the C30 the autobox cripples the performance it gives. It goes from 7.5 secs to 60 up to 8.5. That's a huge drop in performance and it shows behind the wheel. A 2.4 litre engine car shouldn't feel laboured, although that could be my reluctance to ever use 100% throttle. I.e. There's a mismatch between what I want the car to do on a lean throttle and what the car thinks I want it to do. The 100 mile trip told me I could happily live with an automatic, you can't really do 100 mile test drives as the garage starts up the search party.

I'm getting on with the Focus much better there, since the service it's been feeling very Perky indeed. Almost like it's giving its full power instead of something like just half that. The Focus has become far more responsive and that's going to delay my jump into another car for a couple of months at least. (I'm enjoying it while it lasts)

The Volvo isn't a terrible car, I could definitely get used to having Cruise Control (as long as there's a place to rest my right foot, which the Volvo doesn't really have) and I could live with the auto box, as it would help out a left leg that likes to tense itself up (dunno why). The only time I've really driven an automatic was a Jeep in the USA, which I had as a hire car for a fortnight.

Would I get a Volvo ? No. What they currently offer doesn't fit what I'm looking for. They're all too big and heavy.

Anyway - decent weekend and I learned stuff that I'll put towards my next car. That's still likely to be a Prius T Spirit but with what's happened in Japan where they're built, they need a bit of time to get themselves right again. Plus more time before buying gives :
More Payment Holiday
Enjoyment of a Frisky Focus
Time for something better to appear ...

Will add something in when I (eventually) decide to jump for a new car.