Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sleepy is tired

Ok - there I go ... admitted it.

Definitely looking forward to a break over Easter right now, it'll be the first time off work since Xmas. I have a touch of the manic-depressive and I've been tending to the manic lately. It's a fun state of being as I feel more alive when I'm there. But :

Like a candle, burning bright burns faster, burns out quicker.
Fire burns what it touches
Fire is unpredictable

Been feeling like I've been burning hot for a while now, with the fuel coming from being busy at work. Feels like we're achieving things at the moment, our next Big Milestone is already way ahead of where we were for the last Big Milestone. I now feel sufficiently in to the processes now that I Own them instead of trying to figure out what they are. The bit that I'm responsible for is now in a state of waiting for results instead of trying to figure out what needed to be done.

Not bad for a year in the post, probably should have gotten there quicker though.

However, the downside to Manic is unless I go Tunnel Vision, it can be quite tough to focus on actually getting stuff done. Distractions tend to rule the day, with shiny or pretty things getting the attention. Definitely the pretty ones (I'm still a sucker there). Flexible working hours and my working pattern tend to help there, as I tend to stay later than most people meaning I can get the focus going after everyone else has gone home.

Acting without thinking tends to have long term consequences as well, although hopefully my Go To Girl* won't hold the Lemsip comment against me for too long. By how she sounded on the phone, I'm amazed she made it in yesterday, let alone put in a full day's hard work. One reason why we're ahead for our next Big Milestone is people like the Go To Girl.

*(she's who I Go To when I need something more than the information we usually get or if I'm confused)

Yep - I can be somewhat abrupt, because I'm thinking 5 times quicker than some people can. I'll assume everyone is at the same step of logic I got to 10 minutes before. Or I'll say the wrong thing at the wrong time and not realize how it's affected someone.

Still - being hyperactive and manic is far better than the alternative, which is a person that struggles to get the motivation to do anything. Depressive is a bit different to "I don't wanna get up cos my legs are sore" because those sore legs tend to have been earned by running around. No - depression is far worse than that because you don't know why you've not got the motivation to do anything but curl up in a ball. At least with concrete legs from cricket the night before, you know why it's a struggle.

I think I'm managing the manic a bit better than I used to. I try and go by a "only eat if you're hungry" mantra but even there, I'm possibly munching more than I have done. That'll be from some OCD patterns coming in but it'll also be a bit of hyperactivity burning through the calories. I've definitely seen a benefit from starting the day with a teacake switching to bacon sarnie on a Friday. There's no distracting hunger pangs coming in at 11am with an hour to go before lunch.

Meh - I'm in Rambling Wall Of Text mode again :-)

I tend to deal with my issues far better if I can turn the random thoughts into something ordered. Or even just letting them tumble out into a disordered post like this one helps. To deal with your problems you have to know what they are. Not recognising them just means you're hiding from them. Or even worse, you're in denial like me with the Snow Queen leaving the project*.

*(I miss the leaving party due to travelling, which is a big shame cos with our Snow Queen, it'll be a riot)

Oh - last bit. I might be repeating one of my old cycles. With my cars, I've gone Cushy -> Fast -> Cushy -> Fast and so on. My Focus is probably a disappointment because I went Fast -> NotQuiteSoFast. Well, next car is looking like a choice between Honda's CR-Z and Lexus/Toyota CT200h/Prius. I suspect the CR-Z would be a disappointment because ... Hell, at 10secs to 60 it's just not FAST. And the CT200h/Prius has the same 0 to 60 acceleration* while having superior tech under the bonnet.

*(it's a shame the official figures don't go for the far more useful 50-70 in a gear overtake numbers, rather than the artificial 0 to 60, 50 to 70 tells you far more about driveability)

With a sporty car, you expect to have a bit of wheelspin once in a while. I can catch the Focus's traction control out when I feel like it. I don't think the CR-Z would actually be fast enough to have the wheelspin thing. What's the point of a sporty car if a Red Wun Duzn't Go Fast ? If your next car's going to be slower, why not take it easy with a bit of luxury ...

You can probably tell I'm talking myself into spending cash again.

First things first though, my Focus has a service & MOT to get through before the loan I have on it finishes. It'll be good to trade up this time around, as having to do an emergency buy last time meant I effectively traded down by getting an older (newer car but relatively older) and bigger car.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And there's a silhouette of the Easter Bunny's ears there ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New toy alert

Sooner or later, there's going to be a new pooter appearing in Sleepy's house.

The pooter gear I have now is perfectly functional ... it's just getting a little old. Old in PC terms more than a couple of years old, depending on what kind of spec you went for in the first place. It also depends on what you use the PC for.

A good innovation over the past year or so is the netbook, a pooter for the palm of the hand. I don't have one of these but I've used them. They've hit Mass Market level now, which translates to "Cheap", "Good", "Reliable". I use a laptop instead of desktop for forums & general stuff now. You can pack them up and take them with you, whether that's to your parents' place or just as far as the sofa. Any laptop will do the average user until it breaks, spec is irrelevant as the applications aren't particularly demanding.

But you can't really game on them ... You can ... but it's a bit nasty on the keyboard & trackpad plus they rarely have the graphical grunt demanded by today's photorealistic games.

So - laptop/netbook for general internet type use (I also have my music library on laptop)
Desktop for games & performance PC stuff

But - the desktop I have is a good few years old now and is starting to struggle with those photorealistic games. My (old!) monitor is older and is :
1 - 4:3 instead of widescreen
2 - possibly starting to burn out*
3 - at 17", not that big#
*(this is quite possibly me making up an excuse to Spend Money)
#(17" is Definitely not small)

And you can probably tell already that I'm making up excuses for spending some cash. It's a Samsung 23" LED backlit monitor by the way and is so big, I have to turn my head to see what's happening on the right hand side if my attention was on the left. I was going to go touchscreen but I've pitched instead for high quality of display.

Touchscreen - niiiiice but possibly gimmicky plus high Finger Mark Potential
High quality picture - this is what we get a screen for right ?

The rest of the machine will come later. I'm not quite ready to buy yet and will wait anyway until I have a period of time off work so I'm home to pick up the bits when they're delivered. (Or I head down the motorway to Novatech to pick them up). The tech isn't quite ready yet either, with a defect scare on the motherboard series I'd have gone for, plus there's rumours of something better coming "soon".

Note - there are Always rumours of something better coming "soon" in the techie world. The trick is knowing the following :

Buy only when you need to
Buy only what you need

However, one of the things I prefer about buying my own kit compared to the rules we follow at work is : I am perfectly happy to creep requirements. If two items that do the job cost £100 or £110, sometimes that extra £10 cost means £50 extra value. The advantage there is that I can buy something that meets my needs now and in a couple of years time. However that's also from being able to bend "Buy only what you need", as what we need changes over time.

By the requirement definition : "Must facilitate raiding in World of Warcraft with frame rates above 15" (15 = bare minimum), my current machine would still be ok. However, that's with graphics that aren't as Shiny as they could be.

Shiny is good. Chase the Shiny.
(if you can afford it!)

I'm chasing other shinies as well at the moment. I've been remembering back to the many years of good service I had from a Puma which was 2 years old when I bought it. I had that one for most of its best years, before it started disintegrating ... Conversely, the Focus was 6 years old when I got it and I have a big feeling that it's about to hit its decline.

The answer - use that big disposable income that comes from being single and buy something new. Still making my mind up there, although it's a bit like me talking myself into the new monitor.

Question - why am I blogging when I have a Big New Toy to play with ?????

Cya !

PS I'd trade that disposable income in a heartbeat for someone to share it with.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Currently playing - League of Legends

I've been hunting for a fresh new game lately and I've happened upon one called League Of Legends.

It's another multiplayer online game, where you team up with a group of other people to battle on a map inspired by the Defence of the Ancients map in a game I've never played. In essence, it's a symmetrical map with 3 lanes between bases in the southwest and northeast corners. The objective, as with most battle games, is to destroy your opponents' base.

The usual game has 5 players vs 5 players, although the game allows bots (automated players with significant skill) to replace players. I've not actually played a player v player battle yet, just 5 people vs 5 bots. There are automated minions helping out as well.

Hey ! I'm rubbish talking about a game I've not talked much. Here's a link to a Youtube special by Totalbiscuit that'll tell you all about this one.

(Danger Will Robinson - watching Totalbiscuit videos provokes extreme risk of playing game. He has an infectious love of gaming that is nudging me close to buying Starcraft II)

If you like the look of LoL or have been caught by TB's infectious style, then there's a referral link by the vid. Plus here's mine : Or I'm on there as VRIceangel.

I tend to need a bit of variation in my gaming and LoL is the current variation of choice. It does help that LoL is completely free, with funding coming through microtransactions. You buy stuff in their store through IP which you get through playing or RP which you buy with credit cards. All of the bits that affect in game play can be bought through IP, with RP allowing a shortcut for the impatient rich. Some stuff is RP only but that tends to be bundles or character skins that have no impact in game.

I will probably drop some money into this game at some point. It offers that rare combination of Simplicity of gameplay + Depth offered by the many different playable champions.

I still go for too much Warcraft, however Warcraft can tend to become a bit of a grind. Now I have a powerful main character, I've been levelling up others with a priest and warrior now approaching that maximum level. It's curious, before the current expansion I was always quite wary when playing my most powerful character. Now, Ice feels like a God. Mind you, that's probably from how overpowered the characters become between the level caps of the 3 expansions we've seen so far.

Hmm. I feel the need to see what Tristana the Megling Gunner can do. Think little halfling type girl carrying around a cannon that's bigger than she is. That's my current favourite LoL character :-)

Yes - League of Legends is proving a decent distraction so far.

PS TB mentions what the players can be like in online games. Believe every letter of this. Where adrenaline is involved, any pretense of tact tends to fly out of the window with the teddies from the pram. There can be some highly offensive people playing these games, even before the adrenaline takes hold. Think of what the behaviour standard can be on the road, then translate the very worst White Van Man into someone abusing you over the in game chat. Not for the faint hearted and definitely Do Not Use a true name in free for all internet gaming.
(should also note - I have seen minimal unpleasantness so far)

PS2 The PS above has a contrast though. If you do find a good group of online gamers to join in with, it amplifies the enjoyment you get considerably. The Mercs were a decent bunch before Pro Gaming took hold and even though I'm on an Eve break, I still keep up with the Volition Cult boys. The Violence Reborn people are just awesome, I've happily posted my Facebook link on their forums ...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Needing monitor clues

Since losing my last monitor to a Pizza Fetching Calamity*, I've been using a 17" Samsung TFT. It's done me pretty well but I'm hankering for something bigger and better.

*Pizza Fetching Calamity isn't quite what it sounds. The monitor worked before I left the house but when I got back 15 minutes later, all it would do was give the Tick Of Doom. No picture, no nuffin. RIP monitor. (If Snow Queen or The Boss are reading, yes - I still have it). Not good considering I'd be ensconced in front of a monitor the next day for a Warcraft raid. Cue trip to the local PC World.

What's up with the current monitor ?

Viewing angle. This is the thing that Really Bites with TFT (thin) monitors. The way most of them work is that there's a White Light* at the back which has polarising filters in front of it. The filters turn the White into Colour by taking away the Colour that's not needed. (That's techtalk best left for a different site.) The polarising causes an issue where if you're not looking bang on at the centre of the screen, it'll fade out and you'll lose brightness and definition.

*(LCD tellies have 1 White Light, LED tellies have Lots - they tell us there's a good reason for it)

On my 32" big telly, that's not a problem because tech development means the viewing angle on modern screens is outstanding. My PC monitor is a bit old though. Its best viewing angle is about 6 inches above where my eyes usually are ...

Size. It's a 17" old style screen, with a 4:3 ratio. That's not a massive problem, I actually prefer 4:3 for work because it suits my desktop style (lots of overlapping windows) much better. But for a machine that's used primarily for gaming, widescreen 16:9 works better. Things like Eve where you can have more screen real estate devoted to the huge numbers of chat channels that tend to be open. The ship interface works better too with more width. Warcraft gives a more panoramic view.

Oh. A newer monitor is more SHINY !!!!!

Always consider shininess in equipment buying.

What I'm having trouble with though is considering what to buy. This was a very simple choice a few months ago, as I was going to go for a decent sized touchscreen. At Novatech*, the only 2 touchscreens of an acceptance price (<£250) are an Iiyama and a Viewsonic. And I like the specs of the Viewsonic better.

*(Novatech are a classic example of Start Small, Earn Reputation, Gradually Grow company with an excellent reputation for getting bits to buyers cheaply. They come hugely recommended from anyone who's done business with them.)

Trouble is, I've abandoned the touchscreen idea due to being Fickle so I have huge choice now. And with choice comes procrastination. What to buy ? What tech is out there ? Who's the reliable people ? I've had no problems with Samsung screens but I'm open to options.

The problem I have is in finding trustworthy and relevant reviews of kit. The electronics industry marches on at a ferocious pace. I don't want to read reviews from 2007 because the kit under test would have been discontinued by 2008. I hate wading through irrelevant rubbish. It's worse enough having to decipher which reviewers can be trusted and which reviewers have been bought by a hardware manufacturer.

If a review site depends on handouts by hardware manufacturers to survive, if it sells kit on its site or if the adverts are slanted a particular way, it can be reasonable to assume that they have more in their heads than "how good is this kit actually ?" Bit like certain games magazines (one of which has now closed) who say a game is BEST GAME EVER only to come back 6 months later and admit that it was bugged to hell. In the meantime, loads of gamers will have wasted cash on a product not fit for sale with that decision being based on what was in the review.

Hobbyists who review stuff because they can are the most trustworthy people around in my opinion when it comes to kit. Bit like TotalBiscuit and his game reviews. He just loves gaming and it always brings out a grin listening to him go at it. However, at the same time, he's also giving an honest opinion on whichever game has his attention at the time.

So, there we have it. New monitor wanted*, dunno what to buy, not getting any intel worth a damn from the internet. One thing's for certain, it will be big enough to make me think about a new pooter desk to allow my PC speakers to fit.

*(I don't "need" it but I do "want" new Shinies)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

When it doesn't feel like a game any more

I wrote yesterday about a game called Mass Effect.

I have other games too, one particular favourite is a game called Jagged Alliance 2. It's a mix of high level strategy combined with an excellent tactical layer. It's one of those rare games that hits its mark just right in terms of gameplay. The sheer scope of what it allows you to do is remarkable. Pretty much anything you can think of, like making motion detectors or tripwire explosives, you can do. (There are limits)

The basic premise of Jagged Alliance 2 is that you're a mercenary who's been hired by the supposedly dead ex ruler of a banana republic country called Arulco. His country has been taken over by the evil Queen Diedranna who is ruling with an iron fist that smashes any dissent. You and a band of intrepid mercenaries are to liberate the country, ushering in an era of freedom and prosperity (making cash along the way). Tying it all together is a streak of black humour.

The difficulty scales quite well, at the start all you have are handguns which means you have to get close to get the bad guys. The Queen doesn't take you too seriously at the start either, so the fights are even. Later on, your guys can use sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, mortars and antitank weapons. And you need them ...

I've been thinking for a while of starting off another JA2 campaign and these campaigns tend to be epic. Arulco is a decent size country that doesn't liberate itself and there's plenty to see along the way.


Turn on the news right now and what do we see ?

The headlines at the moment are full of what's happening in Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa. And they are terrible things.

Game - the rebellion is attempting to unseat an evil dictator
Real life - there's rebellions in several countries trying to unseat their leaders

Suddenly, it doesn't feel like a game any more. The "get the bad guys" on screen are real people. The person speaking out against their leaders on the radio today may be dead by tomorrow.

Yes. It doesn't feel like a game any more.

I'll stay away from JA2 for a while. That's made easier by other games being good fun at the moment. There's Warcraft with a bunch of people who are Awesome. I may have another look into Eve at some point and there's the space action stuff too. I can save the one that's a bit too close to home until things calm down a bit.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Game or interactive novel ?

I have something that I'm highly tempted to add to my A to Z on books thing that I'm doing this year.

In the early days, games were restricted to a very limited scope. Pacman was an "eat all dots, avoid ghosts" game, nothing more. Beat 'em ups were "last man standing". Shoot 'em ups were survival or get to the end of the level. Apart from role playing games, there's been very limited scope for games to really tell a story that engages the player more than just getting the most powerful character or getting through those levels.

Role playing games broke the mould because there was a path to their story. Your character started out weak and inexperienced and by the end of the game, you were MegaMage, Ninja Warrior or SecretSquirrel Thief. You'd saved the galaxy for its people or defeated the Evil Overlord only to take their place. You'd done every single side quest or barrelled straight through to finish as quickly as possible. Your character had gotten the girl, the boy or both (take a bow Dragon Age)

However, even the most open ended games failed to really engage the player like a good novel can. That's been changing lately ...

I'm a firm fan of games produced by the Bioware development house. Over the years, they've consistently made their games transcend the "it's just a game", such that playing through them feels like you're in the middle of a series like Babylon 5, absorbed in an Iain M Banks novel or munching popcorn in front of a movie.

The latest one of these is the Mass Effect series. It's a space scifi shooter that's got role playing aspects tacked on. At the start, your character struggles through opening encounters as you get to grips with the tactics and duck and cover gun play. By the end, you're a hard bitten warrior capable of sniping the fingers off a Geth at 1km away. But ... whereas most shooters have the player given a set of rails to follow, this game is much more open ended.

And most shooters don't have character interaction the way only Bioware games seem to have. In Dragon Age, you can be rushing through town on your way to the next bit of story (or just exploring) and your companions will start having a chat with each other. In the case of Alexander and Morrigan, that's usually a touch of bickering that ends up guaranteed to pull out a grin as one or the other (usually Morrigan) gets the upper hand. In Mass Effect 1, your companions will chat to each other while in the lifts. It's a little thing but that random conversation pulls you in.

Yes - there's a series of encounters that you have to follow in order for the game to progress but you can go through those in whichever order you pick. This is where game starts to transcend novel. You're not just playing through the encounters, you choose the order of those encounters. You pick how your character interacts with the world. Do you punch the bigoted reporter or outflank them with words ? Do you rescue the Blue Lady first or save that for the end ? (If you wait, it changes the encounter)

Wait - what's the game I'm talking about ?

It's Mass Effect and its sequel, Mass Effect 2. I've played through both of these several times now and I'm highly likely to go for it again sometime reasonably soon. The third in the trilogy is expected in November, somehow I doubt whether I'll be able to wait until then. It's a space opera game, where your central character is flying around saving the galaxy on a starship called Normandy.

The Normandy is your home for the entire first game and up to a point, you can freely roam its interior. So when you're walking through SR1 Normandy in the early part of Mass Effect 2 when the ship comes under fire, you can imagine the player's reaction when you look up to where the command bridge ceiling should be and see ... stars.

You only get Impact if you care about what's going on. Bit like rooting for the Lost Fleet and feeling a tinge of sadness when they list the ships that didn't make it through an engagement in those books. Like when the drone from the Culture that's been the supporting act for the main cast member gets damaged.

The story, characterisation and voice acting is that good. In fact, I'll repeat the phrase from earlier, these games can transcend books. With a book, when you've read it you're unlikely to go back for years if you do re-read it. Even though it's just a couple of weeks since closing out the last Mass Effect 1+2 play through, I could head back in there now.

(At least, if my main PC was in game mode !)

Yes. I'm tempted to add Mass Effect 1 + 2 to the books A to Z under M for Mass Effect or K for Drew Karpshyn (lead writer ME1). However, I'll wait until I've read Mass Effect Retribution, a book that's in my pile of books to read soon. That will wait until after Inversions by Iain M Banks.

Right - that's enough worship of Game for tonight, or is it ... I can feel the Normandy calling ...

PS Have a look here (ME1 cast list) and here (ME2 cast list). I knew some of the higher profile voice actors, like Jennifer Hale who possesses a voice that is probably a key reason why I keep coming back to this game. There's also Tricia Hale playing an AI (shades of the Cylons ?), Seth Green as the hotshot pilot and a series of other cameos. I never realised Dwight "Murdock" Schultz played the navigator or Armin "Quark" Shimerman played a couple of roles. Even Michael "Worf" Dorn takes a turn at the mic.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More car thoughts

I'm getting closer to actually 100% owning my car now.

I got it 3 years ago in a bit of an emergency buy. My previous car (a Ford Puma) had given me quite a few years of excellent service but it hit its wall at about 70,000 miles. Before that, hardly anything needing attention at the annual service. After that, all sorts of mechanical mayhem started happening. Power steering pump was the start but by the end, the braking system was totally shot with something weird happening with the anti-lock system and a complete failure of the handbrake. Not good if you park on a hill at work (other car park to the one I use now).

So, a couple of years after it started to collect faults, I switched to what I have now. My Focus isn't a bad car, it's actually been pretty good. However. It's bigger than I like a car to be, so the 2 litre 170bhp engine doesn't actually turn into much Go. At the same time, those 2 litres gobble petrol. The little things are starting to go too, like a rear wheel that leaks air. That's not so bad, I have a compressor to pump the tyre up when it goes flat. I may also be allergic to the car. Weird as that sounds, weird is a total fit for me.

The big thing that shattered my confidence in my Focus was the inlet manifold failure last year. You don't expect car stopping failures in modern cars, although you probably should because of the increase in built in complication. What was the response from the garage ? I bought a supposedly all in warranty with the Focus and still had to pay the £550 for the fix. I'll put this in Big Letters :

Buy a CARCRAFT extended warranty and it will mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Everything that breaks will be classified under "fair use", which translates to "You Pay".

Very disappointed, I will not be returning to Carcraft after the last paid for service.

So - what's next ? I'm keeping an eye on the Green Car Site. The people who run that collect as much information as they can about electric cars, biofuel cars, green cars and most interesting for me, hybrid cars. It's a decent mine of information, with just enough in there to let you know what's around. I've pretty much decided that my next car will be a hybrid. I'm very much interested in being as efficient as possible and the energy storage thing that comes with hybrid cars.

There's just one problem. Hybrids are currently coming in 2 categories. Slow and highly efficient is the first, that's where Toyota's hybrid flag bearer (Prius) fits in. The other category is Hot Muscle Roadburner. That's cars like the upcoming Infiniti M35h, looking on Greencarsite they're claiming 0 to 60 in 5.5secs while still doing more miles to the gallon than my Focus and also kicking out less nasty CO2.

I'd love a car like that ! Or the Lexus G450h (link to Lexus site) which is on the market now. Just one problem, I'm not going to spend £46,000 on a car. I'm very wary about spending up to £20,000 on a Honda CR-Z.

That's what I will probably end up with - Honda's CR-Z (Honda site). The raw numbers suggest it's not as fast as I would like, plus the reviews are mixed. Some are stellar, some are poor. I'll treat them with the respect I usually give to reviews, I'll make my own mind up judged on what I think of the reviewer. I miss my Puma, it was an excellent little grownup go-kart. The CR-Z promises to be something similar.

We shall see ! I have 2 more months now until the loan finishes and then I'm free to move from Speculation to being more free about checking stuff out.