Monday, May 26, 2014

Mr Ben

Was off visiting the mum and dad this weekend again.

My dad is a lifelong supporter of the Millers, aka Rotherham United Football Club. While I do follow a lot of sport, football isn't one of them. It's a fun game when played among mates but at the professional level, it takes on all the worst aspects possible in sport. There's ineptness, thuggishness and blatant cheating. And it's all excused because of the tribalism involved in supporting the team. We've even seen that this week with the sexist trash leading the Football Association being excused from the horrible things he's been saying behind closed doors.


It's Rotherham. And a Wembley trip. And my dad asking if I want to go. Second thoughts ? Hell no.

What was it ? The game was the play off for the League One. That's the third tier of football here. Whoever won would be promoted to the Championship, which is the tier below the top tier.

It was a pretty decent game. Rotherham were doing a great job of controlling it but weren't doing much in terms of turning that control into threats for goals. Leyton Orient were being very physical with the referee showing a blind eye to their tough tackling. He also turned a blind eye to a blatant penalty that Rotherham should have been awarded in the opening minute. Meh.

We went down 2-0 in the first half but came out fighting in the second to draw level. The match then went to penalties and everyone was biting their nails. Rotherham win ! Hurrah.

But I don't really want to talk football that much. I do want to talk about this fella :
That's Ben the Staffy.

It's always good to see the old dog when I go to the parents place. He's getting on a bit and starting to struggle but he's still the same : affectionate, loyal, loving puppy he's always been. He's in great condition in general now too. He's been on a bit of a diet and that coat of his is shining and the muscles are well defined. He has been a bit of a barrel in the past but he's back to about the right shape for him.

He's a typical Staffy in temperament. They're very gentle dogs. When confronted with a naughty child who was taunting him and Murph with food (we were in a pub beer garden and the child was running loose), Ben comes back to his people.

But when treated right, he'll slurp anyone. It's great to have a Staffy Dog type welcome when you get there and there's genuine Unhappy Pooch moping when he knows you're going away for a bit again. He loves his people.

I don't think he likes Murph (Sister's dog) that much. Murph's very definitely just at puppy mentality and that gets very wearing on Ben. But at the same time, Ben doesn't want to be left out of play, even though his body isn't letting him keep up. There's a bit of "Oh Dear Bone, that obnoxious other dog will be here too soon" neurosis coming in with poor old Ben.

Old ? You can probably tell from that grey muzzle that Ben's getting on a bit. We think he's thirteen years old now, which is doing pretty well for a Staffy. He's on heart pills, plus his natural paw is bending in even more now. He's really struggling there :

Right paw - broken by car accident before we had him. Sister looked after him while he recovered. This paw mended straight and is still in great condition.
Left paw - is subject to a genetic defect where the paw turns in towards the right paw. It puts a lot of stress on the lower joint, more stress than poor Ben can take at times. He can still put a fair bit of weight on it but I doubt whether he'd be running on it given choice.

That's where Murph can be a strain for him, because Ben will want the agility to avoid him which isn't there due to the bad left paw. Sadly, the only way to fix it would be to surgically break it and have it mend properly. But - would you want to inflict that on a thirteen year old dog ? It's that conflict between :

Consistent lower level pain through inaction
Acute high level pain through action

You know that the surgical option would relieve the pain in the long term but you don't want to inflict that pain on a beloved member of the family.

And such a character too. Here's the last pic :
There's never a more adoring or desperate sight than a dog awaiting his dinner. I think there's a little limp on here too from that paw, conflicting with the urge to BOUNCE in anticipation of his munchies.

And there's Ben ! I wanted to share a bit about Ben. We don't know how long he has last. Between his paw and his heart, we don't know how long he's got left. But, he'll be missed. He's a typical Staffy :


And a true friend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Poor Godzilla

Craziemob's off to see Godzilla today.

Personally, I don't have that many expectations for it. Except perhaps for a bit of brainless scifi monster movie action. I had similar expectations for Pacific Rim and thought that was pretty awesome.

Godzilla's been a monster movie staple for decades. He's the mutated superbeast lizard with fiery breath that beats some of my colleagues after they've had chilis and curries.

As an aside - one of the unfortunately funny times in Warcraft was when I had my character eating the Dragonbreath Chilis. Normally you use food in WoW to get more health, to hit harder, to generally boost the character. But there are fun ones ... Some turn you into pirates, some into ninjas, some into skeletons. And then there's the Dragonbreath Chili. It's from a day gone age of WoW, right back into the original game. What's it do ? If you get hit, there's a chance of a belch. OF FIRE !

How cool is that ?

Bashara the warrior turns into Bashara the Godzilla Tank.

Did the tactic work in game ? Yes. And no. It was a little too good. I used it for an encounter where you get a ridiculous amount of enemies appear and you break the 40 into teams to manage them and stop them hitting the boss who is under your control at this point. My job was to get as many mobs as I could get to have their attention on me. The chilis were great for that, as the fire breath would grab extra enemies. No ? Because it grabbed the ones we didn't want on me.

Oh well. It did have the side effect of making half the raid go "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT !" Always something worth doing.

But that aside. How about Godzilla ? What kind of challenges does a mutated descendant of a T-Rex face ?
Haha - But life isn't always like that
How about keeping in shape ?
But at least they gave our ancestors motivation

But evolution has got around that by now surely ?
Awww come on. Someone give the poor wee fella a hug.
But they don't have it all bad
Oh and with the right equipment, you too can be :
I'll leave it there !

PS If you see one of your pictures here, leave a comment with the credit. I've raided them from Google Images lookingfor ones that don't have a (C) on but ... there's all those naughty people who slice the "I did this" off the pic.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Party Political

We've all been encouraged to vote today.

It's the European elections, which we all tend to be a bit cynical about over here. GB is part of Europe, so we have this other elected body that makes European Union legislation. Do we trust it ? Hell no. A lot of the time, it seems like the laws made there are :

Crazy - as in batshit crazy nonsence
Nationally motivated - usually to advantage one country and disadvantage another
Not widely adopted - some countries pay lip service to the EU law, some like GB adopt everything

It seems sometimes like our law here is dominated by the law coming out of Brussels, the centre of the European Parliament. And it's usually law that hurts GB citizens and lessens our quality of life.

However ... and this is where you have to be very careful with politics : the opinion we have is formed by the media we watch. Our media outlets are incredibly biased. They have a vested interest in telling us what to think and how to think. They don't have an interest in people thinking independently, it might mean their money and votes aren't going the way they want.

The most valuable lesson I learned at school was in history. We had an amazing teacher who taught us to seek the meaning hidden behind the evidence. To seek out all the evidence, not just the stuff that's handed to us on a plate. To always question how believable things are that we're told.

And that is great to take through to work as well. We do a lot of negotiating with contractors and other people providing us services and we have to always ask : Are they telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ? Often they'll leave things out where it's not to their advantage. Or they'll just blatantly lie where things like cost are involved. Except it won't be a lie, they'll just be economical with the disclosure of what's actually included.

So - politics.

The system here is somewhat bankrupt. It should be a mix of ideology and personality. The parties should have conflicting ideologies, with the electorate picking the most appropriate for the condition of the country at the time. Personality should have its way too, with MPs reflecting the interests of their constituents. However ... the ideologies have merged and the personalities get swamped underneath a demand for them to conform to the ideology. There are currently no personalities I would consider worthy of my vote. (Except Boris Johnson, he's amusing)

Who are the parties ? The major ones are :

Labour - who were born from socialism but who have gradually gone right over the years. They are however, still dominated by the unions (with a puppet in charge at the moment) and they usually wreck the country after they've been in for a while.
Conservative - who put the country back together again after Labour but they are a very elitist bunch and end up looking after the elitist interest at the expense of the common citizen. No pay rise for more years than I can count - yet they vote themselves in above inflation pay rises for themselves.

There's not actually that much to choose between them now, as their ideologies are merging.

Liberal - who try to come up with different policies but what they come up with is either touched with insanity or totally unaffordable. They'd bankrupt the country faster and harder than Labour ever did. Plus they ditched all their promises on day 1 of the current coalition. They have no credibility any more.

UK Independence Party - this is a bunch of incredibly dangerous people. They have the protest vote at the moment. But I think they have that because of the "None Of The Above" factor. And because the media like them at the moment. If you look behind what the media concentrates on, you find some utterly crazy policies and representatives who are utterly corrupt or detached from reality.

There's also the Green Party - who focus on the environmental aspects. They're a bit too small to make a difference though.

It would be quite nice to have a "None Of The Above" box on the election forms. Spoiling the voting paper or abstaining doesn't really achieve very much. Even though I have written off the 5 major parties here, I did vote earlier although as usual I'll not say who I voted for.

Enough of the politics though. It's a bankrupt system that's lost its credibility due to a lack of personailities worth voting for. But it's our system ... and it mostly keeps the criminals off the streets and away from hassling us. It would be nice though for :
A universal remote control would be a good thing. Especially if could add a zero or two to the bank balance or get that Pretty Lady to turn her head and spot the grin or other good things.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tough Decisions

I'm making one of those at the moment. It's about the cricket.

I've talked about being able to run at Warp Speed a few times here. I've loved doing that ever since I figured out how (there's a technique that separates it from mere jogging) and there was a certain satisfaction to usually being the fastest runner in the team. Over short distances at least. I'd run out of batteries after that and the huffing, puffing and gasping for air would start.

(Actually - the huffing and puffing was due to hay fever pills that were having the opposite effect !)

Yeah - I liked having that feeling of wind rushing through my ears with sheer speed and cricket gave me the space to let me indulge that fully. And I could indulge my sense of inner amusement too by acting scary (yes - really!) fielding quote close in. And on my day, I was pretty good at it.

My other cricket strengths were bowling, where (on my day again because it depended on conditions) I could be a pretty dangerous medium pace bowler. I could make the ball move literally feet sideways through the air on its way down to the batsman. I could also bat reasonably well although usually ran out of batteries (and strength in the arms) before getting the big scores.

But recently ?

Cricket last year saw me play 3 games before my knees were too torn up to play. The first two were horrible. It was cold, damp and even in almost new spiked boots, I could barely get enough footing to stand up, let alone use Warp Speed. It's like the grass reaches up and tries to either grab your foot or tries to slap it out from underneath you. One of the 3 dropped catches was due to my feet slipping out from underneath me when I tried to plant myself for the catch.

Embarassing huh ?

The third game was pretty good. Lots of sun and a very well prepared Tormarton ground. But it's bad not running the ball down with that speed because you know that when you get there, you can't throw it due to damage to the shoulder. It wasn't all bad, I still had enough to do crazy things on the infield, like field balls standing on my head (it happened) and save lots of runs by looking scary and pro enough to make them just decide not to take me on.

All bluff of course ;-) Although I did earn my team the occasional valued wicket by making run outs happen and I did genuinely make people think twice about taking me on.

The decision ?

Even with the skin problems, I'm getting far more broken now as I approach 40. It's not nice to admit that or even acknowledge problems that include that shoulder (good for half a good throw a game) but also a back that's got painful all over now and muscles that really hate me now. Actually, I think that muscle thing is a side effect of the skin, all the moisture is going towards making the skin better leaving not enough to keep the muscles happy.

I should really have ditched the cricket maybe last year, with that shoulder being so poor (I have 95% movement but power throws and bowling are bad) and a general slow down in reactions. But a big reason was that it was becoming a bit of a chore, instead of the fun that it should be.

And that's the real turning point for any decision. It doesn't just apply to the cricket :

I know someone who's given up reenacting because the enjoyment wasn't there any more;
The cricket suddenly became terribly hard work;
And things like gaming seeming like a second job (this killed WoW and World of Tanks for me)

If it's supposed to be fun but isn't ending up that way, that's the universe telling you to find something else to do.

Like cat pictures ! (Cue blatant sledgehammer like change of subject)
I'm not giving up on the cricket 100%. I'm not ready at the moment :

Skin is genuinely improving but it's still ridiculously easy to set back the healing;
General ouchies
Too heavy

But I am seeing one by one, the bad patches turn perfect again. I have hope that by the end of the season, I may be able to report for duty as emergency sub. I'm too broken to force other people out of the team but ... I'm still better than the 11th person (11 to make a team) that wasn't there at all. And there might be a little comic relief too.

I know I enjoy the games with the team I'd turn out for. They're a good mob. (Not saying who cos that would say who I work for - which isn't going here !)

I may need a new hobby though to replace the cricket. Gaming isn't as much fun for me now, mostly because my brain is frazzled after work and I don't want to subject it to gaming. So how about :
And driving people crazy with my habit of doing :

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Pictures Strike Back

My head's been taunting me lately with regards putting stuff on here. I've been having the thoughts that frame a Wall Of Text post when I'm :

Trying to get to sleep
Halfway through reviewing a document
Waiting for the bus

With sleep, it puts my brain into a state that's not conducive to sleep (although some of my posts ? lol!)
When working, it's a distraction and probably shows that I need one of those task breaks to keep my brain fresh. There's a reason why lessons at school tended to be about 45 minutes, it's about as much time you can concentrate for.
And when I'm waiting for the bus, that's about the longest I'll be away from my home keyboards.

But when it comes time to put the thoughts into Wall Of Text ? Are there any left in any rational order ? Hell no ! Well, that's not quite right. There's a couple of themes in my head right now that I could write stuff on. But not tonight ... cricket's on and the half time break is about to finish.

Instead ? Pictures !
(and a very big thank you to all who I've borrowed pics from - there are far more and they all give me much needed chuckles)

Star Wars is coming back. And there's a South Park link :
I should wear my hoodie more and the red shirts less. Wait ... wrong scifi universe !

I don't tend to get the gramma wrong, except when it's intentionally aiming for a simulated type of speech. But I know I miss the occasional word out here and there. That's either a sign of rattled marbles from two cricket ball incidents or ... I'm thinking faster than my fingers can cope with.
I think I have a reputation for being indestructible. I try not to let my skin illness or my muscle/skeletal issues show to the outside. Same with my self doubt. We've had various people over the years who have really tested that strength by being obnoxious and quite scientific bullies. I've outlasted them all. But not many people knew that I was struggling.

Over to you - if you are being so strong that no one thinks you have a problem, yet you really need to talk to people about the Deep Stuff, pick a friend. You'll have an army of them out there who will be over the moon to help.
Or there's coffee. Actually - I posted that a bit comically but ... the best opportunity to talk about stuff at work is over a coffee in the canteen, it's a public place but it's far more private than an open plan office. And if any of the work people are reading, I may not always be available but I will ALWAYS make time for you if you ask. Or any of the online people - I'll just be afk a minute in the kitchen getting me coffee.

One of the incoming themes is age ... I think the cricket playing is pretty much done for me now. But. (I'll talk more about that in the post I make about it).
I wasn't actually glued to the pooter as a teenager. That'll surprise people ! I'd be out in the back garden in my cricket kit, throwing a tennis ball against the wall and whacking it when it came back. Or I'd be grinding the repeatability into the bowling action. I think that's what really set up the natural fitness that I abuse now.
But if I do play again, I need to get that weight down again. Just a little. I don't think I look particularly chubby but I know how much ballast I'm hiding under the t-shirt.

And my "THIS POST IS WAY TOO LONG" alert is binging away. I have lots more pictures too that I want to post ! Oh well. They'll wait for another day. But there's room for just one more :
You're great people. All of you. And on that note - as one of my favourite Youtuber's likes to close : "Goodbye - You're in my hearts, goodbye, bye, by-click" (her version is way more adorable than mine).

Friday, May 16, 2014

Desert Island Games

This post brought to you in that grand tradition of seeing something that someone else has done and thinking : "Hey ! That gives me an idea !"

Desert Island stuff is usually all about the music. I bet you know what would keep me happy : a steady diet of Cardigans, All About Eve, Bat For Lashes, Alisha's Attic, Garbage and Kate Bush plus a few more thrown in for variation.

But how about the games to keep the mind busy ? Here's a few of mine :

(And I'm curious about how many I share with the lady who gave me the idea. Here's a link to the vlog that mentions the site, here's a link to her list)

First and always the fallback game : Master Of Orion 2. It's from 1994 but stands that test of time. It's a turn based strategy that shares a lot with Civilisation, except it's set in space and you design your own space ships. Available on and it'll run on anything.

Mass Effect - the whole thing. It's an epic sci fi series set about 170 years from now. You are Commander Shepard (best voiced as Femshep by the wonderful Jennifer Hale) and you an elite special forces marine bombing around the galaxy in the Normandy. It's played mostly as a first person shooter but has very strong story elements that make it a compelling game. I've just started another play through of the third game.

Talking story first person games ... Deus Ex Human Revolution is a game I've completed a bunch of times, have all the achievements on Steam and have apparently sunk 208 hours into. It's worth it. It's a bit tunnelly when it gets to the action parts but manages to hide that pretty well. The gameplay doesn't have everything ... but everything it does it does incredibly well. It's on sale on Steam right now and if you haven't tried it, you're definitely missing out.

(DO NOT BUY DEUS EX THE FALL! It's so bad they may start paying people to play it)

Something different ? Another genre I'm liking more is Tower Defence and my current favourite is Defense Grid : The Awakening. I've sunk 116 hours into that ... This genre has you setting up your maze and then watching the monsters try and get through. You can mostly watch it do its own thing and intervene as required. It can get frantic but can be a chilled out way to absorb a couple of hours.

And thinking of games where you sit back and watch it happen, Banished is a recent cult hit. You have a small number of people who have been banished to a valley with no exits (how did they get in ?). The challenge is to survive in that medieval world. There are no threats from the outside (except natural disasters) but it's a brutally hard game. I feel real bad when my people die off because I didn't assign enough people to getting food.

I'd go back to the Dungeons and Dragons games. These range from the party based Baldur's Gate games to the solo based Neverwinter Nights (the old one with Aribeth). I dunno how many times I completed Neverwinter Nights. It benefits from the range of classes that exist in the Dungeons and Dragons system and a game engine that lets you get through the encounters differently according to class. Highly recommended, also available on I actually need to do a full and proper run through Baldur's Gate as that's a game I've never finished.

Faster Than Light. Oh my. This game is incredible. The premise is that your Federation has lost cataclysmically against the Rebels and you have to take your starship on a race through 7 sectors to get crucial information to your remaining base. On the way, you upgrade your ship and fight through encounters. This game is also brutal. But a lot of fun. You get a genuine sense of earning the win.

Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic are games I'd add here too. They have that Bioware story thing going for them, plus the translate the D20 Star Wars role playing system into a game pretty well.

Talking of translating a pen and paper system well, how come I haven't done the Dragonfall campaign in Shadowrun Returns yet ? I see my weekend activities planned out ...

Any more ? I put a good few hours into the original Settlers and even more into Civ. For Civ, Moo2 is my favourite equivalent now. But I'll also play games of Settlers IV. I know what I'm doing there, I have my build order, it's pretty good, it lets me turn the brain off, relax and be absorbed. Which lets me chill out. I'd take along the original X-Com Enemy Unknown too (the DOS based one)

KERBAL SPACE PROGRAM ! Mad Rocket Scientist Must Have.

That's it for the games I know lots about but there are a few more I'd take :

Dishonoured - started this, got distracted away. I hear that within its different setting, it's better than DXHR at what it does. Must try it more.
Final Fantasy VII - another one I collected meaning to play it. A truly legendary game ...
Don't Starve - a survival game I bought but am yet to try out.

But what would I avoid like the plague ?

Anything sport based. Yep. I'm a nut for things like cricket in particular but sports games tend to be incomplete or incredibly frustrating. They'll throw you random stuff that drives you nuts. Or they'll get mind numbingly boring. Yep. Keep the sports games away.

Multiplayer repetitive games. Things like Worms are ok, it's all about doing crazy chilled out stuff with your mates. But games like Battlefield, Counterstrike, nah. The gameplay of the Online FPS tends to be anti-chill out and anti-social. I don't find that fun.

I did find World Of Tanks fun (considering trying that again) but that also got very grindy. Good for short doses ?

How could I forget this one ? Last one for this post - OpenTTD. It's a modern free version of an old classic called Transport Tycoon Deluxe and is another chilled out builder game.

Oh I'd also like an infallible method of getting to Youtube videos, cos I'm enjoying watching gameplay videos more than I am enjoying gaming. The commentary definitely makes them compelling.

PS This is hopefully also me distracting away from feeling truly awful. Had a great night last night but ended up feeling incredibly shredded, which got worse overnight (another no sleep night). Survived through work today and looking forward to chilling out over the weekend. Feeling a bit better now, I must be remembering a hug !

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thanks for the music ?

Ok, so I've done some fairly painful music posts lately. At least that's what I think of them ! The A to Z's have been pretty long, they've not had many links in and even with the length, I've had to squish them.

I think I'll keep doing them though. Started so I'll finish and all that. One question was "how come it's A to Z of album titles ?" There's two good reasons for that :

It jumbles up the artists, the other way would be to sort on artist name but then I'd not get the variation that comes with swapping between artists.
Albums with lots of different artists ... Sorting by albums helps to keep track of those.

But I thought - maybe a top ten (erm - looks at post in before-publish-read - OOPS !) of my favourites so far ? A chance to get back to my favourite type of music posts, where I share the music I absolutely adore. Here we go :

The catalyst for this post - it's Alison of Goldfrapp's birthday today ! I've already said happy birthday on Twitter and a thank you for the picture that got their track Clowns running round my head this morning. But ... I prefer Road To Somewhere. We're all on that road, may your destination bring you joy. Could it be the Road To Mandalay ?

Alisha's Attic - The Incidentals. If I ever find someone so desperate that she'd consent to be my wife, there's a few songs I'd like played at the wedding. This is one of them. And this is another ! You Make It Easy by Air.

The Cardigans and Nina Persson have done so many amazing pieces of music, lots of which I've linked. Here's Algebra from the A Camp album.

I've got a few notable Scandinavian singers in that library, there's the Abba who we all know. Plus Lene Marlin from Norway with songs like You Could Have and Lisa Miskovsky with a few amazing songs on Falling Water, including Midnight Sun (bit bland but a voice I could listen to all day).

My dear friend Craziequeen introduced me to Mindy Gledhill, who I Do Adore. And that big smile at the end drew out an answering chuckle.

The earliest group I became besotted with was All About Eve and their centrepiece Julianne Regan keeps us updated with what she's up to on Facebook. They made so many songs that I could call favourite but I think Shelter From The Rain is most appropriate. We're having what you could call "mixed" weather. Sunshine, then showers ... heavy showers ! Usually as I'm looking to run for the bus ...

And just as I was about to find Shelter From The Rain, Tracy Chapman pops up on the iTunes pseudoshuffle with For You. Wow. Kate Bush was another of my favourites from that age, that voice makes you go Wow.

I've been quite taken with Natasha Khan's Bat For Lashes too. I've linked Laura a few times now but my favourite is the beautiful Moon And Moon.

Before you think it's all female vocalists, there are blokes in my favourites too. Namely Dire Straits with tracks like Romeo and Juliet, so much interplay between guitar, keyboard and voice. And Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here tribute to Syd Barrett.

I like the unusual too and the Gorillaz are definitely unusual. Here's Empire Ants from Plastic Beach, it starts slow and ... explodes midway through.

And keeping with the unusual, I'm keeping my eye on Hannah Peel and that music box although I'd kinda like someone to not Don't Kiss The Broken One :-), even if I am that Shy Boy (Katie Melua).

Oh my, I'm nearly listing my whole library again. Someone stop me ! Oh - that'll be the Police knocking on the door cos of the loud music. Better put something on for them : Every Breath You Take.

And before I do list that whole library, there are exceptions. But not Paramore. They may have come to the attention through Twilight but they've done so much more since then. Here's The Only Exception. And as I listen to that, I realise I can't leave Tea and Toast (Lucy Spraggan) off this list.

Last one - honest. Wednesday tomorrow ! Obligatory Tori Amos track link ;-)

Monday, May 12, 2014

About that XPocalypse ...

You'll all have heard of that and you're highly likely to have one of the following reactions about it :

Bored - yep. XP support going bang is highly geeky and the ins and outs of it are mired in corporate politics
Appalled - because it's still a perfectly good piece of software and MS could make a massive amount of cash still from keeping it going.
Horrified - cos there's a bunch of enterprise critical applications that will not work on Vista or 7.
Terrified - because the only option if you replace your computer with something retail is the abomination that is Windows 8.

Ok. That's enough about XP. Almost. The media have it wrong actually, the XPocalypse is all about MS turning off support patches for XP. It was actually killed for me as a realistic gaming system many years ago when Directx 10 became Vista only. That was the beginning of the end, it meant that sooner or later I'd need to update upgrade change to something different or I wouldn't be able to play newer games.

Right - you've believed the hype or otherwise have decided you need a new computer. First ... about that hype ... What it means that all those security patches that you used to have pop up and annoy you about rebooting, won't come to XP machines any more. That means that when the Horrible People find out about a vulnerability (and there a lot of them still in Windows), your system won't be updated to protect against it.

So when a tainted advert appears with a picture that knows about one of those vulnerabilities, your system could be taken over by an outside party. This is a serious and valid concern, especially as anti-virus applications are the first thing to get a "Kill Process - AV" command from the Nasties.

You could say - "this isn't a problem, I don't visit bad sites". However, it's not just the site you're looking at, it's also the extras that come with it. Like 3rd party advertising. Although in the case of the Daily Mail, it appears to have come from their own servers. That's from over 5 years ago but it's still a genuine, valid threat.

Choices ?

Go to a big store and get a Windows 8 machine. And then hate it forever because from all I've heard, Windows 8 is an abomination. (I've only had contact with it in the store but I can believe it due to what RibbonOffice is like)
Be a rebel and get a Mac. This is how I've dealt with the problem. I didn't like the alternatives, plus Mac on the work discount is actually approaching laptop prices for the spec I wanted. The Mac price has stayed the same while the Windows laptop price is going up.
Be a nerd and get Linux. Depends what you want to do - but it excludes the possibility of compatibility with many applications (including iTunes) and you've probably already paid for a Windows licence.
Go old school and get a Windows 7 machine.

The Win 7 option is what I wanted to mention here ... You can still get these, Novatech and PC Specialist offer the option and most places are still offering Windows 7 licences for home brew PCs. But what's important ?

Look. And Feel. Everything else is secondary ... With a desktop, the look and feel is with the mouse, keyboard and screen but with a laptop, it's critical. There's also the "Is this going to fall to bits on me ?" factor. When I build my desktops, I build them to last because of the hassle involved in digging them out from where I hide them. Similar with laptops, my Acer lasted a few years but the HP before started dying after 6 months (and PC World shafted me on its warranty).

So yeah - when you're looking at a laptop, make sure it's one you'll be happy to use. Like - how heavy will it be on your lap, what's the screen size, how responsive is the keyboard and trackpad, what's the rebound like on the keys. With the Macbook Air, it felt like my fingers were dancing over the keys ... and I'm a fast typer. The responsiveness goes for desktops too, I nearly put in a Beta Fault report for Star Wars Old Republic because I had incidents where the character wasn't doing anything. It wasn't the game, it was my wireless keyboard.

Yep. How it feels is the only real factor to consider. But there are a few geeky things to think about :

Feel includes smoothness. And Windows has been broken on smoothness for over a decade. The way to fix it is to use what's called a SSD (Solid State Device) hard disc. It provides instant (nanoseconds) access to data instead of the milliseconds of a normal hard disc. That's a few thousand times quicker. And considering that when you wait for Windows, it's because it's looking up that hard disc ? That's where the SSD comes in. But ... You need a big one for Windows because it gobbles up so much. I have to use "measures" to keep my system running and it runs off a 60GB SSD.

There is another way, it's called a Hybrid drive. It costs a bit more than a normal disc but you get 500GB/1TB with a little SSD that makes it much quicker. And they fit in laptops too. I upgraded my Acer to one of these (thought old one was going bang!) and it was ... genuinely quicker.

Grab a new processor. Intel's latest are the Haswell series, you can tell these by the 4000 in the code. They have double the battery life for the same and better performance (it's done by making everything smaller).

But most of all - don't spend too much. If I'd waited a bit, I could have got a Macbook Pro with a much better screen than my Macbook Air. But it would have cost me a lot more and the screen on my Macbook Air is perfectly good. Actually better than a Windows laptop because it has more pixels. There's that "Look" thing coming in.

I hope I haven't gone too far into my own head with all that ? Buying a PC can be hellishly confusing, especially because places like PC World don't tell you all you need to know about what they're selling you and builders like Acer have a hellishly confusing array of machines.

If you are in the market for a PC, I'd be happy to give a few pointers (email is in the profile). But :

Novatech and the other builders may let you avoid Windows 8
PC Specialist have amazing configuration options
Never discount something original ... (Like a Macbook or LinuxLaptop)

Picture time ! Remember what I said about Malware and Horrible People ?
Or Horrible People who know about XP vulnerabilities and send nasty software around to exploit it.

PS Warning note - I've bought lots of components from Novatech and will continue to do so (cheap + good stuff) but I have issues with the bits they put in their own-brand PCs. I like the customisation options of PC Specialist but didn't buy from them because I couldn't get a first hand Finger Pokey at their machines.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Social, Gaming and Social Gaming

There's a video out there that's going a bit viral at the moment ...

I suspect you'll know the one I mean or have actually seen it. It's commenting on how there's a correlation between the increase of social networking and the increase in individual loneliness.

I reckon you'll know what I mean there. We're sacrificing the immediacy of being around our mates for the apparent greater connectivity that sites like Facebook, Twitter and the various other online thingys offer. We exchange the joyous sound of a whole hearted belly laugh for the rather anticlimatic "lol". (Alternatives are available, I've actually used "roflcopter" in a communicator conversation).

The point is, we don't get out there as much any more. The online alternatives take over and pull us into the virtual world.

How's gaming come into this ?

I've always been one for gaming. I started off in normal single player games but migrated into online gaming with World of Warcraft. I'd quite happily lose myself in the virtual world of that single player game. I have to admit, I was probably a different person back then. My gaming pattern was certainly different.

Ok - definitely addicted to the gaming but also with a bit of a social scene going on too. The Crazie Mob have always been checking out the latest stuff at the cinema (almost said "greatest" but with some of the films we've seen ? Haha) and I've been blessed with lots of people to natter with, grin at and occasionally get chuckles out of at work. Not much of an active social scene though, I've never really been one to get dragged off to the pub by semi-random people. (Not that I would complain if dragged off to the pub by a Pretty Lady)

That World of Warcraft comment ?

The big reason I checked out World of Warcraft was the enthusiasm of a mate who was called Souleater in game. He was one of the founding fathers of the guild and definitely drove us on. He was in my team at work too, so that enthusiasm was grabbing me outside of work too.

From there, we join in with the organisation called Guildlink which brought voice comms into play too. And from that, the multiplayer aspect goes up a whole new level with the chance to do Stuff with 39 other people, most of whom would be chatting away over Teamspeak/Vent/Mumble.

At this time, my last major relationship broke up too, so I needed something to divert attention away from a major hole in my private life. Enter all those lovely Guildlink people, an Overqueen to worship, a Krinza to natter to, a guild to make me feel valued and welcome. Yeah, there were rocky times along the way but also some huge YEY moments. And that's not forgetting the Violence Reborn peeps with their delightful chilled out craziness who rehabilitated me back into the game after the mad times.

That's an All Good Things case though. The WoW addiction broke for me because of the resets that happen with each expansion. Not just that, it's a pale shadow of what it once was. It's ridiculously easy plus I've lost the link to the social scene that gave it that compelling factor.

So that's :

Social - which I kinda skipped
Gaming - which I definitely didn't skip on
Social gaming - which I was in for a while with the WoW

But ... what I enjoyed way more than the computer stuff was the pen and paper gaming I used to do. Not done that for ages but it was pretty much an excuse to :

Nip round a mates house with a few friends
Chill out with pizza/nosh and munchies
Have a laugh with a game
Enjoy the company of others

And that's actual company, not the shallow experience that Facebook and Twitter offer. Text is a very watered down form of interaction and it's the way much of our interaction is going these days :

Facebook - it's very easy to hit that "like" button and not interact any further
Twitter - is still a cesspit of idiots and that 140 character limit is ...claustrophobic
A "lol" doesn't have the impact of the smile that comes with the laugh
It's easy to fake it over text and present a false picture of how you're actually feeling
Similarly, you can't see the pain that people need a little help to cope with
And it's hard to lose yourself in a texty hug the way you can in an all enveloping real life proper hug

We've lost a lot with the descent into the electronic world.

It's not just the text environment that's far less expressive and expansive compared to the real world. We've gone away from looking for excuses to be out and around other people. It's like that online environment is satisfying that social urge just enough.

That said though, my circle of friends is much wider now than before social media and online gaming came in. To mention a few :

Snow Queen ! A smile over communicator doesn't have anywhere near the impact of one of your dazzling smiles when it's delivered in person. (Cakes plz!)
Pixie - a wonderful friend who pulled me in to the PA support community
The old D&D group - I really miss this
The VR crowd - it's a shame I lost interest in the game or I'd still be looking to be involved
The Eve mob - and a certain person who's enthusiasm for this game isn't quite infectious enough to draw me back in (but it's close!)
The cricket mob - I spoke to the skipper today, they still want me to play - body willing
And the Crazie Mob, who connected through work social media while it still existed.

To close out - my Social -> Gaming -> Social Gaming circle has turned again. I'm no longer addicted to playing the games myself. I find something else to be way more fun. It started with a certain Totalbiscuit but now I watch a lot of the Yogscast.

Who are they ? TB is a Brit commentator on games, the Yogscast are a collection of people who have that genius ability to play the games to a high standard and at the same time, have a massive laugh over the commentary. Instead of it being a pen and paper session around a house with your mates, it's listening to them having a laugh and feeling included with that.

I don't watch all that they do, Hannah and Kim plus Duncan are my favourites with Rythian and Zoey coming in close behind.

But I'll keep watching for a while. Cos when they laugh (or scream), it's like they're inviting you to laugh (or scream) along with them. It breaks through that wall that raw text puts up. It's open, it's natural. And it's like being down the pub with your mates.

Monday, May 05, 2014

A to Z - E

I gotta be honest, I've not been liking these posts. I do love my music posts but these ones ? They tend to be over long (massively) and rather too compressed at the same time.

That said though ... I'm through the E's ! Actual stats : 12500 tracks in the library, 4647 still to listen to. That's since moving over to the Macbook in mid October. How about the E's ?

First up - good one and bad one. David Bowie has done some amazing stuff but not everything he does is up to that standard. When he digs, it's really awful. You can tell I'm not a fan of Earthling can't you ? Haha.

The good one is the Edge Of Darkness soundtrack by Eric Clapton. That would be the proper Edge of Darkness made by BBC in 1985. The soundtrack is amazing and perfectly complements a moody, dark and compelling thriller about people doing naughty things with nuclear reprocessing.

We have an Edie Brickell album in here, "Edie Brickell - Ultimate Collection". This was bought for me by a very good friend. It's a bit more than the average Greatest Hits (she's made I think 5 albums since and is still going), it has the best of her first 3 albums plus a bunch of fantastic bonus tracks too.

A little bit of Mansun comes in, courtesy of the sister's cd singles. Hurrah for a group that does proper B-sides !

The White Stripes burst on to the scene a few years ago. You might recognise Seven Nation Army from Elephant. Best I have of their's so far. I like 'em. Raw vocals fronting great work by the band.

A bit of classical from Elgar - I'll always try and catch the Last Night Of The Proms and the Elgar variations are the highlight.

Cardigans ! With Emmerdale. This is a funny album, half of it is on their Life album as well. It's a great start to their works and is in happier mode too. A lot of their later stuff is pretty dark.

A couple from Kasabian and Kaiser Chiefs. Empire and Employment have their moments but I'm not that big a fan of them. Good for an occasional listen but I'll never line them up for a deliberate listen in the car.

I have some Lionel Richie ... His Encore album has hits greatest hits mostly sung live. There's some amazing stuff here, the reason I got it was to cheaply pick up a copy of Hello and All Night Long. Guaranteed smiley songs. Yes it's cheesy. But that don't matter if it makes you feel good.

My second Don Henley album is The End Of The Innocence. Again, not a favourite album but there's the occasional highlight.

Soundtracks - can't get away from them ;-)
Endless Space was a very tedious game but the music was outstanding.
Eve ended up being tedious for different reasons but the atmospheric music was also amazing.
Escape From New York is John Carpenter's best so far
And Jan Hammer's Escape From TV has the highlights from Miami Vice

Duffy didn't last long enough. She has a characteristic, distinctive voice that doesn't really work with songs written for other people. But when something like My Boy comes along ? There's me singing along too with the infectious rhythm. Just like Mercy :-)

Gabrielle Aplin's English Rain shows a lot of promise. Still a little work to do though and hopefully she'll stay unique instead of polished into oblivion.

Jean Michel Jarre has always made amazing instrumental music, Equinoxe is no exception. See Track 5 for the highlight. There's an "Essentials" aka Greatest Hits here too.

I have a couple of Bob Dylan albums, the other will come up really late (U for Ultimate). His Essential album slots in here. He's good but doesn't quite ring my bell in the same way as a Nina Persson or Natasha Khan.

Or even a Blondie ! Another "Essential" collection with some of their best.

I like heavier stuff too, with Evanescence's third album slotting in here. Not as good as their first, see that "polished to oblivion" comment ...

Last few ! The Bangles were amazing in their early days. Eternal Flame was a massive hit from their Everything album. There's amazing song after amazing song here, Glitter Years is one of my highlights.

KT Tunstall also exploded on to the scene with Eye To The Telescope. Check out the wholly acoustic one woman band version of Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. Love it. Something special emerged on the stage on that day.

Last one for today. Possibly their best, it's Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. (Can't decided between this and Final Straw). It has the immortal Set The Fire To The Third Bar and a bunch of other great songs.

There's another 450 tracks before I'm through F, that'll take a while !

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Kitty Car

Another away trip this weekend.

We met up at the sister's place, objective : Stoneleigh. The National Kit Car Show is hosted there, definitely the mecca for kit cars in the UK, possibly the mecca for kit cars in the world. Most of the attraction is seeing the cars built by tonnes of owners as they come together at the show. It's a chance for them to hear the adoring words of the public.

First car we saw - a Lamborghini Countach replica, all in white. And not just the bodyshell, the pristine whiteness was continued within to white leather seats and white backing for the instruments. Absolutely beautiful. Not a car I'd be interested in having but gorgeous nonetheless.

There's a few different classes of kit car, which accommodate what your taste is in body shell type, the intended role of the car and how ambitious you want to be with the mechanicals. Here's a few of them :

Firstly, the ubiquitous Cobra replica. The AC Cobra was a car born in 1962 and was built until 1967. It had a 289 cubic inch (4.7 litre) V8 and later, a 427 cubic inch (7 litre) engine. Truely a muscle car but wrapped up in lovely curves. The replicas repeat that wonderful bodyshell but hide within engines like the old Rover V8 (3.5 litre), Jaguar V12's and big V8's from America.

There will also be Cobras with more modern 4 cylinders like you'd see in road cars, just rather heavily developed to get performance out of them. The 4 cylinder Ford Zetec engine will be in a lot of kit cars. It would start out with maybe 130bhp in a 2 litre Focus or Mondeo and can be tuned up to maybe 200bhp ish. And that's on a modern design with all that extra reliability. The Cobra shell has the advantage of lots of room to add things like superchargers and/or turbochargers for extra likelihood of Brown Trouser moments.

Here's another :

Hmm - another couple !

The two above are both Seven Style cars, which are about as simple as you can get. They're the lower end of the market, although that term "lower" is misleading. They're cheap and simple to build and use lower spec engines. Something like that 2 litre Zetec might be a bit large for these, although the Rhocar Robin Hood Engineering car up top has had a 6 litre Jaguar V12 squeezed into it (I've seen it, there was barely room for a shoehorn in there!).

The Seven is simplicity itself, it's just an engine in that tubular bay up front, there's a couple of seats behind and four wheels bolted on at the corners. Depending on the kit, there's not much provision for creature comforts. Some don't even have a windscreen. This is where the intentions come in :

The Locost and Robin Hood were both aimed at getting something fun on the road within a very tight budget. The Robin Hood did that through being mass produced, the Locost did it by depending on the skills of the builder. That frame of metal on the bottom left ? Welded from plans by a craftsman.

There's also the higher end 7's from Caterham and Westfield. You can get turn key kits from these that have everything in, it just needs you to put them together. No sourcing of bits and pieces from scrapyards.

And there's the track cars from people like Sylva and Tiger. They're built to go round race tracks fast.

Another pic ?
These are based around old vintage cars. They look great don't they ? It would be awesome turning up at a Grand Prix or Le Mans in one of these. Again, not much with the creature comforts but that's what funny hats with lots of ear muff padding are for :-). The car above is the type that my dad might enjoy putting together.

Hmm. I think this weekend may have given him ideas. Uhoh !

Oh - one advantage of the kit cars over vintage cars is the chassis. We owned a Triumph Spitfire, which I refused to have much to do with. One of the reasons was its chassis ... It was dangerous. Kit cars tend to be more race bred with suspension that will keep the wheels parallel to the ground (where intended), instead of tucking under like with that Spitfire. But yeah, instead of renovating something that's partially rotten (and how do you know how much is rotten ?), you're working with good steel with modern anti corrosion techniques.

But what would I actually build ? I like :


Here we go :
They're Minari Road Sports. It has an engine at the front from an Alfa Romeo, mated to a unique chassis. Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! It's still available ... I thought this design died ! Here's a link. It might be hard to find a donor car to rob bits from though.

What would I actually look for ?
Yellow one. In the middle. Me Want.

Actually - why would you go kit car ?

For me, it's uniqueness. Yeah, you could go and get a Mazda MX-5* and have a lot of fun with it. But. Tonnes of other people have them and they don't have that magic "I made this" factor where you know every nut and bolt. If I was to build one of these, I'd want to pick a theme to build the look of the car around. To make it uniquely mine. There'd be wood, there'd be electronics fitting in, there'd be shinies.

*(I picked MX-5 cos they are the best example of a mass produced car that shares most with a kit car)

Will I build one ? I hope so. But there's a few things that need to be in place :

New house with facilities to build one. A garage is essential and I don't have one.
Money ! Most of my cash is tied up with my Lexus ;-)

And that Lexus got lots of admiring drooling at it this weekend too. But kit cars are way more charming. I've not mentioned cars like the Sebring which is based on the Austin Healey 3000. It smiles. As does the Sprite, of which there was one smiling away at the show today. There's fast car replicas too, like the ones turning fast road cars into Lamborghini's and Ferrari's. But those fail that uniqueness test.

Gimme the Fury :-)