Sunday, November 28, 2010

Busy Sleepies

Coming to the end of a very easy weekend at the moment. (Just tapping this out before slipping into the shower before a pre-bedtime gaming session)

Last weekend was pretty hectic. Being a bit busy meant the birthday weekend for me and the Big Sis got delayed until last weekend. First time I'd travelled a significant distance for a good long while (I'm not getting out enough at work) and apart from a very nervous trip past Leicester, the trip went fine. Nervousness was induced by me being the lead car taking impatient people up the A46 in medium fog in a 40mph roadworks limit where the temporary road markings weren't up to the job of giving a worthwhile idea of where the road was.

Yep - nervous.

The trip back was much better. I travel in evenings, when the roads are theoretically quieter.

Hectic started when I got ready to start off. Start the iPod for iPodFM, put the radio to the transmitter channel. What's this ? No sound. Take a peek, examine stuff. Think - there should be a metal bit on the end of my power adaptors (the plug part of the multiplug had fallen apart). No big deal, I'll just slum it with cd's with the power feed going to the satnav and then we're going out tomorrow anyway, I'll buy another multiplug for the car.

Arrive and it's a check of my dad's old laptop to see if its problem was actually terminal. Yep - a Blue Screen Of Death while trying to boot up and none of the Usual Suspects (safe mode) worked to make it better. That confirmed what we'd be doing the next day - heading into Lincoln to get him a new one. Oh - to buy a few more bits too ... I also changed/updated the wi-fi password up there so it would be easier to get my mum's new netbook connected.

We're a techie family. Everyone with an active laptop now, me and me dad with a desktop and a few spare laptops lying around too. I've adopted the sysadmin job as well as on-call tech support. It teaches you a bit, mostly to remember your tracks so you can follow them with your eyes closed. Cos that's effectively what they are if the kit is a few hundred miles away using different software. We manage :-)

Where was I ? Old laptop has its hard disc removed (oops - skipped a bit), ready to be put in a Widget for taking its data. We could have run what's called a "Factory Restore" but that has the side effect of wiping the laptop clean. Not desirable. And I've just remembered something else I need to do ...

Saturday and we raid the Pub, check out the goods, get disappointed by Halfords (no car power socket multiplugs - disappointing as usual for there) and then Buy Stuff. We're now 3:1 Acer, with my sister being the rebel with a Toshiba. My dad's old Acer did pretty well, only the catastrophic software failure in at least 3 years. Mine is "as new", the only problems are M$ software.

Saturday night, we're watching Strictly while munching dinner. What's turning out into a tradition is that we listen to the iTunes stuff after. Not a bad tradition :-) I ended up doing some early config on my dad's laptop too.

Skipped another bit. Threadlock is bad. You know those screws that just won't budge ? Well, after you've hit them with a hammer enough to make them move, there's usually a splodge of blue stuff in there. That's Threadlock and it's effectively glue to keep screws in the socket. It's also very good at making people swear when putting hard discs into Widgets that let you pull the data off.

Meh - after "persuasion", I get the data from my dad's old laptop into his new one. Except one bit (old emails) which I'll fix next time I'm up there because it's Geek Level expertise needed.

That's not it for the techie stuff - we also set up their Kodak printer. It's a wifi printer, so no cables to hook up to make it play nice. It actually worked far better than I thought. It connected to the network first time (Linksys router - doesn't need prodding, it just Works) and after a hefty download, ready for use. Can't ask for much better than that. Thumbs up for Kodak.

Off to the pub again for a birthday nosh on the Sunday before heading off back home. Faith in tech not playing restored itself due to a (Probably Kaspersky) bit of "I'm not talking any more" from my sister's laptop. Oh well. If it went 100%  right, I'd be suspicious that I'd forgotten something.

Hectic - but worthwhile. It's great to see the family up norf every once in a while, plus I get a good slurping from Muttley (aka Ben the Staffy). And sorting out all that IT goes some way to countering any feelings of not achieving much that I was expressing a few posts down.

PS I think I have a new fixation - she's called Tessa and has that intrepid attitude that probably has her bosses going "Cold, wet, snowing, freezing, chance of getting stranded there - We'll send Tessa, she'll love it". And it shows in the very high quality of her reporting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just watched : Alice in Wonderland

One of my favourite films of 2010 was Alice in Wonderland :

We kinda knew what to expect with this one when the Crazie Mob went to see it in the movies at the start of the year. Curiouser and Curiouser went the Crazies as this rather delightful movie unfolded before us.

Most movie adaptations follow the books they came from, some more loosely than others. It takes a brave crew to totally redo the tale. What we have here is an utterly charming tale of rabbits, March hares, mad hatters, Evil and Good Queens, knavely knaves, strange creatures and the wonderful Alice at the centre of it all.

It caught the 3d fashion but I have to admit, I never saw it in 3d. Before watching it again tonight, I watched a couple of the extras which gave me pointers on things to look for (the colour of the Mad Hatter's outfits ...). And then I started watching and forgot all that. A movie/book shouldn't be about the tricks in play, it should be about the story. And they've done very well here.

I don't want to say much more, as a movie as good as this needs to be watched to allow its tale to bring the viewer with it. Let's just say, watch this movie and you will finish with a :

Guaranteed. It's my Movie of the year.

Ninja-edit - oops. I'd forgotten how brilliant Inception was. Alice = 2nd best movie of the year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Iz Vewy Sleepy

Living up to my assumed nickname at the moment ...

Just really struggling to get the motivation to do stuff, any stuff. I guess I'm having one of those cycles where inwardly I can no longer ignore emotional, physical and mental pain. It's a combination that tends to lead to a downward circle of depression. I don't believe it's a chemical or biological induced depression, more like mentally induced. Although my usual affinity for pattern recognition occasionally has me spotting things like a low energy state being associated with not having had fish for a while (fish is food for keeping thyroid happy)

Emotional - this stems from loneliness, pure and simple. It's mitigated part of the way by a few very special people I know who really brighten the day with a smile, a wave or a "Hello, my love" (Innocent traditional Bristol sayings can be very good medicine for a lonely soul)
Physical - coldness in my bones isn't good. I know that I'm not actually in too bad shape injury wise, however that's not the message my body is giving me. Must work harder on ignoring the stiffness. It would be good though if I could stretch without complaint from a back and shoulder that gang up on me.
Mental - the feeling that you're not achieving that much. It's tied into the reason for the emotional tiredness but it's another where there's a few inner lies being told. I focus on the onrunning tasks I should have done ages ago, instead of the firefighting urgent fast reaction fastballs that were completed without breaking a sweat.

However, when anyone asks how I'm doing, I'll usually not admit to feeling the pressure. Wonder if people can read the tiredness in the expression behind the "Yeah, I'm ok". I think I'm lucky in that I have a good situation at work. My line management chain is strong, they'll come out with the fastball tasks that need Deep Thought on a bomb disposal timescale but because of the nature of my work, the tasks are always interesting. At the same time, they'll fend off the demands for work time that lead to you doing someone else's job for them with no time left to do your own.

There's also the other people in the project. I kinda go like a broken record here because I'm always praising them. But they're worth it ! We're known around site as a good project to be on. We get things done without forgetting that team spirit helps get you through. That shows in our hard core of Lifers, people who have been on the project far longer than the 2-3 year norm. You don't get Lifers if the atmosphere is poisonous. Having a tangible output is also helpful there, it's great to see what you work on in the news for the right reasons.

But - it's done through hard work banging away at the troublesome areas. We often have quizzical expressions when people outside tell us what a wonderful job we're doing, because we've been focusing on beating the problems so much that we've overlooked the successes.

Yep - work is a healthy place, even though it's getting to be a struggle to get there in the mornings. It helps having wonderful people to bring a little Sunshine to these dim winter days, a Snow Queen to greet you with a cheery smile & wave (when not buried in keyboard) and the cheerful purity of our Angel. They're also very tolerant with me when I bug them, which is probably happening a little too often at the moment for the chances of their getting stuff done. There's also our Little Canteen Girls who always say hello when they spot me attempting to sneak (I like the attention but get a bit embarassed by it) my way through the canteen. I'm sure they also give me bigger than average sandwiches - so says my belt.

Last mention is for The Boss, who we saw back in the office for the first time since Miniboss arrived. The Boss is one of those lucky ladies who people will point at and say "She looks that good after having a kiddie ? That's not right !" With me saying I'm struggling, The Boss is the complete opposite. Miniboss is a very lucky kiddie to have a mom with that much energy and empathy. I have to admit, I did scramble to hide my Alien Life Incubators (aka coffee mugs) before The Boss spotted them.

How's home life ? Getting back into reading is helping because reading doesn't involve much physical effort and can be done at the same time as indulging my current favourite addiction : listening to music. And reading avoids the tunnel tendency where gaming can have me not registering the music in the background. Not been gaming much lately, that lack of energy is killing my interest in logging in to them.

I'm definitely appreciating upgrading my hifi gear lately. And the music's been appreciating it too. All music appreciates being played through quality gear. If you like music and can afford the cash for a proper separates hifi system, go for it. You won't regret it and your ears will thank you.

Although if you're like me when I was half watching Daybreakers last night, you will give yourself a heart attack at the things that go Bump in the night. The only regret - not enough hours in the day to enjoy all the stuff I've acquired lately ...

Xmas soon, which means a good long break and a chance to recharge those mental, physical and emotional batteries. How many shopping days left until Xmas ?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Goodies and Gifts

Big thank you to the CrazieMob for all the gifts :-) They'll definitely keep me busy for a little while.

So what appeared ?

In movies & miniseries there is :

Sherlock. This trio of episodes hit our screens earlier this year, with a new and modern combination of Holmes and Watson. It takes the intellect and personality and translates it into the modern world. And it does it in incredible style. Well worth watching if you missed it.

Tin Man. I wrote a little on this a little while back. It stars the utterly adorable Zooey Deschanel in the lead role of DG. I was caught by this one when I first saw it and I've been getting reminders from the first 2 of the 3 episodes. It's a very high quality remake of the original story (need to read that) which is enhanced by the combination of Neal McDonough ('Buck' Compton from Band of Brothers) and the enchanting Zooey Deschanel. There's just something about those eyes and those lips. If they asked "Can you get that for me ?" I'd jump through fire to avoid disappointing them.

Surrogates. This is a movie from last year, one of the better from that summer. It's a Bruce Willis movie, set in a near future world where we don't go out of the house any more, except in Surrogates. The surrogates are human-like robots that take the risk away. Except ... (watch the movie for more !)

Titan AE. The AE stands for "After Earth", picking up its story a good few years after beings of pure energy called the Drej have destroyed Earth. However ... there's a plucky youth out there with a destiny. It's an animated movie, which means they have more scope to go play with spinning a fantastic tale. There's great music along the way too. Fun movie.

Book Of Eli : Mentioned this one earlier, it's a post apocalyptic tale of one man's journey across America. Great performance by Denzel Washington, ably supported by Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis.

Music : 2 albums arrived through the post, with a third somehow being bought from iTunes :-)

Best of Dubstar : the 2 fellas of Dubstar with Sarah Blackwood providing the vocals have a distinct sound. It's quite boppy, well suited to dance floors, is dominated by its electronic beat but perfected by a totally pure voice that would be equally at home in a choir. However, that wonderful Sarah Blackwood voice is here gracing tunes like Stars, Anywhere and No More Talk.

Katie Melua's Pictures : Another lady with an amazing voice. It's not always backed up with great lyrics but with a voice this good, you really don't mind that. You just close your eyes, open your ears and melt.

All About Eve's Return to Eden : Kind of a greatest hits album. AAE are another band who have had their back catalogues mercilessly raided over the years, with concert albums and greatest hits albums outnumbering their studio albums. However ... there's a fringe benefit, it lets us grab copies of their rarer stuff.

Books :

Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, Storm Front by Jim Butcher and Mass Effect Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn. Iain M Banks is best known for his Culture novels, however he doesn't limit himself to that millieu. His novel The Algebraist was stunning (and not Culture), I'm looking forward to similar from this one. Storm Front is the novel behind the first episode of The Dresden Files, which was another of those series which was killed off far too early. If the book is anything like the series, I'll fly through it :-)

Finally, Mass Effect Retribution is another of the books in the Mass Effect universe. This is a sci-fi universe that's almost 200 years ahead of us featuring spaceships, aliens and an implacable machine race that likes to annihilate civilisations. The books sit around the games, adding backstory to the characters and events inside the games. What's a few lines of dialogue in the games stretches out to an entire book. It's decent stuff, adding scope to one of the more interesting sci-fi settings. Wouldn't mind living in it myself.

The books will wait though - I'm midway through the Warhammer 40k book Rynn's World. It's the story of the homeworld of a Space Marine chapter being invaded by Space Orks. It's a bit of a blunt instrument of a book, with not much subtlety in there. That is the Warhammer 40k world to a tee, a desperate struggle for survival in an incredibly harsh universe. It does have that "one more chapter" quality to it though. I'm looking forward to discovering how they get out of the cataclysmic mess they end up in ...

No cake yesterday. I sadly didn't have any in the house. I don't think it would have fit after the pizza I had anyway :-) Cakes tomorrow. And I'll be fetching them early too or there may be some "cakes?" looks from a couple of young ladies with similar impact to a Zooey Deschanel quivery lip.

Yes - if I don't get the cakes quickly, there may well be 4 irresistable young ladies ganging up on me ! (Or is that wishful thinking on my part ? Back to the book !)

Friday, November 12, 2010

All sorts

Muahaha - it's not often I admit straight up that a post will be an All Sorts, even though they usually end up as that.

In an hour, another year will have gone by and there will be another ring on the tree. I'll be celebrating that with a pizza tomorrow night and enjoying another movie (or two). I'll see what turns up tomorrow. I've been good so far. The only parcel opened so far is the one that was started by the Postman.

That led to a bit more "evaluation" of the new hifi :-) Awesome. Blu-ray arrived called The Book Of Eli, which tells the tale of one man's walk across America with a book. It's an unusual film, well worth watching. Not that many films make my dvd/blu-ray list nowadays (blu-rays are too pricey still) but this was a fairly quick addition. (Lol - not as quick as RED and Iron Man 2 but close).

It's added itself to my Reference Sound movies. What's a Reference movie ? It's one that shows off a particular aspect to a very high degree of quality. For Star Wars, it was the surround effect of the Tie Fighters whizzing around in space. In this one, you can hear the bullets go past you. Plus there's some more really smart things on show with the sound coming through. Very clean soundtrack with lots of surround effects to put you in the moment.

Will have to watch the Blade movies again soon, as they are also fantastic for the sound field they set up. Perhaps not as good as Book of Eli turned out to be, I had a pleasant Wow surprise there tonight.

Yes, I've been won over by the new hifi. Since going back to the older Novatech cables, I've watched 3 movies with no sign of the audio skipping out. Good signs. The set up is proving very effective at pulling out the detail from what it's been given. That detail shows in things like hearing guitars as a string instrument or drums having a proper rumble to them. I'm now listening to The Trick To Life by The Hoosiers and looking forward to finishing with listening to occasional individual tracks from Katie Melua's Pictures as that's sounding good so far. (I listen to individual tracks before listening to the album as a whole - let's me pick out favourites better)

So - birthday tomorrow. Another year older. Don't think I'm much wiser, although a job change has led to me learning a lot more over the past year. Still no joy with finding someone to share the toys with me, although I did get the customary greeting of "PETER PIPER !" from the Little Canteen Girl :-) I've been missing those because she's been hiding in the kitchen area lately where she doesn't get as much chance to have fun with the customers. Yesterday pm had a
LCG : "I bet you've been missing me"
Me : "Of course !" (and I'd have added a little more in jest if I thought quicker than Snailpace around pretty ladies)
A photographic memory (photo but not "perfect") can be a good thing sometimes, those memories will have me grinning for a while.

Not been on the games that much lately. Another sign of age has been that the old injuries have been passing reminders and the new injuries haven't healed up so well. At the moment, it's the shoulder bugging me. I know I need to get it looked at - however a huge distrust of doctors and hospitals is getting in the way. And it'll need a hospital trip for definite to get it sorted out. I can do emergency maintenance on it to stop my arm being numb but that's not a healthy thing to do.

Certain games are better for the arms, other games are worse. I think it's to do with the amount of rest period you can have in the game. Online games tend to not come with a pause button, so you keep on going until you get to a certain point where you can break. That leads to more stress on the limbs compared to offline games where you can be a bit more relaxed.

Nah - been reading instead of gaming lately. Just finished the Lost Fleet series of 6 books by Jack Campbell. I've mentioned these before and finally got to reading the last book. After struggling through 300 of 1000 pagess of David Weber and then giving up for a few months, the last Lost Fleet book got read through inside a week. It's good stuff and very easy to read. I'm now into a Warhammer 40k book called Rynn's World, about space Orks invading.

Reading is a very relaxing to do while iTunes is running through my library. Speaking of which ... Tis random tracks followed by the Doctor Who series 4 soundtrack which will accompany the first battle for Rynn's World :-)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I blame the pirates

Ok - so I think I have an answer for the sound saga ...

Clues here : Problems with Audio-Visual Amps

Different kit but the symptoms match. So ... I've gone back to the old cables to see how much difference it makes. I have another potential solution too - put less demand on the cables by having a slightly less pretty picture.

What's the kit ?
Sony BDP-S360 blu ray player. Was fine when it was sending picture to the telly through one wire and audio to speakers through another.
Samsung 32" series 530 telly that can do 1080p. (Translation - has more pixels for a sharper image)
Onkyo TX-SR508 surround sound amp.

Problem - the system can send audio and video down the wire but the thing that is causing the issue is Copy Protection. HDMI is a fantastic cable, it carries audio and video in super high quality with just the one lead. However ... it's so good, the moguls have demanded unnecessary Stuff be put in to protect the content. Which means, unless your gubbins can Trust your devices completely, they will limit the playback quality.

Sad. Very sad. And caused by the freeloaders who refuse to pay for the content they consume. Those pirates also make stuff more expensive for the rest of us.

What appears to be happening is that Copy Protection handshake is getting lost in all that Picture and Sound, so the "I'm a telly - TRUST ME!" message isn't getting the chance to be heard. The solution is better cable or making the signal less busy (i.e. less detail).

The answer - I've gone back to the £5 cables I got from Novatech almost a year ago, instead of the £6.50 "3d capable" super "HDMI 1.4" "4x resolution capable" cables from A N Other supplier who are now firmly on the Black List ...

I'm hesitating to think that my problem is cured ... but I think just one audio blip (which could have been the dvd layer skip) throughout the whole of Return Of The Jedi is promising. I see much more "evaluation" of the system over the next few days.

It's obligatory. And I won't enjoy a second of it. Honest ... muahaha.

Problems aside, it's been a very worthwhile upgrade. It's let me hear stuff like a sampled phone conversation on the Snow Patrol Songs for Polarbears album which says why they changed their name from Polar Bear to Snow Patrol (see "early years" in the link). The magic of proper hifi is the detail and clarity it can pull out of the source.

And the sound on the Star Wars movies (A New Hope and Empire in particular) is fantastic. The only question is "What next ?", which has 2 answers :

1 - My resolve to not open stuff until Birthday weakens and I watch some of that.
2 - Great Sounding Dvd's to watch ! Blade is looking favourite, or a blu-ray.

Like avoiding pizza until Saturday, despite my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tendency (not so sure about Ninja but the rest fit), I'll work through my blu-rays :-)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Sounds like issues

Ok - after a week, the Onkyo amp is officially on Probation.

What's the problem ? First movie played back just fine but when watching Attack of the Clones, the sound was repeatedly blipping out. There'd be a few minutes good and then a half a second where the sound cuts out. Revenge of the Sith tonight was better, only a couple of blips through the movie. Music afterwards was bad though, a couple of blip-outs per track. I suspect a few causes at the moment :

New cable isn't up to the job. I got my new HDMI cables before watching Clones.
Heat - this is what I don't want it to be because it's cooler now than it will be in the summer.
Other cables went loose and are interfering.
(edit - add in "insane copy protection interference" to that list)

I have a big suspicion that it's a heat problem because the top case of the amp is a little too warm for comfort. This is really not what I want the problem to be though because that's a definite Return Of Goods scale issue. I have the amp sitting in reasonably open space on a wicker basket, so there should be no problems with cool air getting in to it.

I have my doubts about the cables too. When I first got the amp, the iTunes sound came in through proper wires. You can trust wires, they usually stay in where you put them. Not so much with the optical fibre method which I switched to on Monday. Point proven tonight, where for 20 minutes or so after finding out why the music was cutting out (fibre plug had come half out) the playback's been fine.

What I said about wires holds true. Before, it was a little headphone jack. You'll know what I mean by those, it's how your headphones plug into iPods. Solid and reliable, unlike the gimmicky optical link that's far too flimsy. I'd like to keep using the optical because it's marginally better quality but may be forced to fall back to proper wire.

Crossing my fingers that the optical thingy was making the amp go "Hey ! New source, let's check it", which could be why the movie playback was cutting out. I shall have to test that Very Soon. (Star Wars A New Hope is next - but not tonight) I've power cycled (pull plug, walk away, count to 5, put plug back in) the amp and after 20 minutes it seems better. I'm a bit happier now because I have a supportable theory, I just really do hope it's not a heat problem.

I have a few years of guarantee, so there shouldn't be issues (except parking !) if I have to go as far as taking it back. I just dislike giving up like that. I see more evaluation time coming :-)

(Techie PS bit - there's no real difference between "proper" wire and optical fibre for domestic use. But there's plenty for bigger scale data cabling. Optical is far superior when the distance is more than a few metres but again, the issue is in connections which are far more sensitive)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chipmunk Syndrome

Firstly - Happy birthday Craziequeen !

Chipmunk ? I can get a bit excitable sometimes.

It manifests in a similar way to hyperactivity, in that I'll suddenly become a lot quicker. I'll react quicker, talk quicker (which isn't necessarily a good thing cos I trip up over words more) and generally go for the harebrained solution that comes to mind first instead of thinking through what I'm about to do. I've hit on the word Chipmunk for it.

I have mixed feelings about Going Chipmunk. On the one hand, I have an energy and vitality that can be missing sometimes. But on the other hand, I can upset people by not thinking about what I say before I say it. And the wrong things come out. Hopefully I don't do that too much. There's a matter of focus too. At the moment, I'm itching to do "something" but when it's come to testing Xbox through the new amp, that wasn't what my subconscious wanted to do. It's better than the alternative, which has me struggling to get the motivation to do anything.

Xbox play didn't last long mostly cos my subconscious wanted to be listening to music :-) Which is what I'm doing at the moment (Robbie Williams greatest hits) while pondering what I do after blog post. I think it'll be more book, as I've given up (for now) on David Weber's Storm From The Shadows in favour of the 6th of 6 Jack Campbell Lost Fleet books. David Weber's a fairly inconsistent author. Some of his books are action spectaculars, perfectly paced with plenty of the space fleet actions he's good at writing. Others are deeply mired in politics which at the end of the day, are meaningless. I'm 300 pages into Storm and nothing's really happened yet, apart from a bit of set up. Boring.

So I'm finishing the Lost Fleet saga instead :-) all the while doing more extensive "evaluation" of the new hifi gear.

What's the main difference between hifi and the basic squawk boxes ? It's the detail. Something basic will passably reproduce the more prominent bits of music. However, hifi excels in pulling out the bits in the background. That's the intricate bits like the hundred different instruments in the orchestra. Tori Amos feet on piano pedals. Bits of voice on a Snow Patrol track that I never knew where there.

Had some late nights this week "evaluating" the bits with just ... one ... more ... track :-) I think I have them trained now because I've found the "Pure Audio" setting that turns off all the processing. There's still variation in quality because I'm listening to MP3's which in pure music terms, just aren't all there.

The alternative to book would be gaming. I've reawakened the gaming addiction but it's being tempered by issues with my arms and fingers. I suffer from RSI in my wrist due to a long association with computers. It's with me now and I manage it by keeping an eye on how much computer time I get. There's also the shoulder issues which get better or worse depending on the game.

Or cleaning. Need to get the house tidied up "soon". Something the Crazies haven't done for a while is have a pizza + movie night, which is something we like to try and do around birthday or Xmas season. Could well be my place this time around so I can show off the new stuff. Plus rearranging stuff for it is giving more room. But before that, a good tidy and cleaning will be needed.

Gotta put down the Dust Bunny Rebellion. Or die trying ! Maybe I can put Chipmunk Syndrome to good use over the weekend.