Sunday, September 30, 2012

May have overdone it a little ...

Noooo ...

I haven't been getting ambitious in the kitchen, although I saw some pictures of cakes earlier that looked incredibly tempting ...

Been watching lots of sport this weekend, as well as making a bit of a dent in the recorded stuff on the box. There's 2 massive events on at the moment, although I have my doubts about one of them.

Cricket has another world cup going at the moment, this time it's Twenty20 games. That's actually a very similar format to what I play, although they have daft rules in like needing to have a certain number of players close(ish) to the bat. We don't have the rule, although it works out similar.

International T20 games are hard to predict a winner before the game. In longer games, it's possible to rebuild if the side loses early wickets. T20 can get dominated by the ball very easily. I have mixed thoughts about whether or not it's good to watch, as the games can get one sided (and therefore boring) very quickly.

Anyone could win this tournament, now that we're in the "Super 8's" stage all of the sides can beat any of the other sides on their day. That makes it far more interesting than football or rugby tournaments where you'd only put money on 2-3 or 4 sides out of 16+. Football and rugby world cups have far too many poor sides in, which makes the early stages extremely tedious.

Anyway - there's been a bunch of cricket matches on this weekend and I've mostly watched them ... That is, I've typically had the pictures on (or cricinfo commentary) with the sound off so I can listen to either music or :

Ryder Cup's come round again.

I don't watch much golf, although I wouldn't mind trying it out again to see if it helps my shoulder and back stay loose and useful. That's another thing that has to be on hold though until I can rely on my legs and arms again. Soooo much is waiting for my skin to recover. I think it is, steadily and slowly ... I just have to give it the chance by avoiding self inflicted wounds.

Ryder Cup is something special. It comes around once every two years and is a matchplay tournament between 12 Americans and 12 golfers from GB & Europe. It can get very tense ...

And that's an understatement.

I've got it on at the moment, Europe have just drawn level at 10-10 with 8 games to go and need to draw 14-14 to retain the cup. It's going to be compelling viewing over the next couple of hours. Compelling enough for me to hide behind a popcorn bucket ? Maybe :-) Although I did have popcorn the other night while watching a bunch of Stargate SG-1.

But while I've watched lots of sport this weekend, that's not really where I've overdone things. All things in moderation of course. That is, except for grabbing more music for the library.

I've been enjoying listening to game soundtracks lately. And went a little berzerk acquiring more today. The damage today is another 133 songs, which will take 10.4 hours (stats from iTunes) to listen to. That's adding to another 139 songs over the last couple of weeks. Not all game soundtracks, I was impressed by Lisa Hannigan's first album (Sea Sew) and Proms Fever made me buy a Last Night soundtrack.

The last 3 months has seen no less than 593 tracks join the library ...

Perhaps that's overdoing it :-)

PS Since stealthing my wifi network, there's been Zero interference. That's going from at least one router reset per day to no resets in a few weeks now. Kinda proves that there's a naughty person out there trying to stop me listening to music ? LOL. At least I haven't had to spend cash to stymie them :-)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Been a bit quiet

Yeah - I've not put many updates in lately ...

The reasons for that are usually something like having something on my mind, being worried about something, being distracted by something or just plain not having that much to talk about.

Not so sure about that last one, cos when I get my teeth into talking about something, it'll end up being Wall Of Text like usual. Although I have been struggling for things to work as triggers to start me off.

It's not even so much the being distracted by things, although I have been watching a lot of Youtube from peope like the Yogscast, Totalbiscuit and Omfgcata/Jesse Cox (not so much of the Dodger these days). There's a few things I'd like to get distracted by ;-) But I need to get healthy again first.

And that's probably what's really on my mind and the thing I'm worried about. My legs last year decided to steadily get worse and worse. I thought I'd figured out how to make them better but just as the cricket season was closing down, they erupted again. Like to a state worse than last year in only a week. Hence the big shift in diet to include green stuff.

I have to say, I've appreciated that change of diet - although I have to watch out so that the grazing on apples doesn't continue into grazing on biscuits. Having the apples = good, grazing on biscuits = bad.

I haven't had a repeat of the bad breathing issues lately which suggests I figured out the cause - it was one of :

Wheat allergy (most likely)
Bacon/Ham allergy (less likely)
Work related stress (very likely)

I've cut out the sources for the wheat allergy, with brown bread being fine to eat and white bread leaving me struggling to breathe. Looks like it's white bread that's the trigger. I'm hopeful that I can start having the bacon again. Bacon Good.

And the prime cause for the work related stress moved out of our team a few weeks ago. He was an ok guy but we're still feeling the consequences of ill thought out actions and will do at least until we rebuild the relationships with our contractors (the ones who actually do the work). Hell, we should have had a key document out for our 6 ships by now, instead we have barely gotten out one due to his interference.

Axe to grind ? Hell yeah. He was an ok guy but professionally he was a wrecking ball.

And now you're probably thinking : yeah, there was a definite cause for work related stress. And that's without me passing on most of the stuff that was going on. I'm one of those people who is utterly dependent on their self confidence. To have the confidence surgically dismantled at every turn is tough to take. And yet I did, because I'm also the sort of person who doesn't let a bastard win. The worst thing about it is not knowing who I could talk to about it, because of all the Chinese Whispers going on.

What's this health thing though ?

I have to get the discipline to leave my legs along (and a couple of other patches). I think they'd have healed by now if I didn't keep scratching them. Perhaps a series of hefty gaming sessions is required so that I don't think of the scratching ?

I'll get back to doing more updates soon. But that'll be when I'm less focused on trying to see why my legs aren't better yet. I think they are improving - I just need to leave them alone enough to give them the chance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gamer Compulsion

What compels us to do stuff ?

I'm in a bit of a weird phase at the moment with the gaming. I have a bunch of games that I've bought recently but haven't played yet and a much bigger list of games that I never finished. And then there's the others which I go back to time & time again.

I played my first session for a while of Guild Wars 2 last night and have to admit that I really didn't enjoy it much at all. That's a curious one, because when it comes to gameplay it's mostly there and it is genuinely one of the better MMOs I've played. And that's all-time, including GW1, City of Heroes (very meh), Eve and WoW.

MMOs hit that compulsion thing pretty hard. Especially Eve with its player driven universe. Eve is the best example of a game that compels its players to keep in there in order to keep up with what friends are doing. Eve has a fairly freeform party setup which allows up to 250 players to be in the same fleet. That's up from a party of 5 in most MMOs or a raid of 25-40. So the more players you have in the fleet, the more powerful that fleet is. But one strength of Eve is that a small group of strong players with a fleet balanced across the ship types can and will take apart a much larger group of disorganised players.

So why don't I play Eve any more ? Well - it's 90% grind, 9% boredom and 1% sheer terror. There's a lot of grind needed to prepare your character for pvp. Most of the pvp time I had was boredom as we didn't find anyone to fight, with that 1% being when things happen.

The problem with the grind is that you find that you're spending so many more hours in the game doing preparation work for what's supposed to be the fun part. And that's where a game starts feeling like a second job.

If a game is becoming so important that it feels like a second job, or it is becoming more important than your actual job : GIVE UP THE GAME. I see that at work too, where organising their fantasy football league takes more time than they put into their job (that cost us big time). I used to run the project's indoor cricket team and we got consistently good results too, typically being 3rd in a league of 11-12. I gave up running that because it ended up taking too much time away from the day job.

No game is that important and if it is approaching that, you've become addicted to the point where the game is no longer entertainment. I guess WoW became that for me in the early days, although that was a particularly strange time. I realised what it was doing to me and gave up the guild leader position before something broke in my head.

I'm not feeling that compulsion with Guild Wars 2, although it is a better game than SWTOR.

That's curious that - so many games tick so many of the right boxes but when it comes down to actually playing them, it feels like a chore after a while instead of fun. I'd put the following games in that list : all MMOs, Borderlands, Skyrim, Terraria, Mass Effect 3. And there's a bunch more too.

Having a feeling of being compelled to keep up with the less enjoyable games distracts away from some of the unplayed games I have that I know would be huge fun : Beyond Good & Evil, Machinarium, Botanicula, Trine 2. And one I'm still looking at : Kerbal Space Programme.

So how about the games I do play way too much ? There's usually a good reason for that.

Story - Deus Ex HR has an excellent story and I feel another playthrough coming ... Similar with Mass Effect 1 and 2 (3 wasn't so great).

Simplicity yet depth - Moo2 and FTL definitely have this. As does the ancient Neverwinter Nights which had me obsessed before the MMOs took over.

Mindset - Settlers IV.

Yep. I have a game that I'll play just to put me in a particular mindset. If I'm needing a bit of mind numbing strategy, I'll fire up Settlers IV. It's a very slow Real Time Strategy and I have a build order that takes a very long time to mature. If my brain is buzzing, Settlers IV helps to calm it down. It's nowhere near the best RTS type game but it works for me.

Not much gaming today though. There's been F1 streaming from BBC (what the hell is wrong with Youtube's playback ? No issues on BBC, yet continual whirly-waits on Youtube) and we're currently at half time in the second cricket of the day.

Fingers crossed that England can overtake India's total. It'll finish just before I'm due to head out to the Wishing Well for drinks & munchies with the Eve crew. I'm done with Eve as a game but I still keep up with how the Volition Cult is getting on. They're a good mob and I count a lot of them as good friends. I've managed to stay in touch, whereas the WoW mob showed how they got a little too addicted to that game.

Curious how the people in a game renowned for spies and politics don't have a problem staying in touch but the people (Mercs) in WoW went a little crazy. But that's a curious one for another day.

Right now - it's England batting and me trying to avoid the compulsion to start off another HMS Iceangel run in FTL :-).

PS I also just picked up Alone in the Dark (1992 with its 2 sequels) and the two Independence War games from Good Old Games. Gotta find time to do more with those than just listen to the soundtracks.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bling, not bling

The latest bit of techie hype has caught my eye this time ...

What am I talking about ? iPhone 5 is what I'm talking about :-) I have to admit I'm just looking at the hype at the moment but there's a few good reasons stacking up for why me upgrading to an iPhone 5 might be a good idea.

Data allocation - yes it costs more per month but it would give unlimited data. Perhaps that's not worth an extra £22 per month though.

Shininess - iPhones are very shiny. I wouldn't have said that before getting used to what my Xperia X10i mini gives but I'm thoroughly sold now on the potential of these little beasties. It's very impressive being able to integrate so much on these devices now.

Phone Reliability - oh this is a big one. The Xperia is a good little device but it's been showing tiredness and a few defects. There's a lengthening list of defects with the phone :
Disrupted calls - where it sounds to both ends like a blender is by the mic
Low battery - I tried using the Xperia to take pictures during the IST20 last year, I got a small number but the camera isn't the best and it nukes the battery
Soft-crashes - issues with the browser interface
Loss of network - exactly how it sounds, this seems to be happening more
Possible overheat nuking the battery more - sometimes it doesn't want to charge, I suspect overheating
It's very small

All that said, the X10 Mini does a lot of things well, like Bluetooth integration with the car and the general smartphone-ness. But it falls down on annoyances with the interface and its tendency to soft and hard crash. I bet it's more reliable than a Windows phone though.

IPod reliability - I have a 16GB iPod Nano which works fairly well. It's only refused to play music in the car once. But what it does have is amnesia. It'll forget what it's been playing. That's irritating. A 64GB iPhone would also hold all of my 30GB+ library with room to spare.

There's a bunch of other advantages it would have too, things like hooking it up to the car via Bluetooth for music although I'd probably still use USB because that charges the battery.

I'm not going to jump for the iPhone just yet ... I'll let the early adopters check it out first so they can find out about things like AntennaGate on the iPhone4. Apple are good but they're still prone to software booboos. I'll also be checking out what a few other people say about their iPhones.

So - not bling ?

When I started this post, I so TOTALLY had something in mind to denounce as utterly non bling.

Can I remember what it was ? Hell no. Shame ! Ranting can be excellent therapy :-)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Few randoms

Been struggling to think of themes for posts lately, things I can wrap words around.

I've had the various thoughts running through my head, like how I'm enjoying work more at the moment (one big reason for that is something I'm not posting it here - lol). Here goes with a few random things :

Audi drivers really do need to Learn To Drive. I know there's some sensible Audi drivers out there (including a very good friend) but the typical Audi driver gets the brand noticed. Things like tonight where a pony and trap was coming the other way. You take it easy around horses on the road, it's easy to spook them. Audi driver decided to overtake the pony and trap just as I was coming past it.

I know right ? Easy way to get hoof prints in your front wing.

There was another one at work who objected to me slapping his rear wing after he nearly ran me over on a pedestrian crossing. (Service person who had the worst of the bad attitude they can have).

But that's enough about Audi drivers. Apart from maybe next door, he has an Audi too. Not heard much from that one lately, which is always a good thing. I actually suspect the house is sub let, which is never a good thing for a neighbourhood as you don't know who the transitory people are.

Talking of neighbourhood, I actually saw someone parked in the flats parking. There's 3 parking spaces opposite my house which belong to the flats. However, the denizens of the local shops believed they were shop parking too and occupied the spaces until the owners of the flats got annoyed. There's a chain over the spaces now with "Private" on it and nobody can park there. They shoulda just reported them to the Police instead, like what I do with cars who park outside with expired tax discs.

Yes I do. An expired tax disc means the car likely doesn't have MoT to say its roadworthy or insurance to keep other drivers assured that it won't be an issue if the muppet crashes into them. I report them with a clear conscience, knowing just how many idiots infest the roads.

And that behaviour on the road is getting much worse, case in point being that Audi driver who was begging for hoofprints in his doors.

Other bits - health stuff.

I think I'm on to something with locking down what I'm reacting to. Jaffa cakes are fine !!! HURRAH !!! So it's either pig or wheat that I'm reacting to. I'm fine with brown bread at work, making turkey & lettuce sandwiches. I seemed ok with toast at home on brown bread. But I reacted a bit to turkey & ham sandwiches made on both white (lots of reaction) and brown bread (less reaction).

That lines up with other reactions too - pizza and going hyper with bacon.

What about the skin stuff ? Well, there's a big patch on my arm which just looks like a rash. I really don't know about this one, I think it's subsiding (slowly). The patches on my legs are definitely subsiding, albeit very slowly. My skin is incredibly dry though, which isn't helping. I think that's from the damage though, my lips always go cracked when I'm suffering from an ulcer.

It's improving, steadily, I just have to leave the bad patches alone so they get a chance to heal. That's harder than it sounds cos it's damn itchy. Hopefully isolating the allergies to wheat or pig will help.


Been enjoying listening to lots of music lately. And that means enjoying it without having to retune the router or reset the electronics. Since I made the wireless stealthy, I've had no interruptions from the jammer. And that's over a significant enough time period to eliminate the reprobate responsible disappearing on holiday or something like that.

Last bit - Car stuff.

I've only had my car about a year now but I think I know what the next one will be ... Here it is, courtesy of Autoexpress. It's a little bigger than my CT and comes with a bigger engine, 2.5 litres up from the 1.8 in mine. It promises (like all hybrid concepts!) to have high mpg and low CO2/km. I suspect it'll do about 45mpg but be a sub 10 second to 60 car rather than a slow 10+.

The Lexus LF-CC is a concept at the moment but it might come on sale conveniently close to when my CT's loan matures ... Looks shiny. It continues a theme of Lexus gradually going through their range facelifting them. The CT came in last year, the GS just got a facelift, now it's the overdue turn of the IS. Hopefully this one will also come in a soft top version, like what I was looking for when I linked the IS-C :-)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

These are the voyages ...

I've been hit by one of those bugs.

Not the sneezy kind ... Nah. It's the anticipation of something new and fun.

This time around, it's a game called Faster Than Light. I first became aware of this one through PC Gamer magazine (one of the few articles I read in that issue) who ran the reader through a typical encounter, one of many your ship will have in the game.

The game came out on Friday and I've been enjoying it tremendously since. The basic premise is that your ship has been entrusted with data that needs to get to Federation HQ, across numerous sections of friendly and unfriendly space. But you can't take forever because chasing you is the Rebel fleet, on their way to finish off the Federation.

To that end, you're given a Kestrel class light cruiser and 3 crew to handle Weapons, Shields, Piloting and repairs. The ships also have Life Support, Doors, Sensors, Teleporters, Engines and Drones. Each system can be targeted independently by weapons or even your crew. The basic game play set up allows for huge depth in how you tackle the encounters. I've not seen anything like it for quite some time, although I suspect Battlecruiser 3000 may have tried to pull it off.

(And I'm now going to do all sorts of curse removing Stuff to make up for invoking the name of the worst piece of vapourware to ever approach PCs).

It's deep, yet it's very simple to play. You can go the conventional approach of Superior Firepower, you can use drones, you can go Borg and send over away parties (very difficult) or you can burn the other ship from the inside. That last one is surprisingly effective - set fires on the enemy and the fires do as much damage as weapon fire can do.

But yeah - FTL. It's awesome and if you have an interest in space games, it's an essential.

Back to the real world - I'm currently watching the 3rd in a series of programmes called Moon Machines that was shown again as part of a Neil Armstrong tribute weekend. So far, the episodes have covered the Saturn V rocket and the Command Module. This one's about the navigation computer.

It's very important to note that the Lunar programme was from back in the infancy of the computer age. Computers were in use in World War 2 to do code breaking but this was still the very early days. Miniaturisation hadn't happened yet. Computers were huge, taking up whole rooms or buildings to do what we did on PCs 20 years ago. And yet a computer was needed to fit into a spacecraft to make it capable of getting to the moon and safely back again.

That's a tough ask, especially as the "how" had never been done before. It's very easy to clone software or modify process to tweak it to do what you want. But to generate whole new techniques and make them efficient ? That's a far bigger challenge.

Moon Machines ? Worth a watch ? Definitely. But also watch the Tom Hanks team do their dramatisation of From The Earth To The Moon. I need to watch that again soon too, it's in the queue after Toy Story 1 and 2 ahead of Toy Story 3 in the recorded stuff queue.

Back to "gaming" again ...

I'm seriously considering having a look at the Kerbal Space Program. It's showing how computer technology and software has advanced since the Apollo program by moving it from the Real Space domain into a Virtual Space domain inside the computer.

What is it ? It's a toolkit that lets you build rockets and send them to places within the Kerbal system. It's what I mentioned up top about a devilishly complex system hidden underneath simple ways of operating it. It's tough to put that in brief words here, better just to point you towards :

Flight of the Munitar

The link will take you to a KSP forum thread with further links to Youtube videos showing a flight to the Mun and back. For a techie/wannabe astronaut (old dreams!) like me, it's fascinating. It's showing orbital mechanics at work. Objects don't go in a straight line in space, they're acted upon by gravity. You need to be going at a decent speed to "cheat" gravity enough to stay in orbit. You're effectively falling at the same rate as you're going round.

The Munitar flight shows a launch, Mun transition and return and it's fascinating to see those orbital mechanics playing out on screen. It's showing a modern computer doing with ease what was a huge struggle a little over 50 years ago.

And I'm getting more tempted to try it out :-) But first, I see another voyage of the HMS Sleepy coming on, crewed by Snow Queen on shields, The Boss in the pilot's seat and Ms Warpath on weapons.
(Names I've used so far have been from gaming, time for a few new ones!)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Need cookie salespeople !

I can't actually remember that far back but wouldn't it be better if door to door salespeople brought tangible stuff to sell you ?

Lots of people actually seem very keen to sell me stuff right now. I'm not actually that interested in buying but people seem very keen on selling.

The latest was a fella from Lovefilm (who immediately got a negative due to having no ID) who was keen. Gotta give him that. But ... I've seen all the various adverts from Lovefilm and have zero interest in their services. Yeah, there is some shininess there but :

Films - I'll buy it on bluray
Music - I buy it on cd or via iTunes/Amazon
Games - I buy them via Steam

The operative word there being "buy". I'm not keen on the renting services like Lovefilm and Spotify. There's numerous disadvantages like : Paying more in the long run. Not having free choice of what you watch. Having to wait between choice and watching. Losing all benefit at the whim of the renting provider. If they go bust ? Byebye collection.

Fella from Lovefilm also didn't understand the meaning of "I'm not interested". I don't really have a huge problem with salespeople but I will very quickly start to get impatient with those that insist on wasting more of my time than it takes to tell them to go away the first time.

No - I'd prefer to buy actual movies which will give far superior quality to streaming it from the internet. It's also cheaper to get 5 for £30 and watch several times than it would be to rent.

There does seem to be a shift though. People are looking to make it so you don't own what you buy. Things like software effectively being on a rental scheme. You aren't free to transfer ownership of items like mp3s. I don't think I could transfer any of the items in my Steam library to a third party like I could with my games on dvd.

But that's enough about Lovefilm. Car people seem very keen on selling things at the moment ...

Had the call from the Lexus people at the weekend offering me a deal on a new CT. That's been followed by a "confidential" email telling me about a marketing event this weekend. Deals etc. Worth looking into, I can only say good things so far about the Lexus experience. But ... I like my car and it's given me no reason to change it.

That's more than can be said for the other offer today ...

Yes. Carcraft are also out for sales. At least that phone call stayed polite as I told them to go away. I think their guy got the message as soon as I told them that I'd already changed car. Let's have a look at Carcraft's terms ...

12.9% APR or 19.9% on representative. That's the big nasty. It's what makes car ownership expensive. That interest really adds up over the years. Let's look at 2 examples :

Carcraft Jaguar XF - 2 years old, 32k miles, £23k. That works out as £533 per month over 4 years or £577 over 5 according to their "representative" calc. Scary numbers.
Lexus GS450h - 2 years old, 30k miles, £23k. That's £513 per month over 4 years at 5/10.5% APR or £428 per month over 5 years at the same 5%.

The totals are £28k/£35k for Carcraft or £27k/£28k for the Lexus. Dunno where that really expensive representative calc kicks in though for the Carcraft car, it's probably the figure you actually pay rather than the figure you believed you'd pay.

Anyway. Going to a main dealer can actually work out cheaper than going to the car supermarket. Main dealers need custom too. There's lots of competition out there and the more there is, the better it is for the buyer.

Oh and Lexus didn't pressure me into getting any PPI or servicing or other stuff like that. The servicing and warranty from Carcraft were derisory. The service wasn't a full service, it followed the Carcraft schedule instead of the manufacturer's recommendations and the warranty did not cover the mechanical failure my Focus suffered with its inlet manifold.

All that sales pitch call from Carcraft has earned them is a bit more disclosure on what my experience was with them. Glad that's over !

PS That Lexus GS looks shiny. But I wouldn't go for it as my next car. I have my fingers crossed that a hybrid version of this Lexus will come out soon ... It is an incredibly shiny car. But ... 9 secs to 60 is too slow for it, 30mpg combined is too greedy and 213g/CO2 is ouch worthy for road tax.
PS2 But it is shiny. And I have hopes for the LF-LC although I suspect that one will be too rich for me or have too much roof.

Last PS - if girl scouts came round here with cookies ? They'd only need to visit one house. But they should make sure to ring first to make sure I have enough cash to mean they don't have to visit anyone else.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Travelling, Toys, Aliens and Brr

Been out and about in the car lately with work.

They don't let me out too much (They think I scare people) but it is good to have the occasional trip out to contractor places or the outstations. Especially when it give you a chance to see what you've been working on. Not that the seeing what I'd been working on was the point of Monday's trip, they just happened to be visible out the windows.

From 200-300 metres away, maybe more. Yep. I've been playing with big toys over the past decade.

Anyway. Travelling. One trick I implemented was to take more advantage of the Smart Numbers telephone system at work. That system lets us take a number with us and either attach it to the phone at the desk we end up at for the day or route it elsewhere. I had mine going to my mobile during the two travel days. Now you're thinking "Hey ! He's going to be in a car for a significant amount of that." Yep. True. But I feel better about telling people to ring me back cos I'm driving than ignoring voicemail messages.

Smart Numbers works well (at least it does now that the bugs have been worked out) but the voicemail system is utter garbage. It's nigh on unusable. Trouble is, the people who ring in don't understand that and insist on leaving garbled messages that we never hear when they should be sending an email instead (or even a text to the number I give in my sig with a "please do not use voicemail, send a text to this number instead")

Travelling doesn't just mean telling people to ring me back when they phone while I'm driving. It's ok for me because my CT is set up with a handsfree spiderphone facility. But it's not ok for the person trying to talk to me as my attention wavers between conversation and driving. If the driving demands concentration, that's where the concentration goes.

I use my own car for business trips. It's just not worth me taking a hire car :

My CT is far superior to the typical hire car in toys
I'm familiar with it and the satnav is well programmed now
iPod integration (and phone integration) works well
It's 50+mpg and therefore a cheaper option
And I realllly distrust the hire car companies

Hire car companies are naughty - I've seen a few colleagues have to defend themselves because mysterious blemishes appeared on the hire car, supposedly when the colleague had it. You have to inspect the hire car carefully before and after. If there are blemishes, take pictures before opening the key packet.

And it's really sad we have to protect ourselves in that way. Surely there should be a level of being able to trust the hire car company contracted by the massive organisation I work for. But then again, that may be part of it. The company may assume they can get away with upsetting the little guy because the little guy's voice gets lost in noise.

Toys ? Kinda gone through this one already with those Smartnumbers - there's just one flaw there, Caller ID doesn't work through the redirect to my mobile.

However ... what I did find out about was something else with that Smartnumbers. At work, if the desk phone rings, we don't have a clue who it is. Unless ... you know about a part of Smartnumbers we weren't told about : Caller ID through the desktop. I need someone to ring me while that's active so I can see it working.

Aliens ?

Think I achieved a couple of things in John Lewis yesterday. Yeah. I bought a vacuum cleaner. But that's boring ... At least it is alongside knowing that the John Lewis girl who was looking after me was definitely thinking I was from another planet. Good to see I haven't lost that.

Oh - here's something really sad. When I started looking to talk to people in John Lewis, I went up to Bloke sales person and Girlie sales person. Bloke immediately passed me over to Girlie, with me getting the impression that he thought selling vacuum cleaners was beneath him and was the lady's work. That's kinda sexist.

Did I care ? Hell no. I'd far rather talk to a pretty blonde lady any time than a chubby, balding middle aged bloke who apparently didn't want to talk to his customer. Wonder what she thought of it ? Look after your people as well as your customers.

Failing to look after your people leads to them not being effective at their jobs, especially if you actively prevent them from doing work which is actual priority work.

Brr ?

Getting cold again here. I've not turned the heating on yet but may have to soon ... Legs are still not healed yet (although they are steadily improving) so I'm still in shorts in the evening. It's getting a bit cold for that though and my knees are starting to ask for knee pads to be on.

Cricket season is almost over too. Played my last game (the evenings have been drawing in) a few weeks ago but the domestic season goes on a bit longer. Enjoyed watching the last England game for ... a week tonight with England beating South Africa.

And I'd better leave it there before I wear out the keyboard. Been strugging to think up topics lately although ... when I get one ? Wall Of Text :-)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

More on the spending ...


Gotta spend some money this week. But what on ?

The post before last I talked about networking bits and pieces ... I still have that in mind as a shift to do with my network but it's on the Geeky Interest level, not a "must do now" level. So it's not going to be spending cash on the network because :

Since stealthing my wireless network, I've had no interference. (Could be coincidence)
The offers aren't good enough yet.

They're just shifting the technology they're using at the moment for Powerline networking. That means the new stuff is pricey but the old stuff is still getting bought because people don't trust the new stuff yet. If you're not bothered about performance then it's pointless spending huge cash on fancier kit. Powerline networking performance from older kit is plenty good for my needs, even when it struggles it's doing 40-50Mbit/s on 200Mbit/s rated kit which is 5x better than my internet download and on a par with how quick data can be squeezed out of my hard discs.

So - I'm still looking at Powerline networking bits and pieces but because there is no pressing need to change, I can wait for better offers.

Next up - had a curious phone call yesterday from Lexus Cheltenham :-)

Because I own a CT from them, I'm on the list of people who could get a brand new CT. It would be essentially identical to mine (colour, trim) but the 2013 model has a few spec changes. Some are good (cruise control added), some are bad (can't remember list).

It would cost me an extra £30 per month and lock me in for another year. It's a very interesting and intriguing offer. However ... the only reasons I'd seriously consider it are :

1 - If the newer car was quicker - the one criticism I have of the CT is that it's Potential Performance isn't as good as the cars I've had since the '82 Astra. It feels quick, because when you floor the throttle you get 100% potential performance. In manual gearbox cars, you very rarely get Potential Performance unless you're willing to redline the engine and abuse the clutch.

But ... it's a 10 second 0 to 60 car, my last two were quicker. The compensation for that is mpgs approaching 50 and a very relaxing cruise. I can do 180 miles 3 hours from here to my parents' place, no problem.

2 - If there were problems with this car. There are no problems ... Except for the passenger door handle which was replaced and a sensitive alarm (went off again the other day). However, if there were problems with the car, I'd be looking to serve out the 3 year loan and switch to a different make.

It's a testament to the very high quality of the car that leads me to turn down the offer. Oh, it also lets me avoid another running in period :-) A hidden benefit to me going for a 6 month old ex demo is that the garage got the running in period out of the way before I got the car.

A new car would be shiny but to be honest, my 12 month old CT still feels new and has no problems or niggles whatsoever. I'd be losing out if I changed.

So - I'm not going to spend money on a car, or on networking bits.

What's that leave ? I've been after a new vacuum cleaner for a while because my current one overheats quickly. What do I see before watching Total Recall on Thursday ? Nipping around PCWorld/Currys had me looking at Powerline networking (and not seeing good offers). On the way out - vacuum cleaners with %%% off for Dysons ...

I'm still avoiding spending money in PCWorld/Currys/Comet because they don't respect Sales of Goods Act so sometime this week there will be a trip to John Lewis to pick up a Dyson and drop off my current vacuum.

I know right ? You were expecting something more shiny ?

Me too !!!!

I'll make up for it by dropping some cash later this week on FTL - Faster Than Light. It's a new game coming soon which is essentially a starship simulator. And what does that make ? Only just about my ideal game ! Looking forward to this one. It could be a great one to dip in and out of. Here's a bit more about it from TotalBiscuit and I challenge anyone not remotely interested in simple space games to not try looking up pre-orders.

It looks awesome, in a simple yet deep and extremely playable way. Some games are very predictable. Other game will surprise you and not in a scripted Enemies Jumping Out Of Walls way. This one looks like it'll give surprises of the fashion that make you think, plan and react with strategy rather than just reflex.

Yep. Looking forward to that one.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Learning stuff tonight

Think I've learned a few things tonight :

Certain films need more warnings on before unsuspecting people watch them ...

Fast food is bad for you ...

Think before you eat stuff ...

And you can both improve on and lessen the quality of something remade from the original.

The film tonight was Total Recall. It should really have a health warning on because the opening sequence has so many flashy lights that even a borderline epileptic should Not See This Film. Sequences that bad should really have warnings given in the trailers, not just in a flash screen before the movie starts. Better yet, keep it out of the film, it had no business being there and added nothing to the film.

So - Total Recall. Worthy remake or modern cash in ?

I have to honestly say cash in. But it's tough to say that because they put a lot into this movie and tried reasonably hard. The original, being an Arnie movie, suffered the Arnie curse where so much effort goes into making Arnie look good and not enough goes into making it a good movie. The story and basic plotlines are fairly identical between the original and the new one, the massive difference is in the setting.

I'm a sci-fi person. I loved the original setting, which pitted Earth against Mars. This setting is ... different. It works in the sense needed by the altered endgame but not in a scifi point of view. In scifi, rockets going to different planets Make Sense. What doesn't make sense is going through the planet core, Phantom Menace style.

Will I get the dvd/bluray ? Probably not. And that's a shame because the action sequences were fairly reasonable. It's just a not so good translation of what was to be honest, a B movie.

Ok - other stuff ... I appear to be allergic to fast food ! Oh the irony - lol.

Had a KFC before the game, which is pretty much : Fillet Burger in a Bun. And that would be a bun made out of white bread. Uhoh. Didn't think much of that at the time but my breathing now is not as free as it was earlier on today. It's not full on not gonna sleep tonight wheezing but it's not 100%.

Or I could just be imagining it.

I kinda hope I do have a white bread allergy actually, as one of the alternative allergy causes is Jaffa Cakes. Not had any of those for a few weeks now but the bad breathing has hit a couple of times, shortly after I've been exposed to white bread. I should probably take an allergy panel test to confirm but ... I think I could confirm by observation.

What's next ? Crossing fingers that the new Dredd film is available in 2D as well as 3D. Although I should really watch something in cinema 3D sometime, just because I've avoided it so far. My objection there is to certain films being 3d only. I tend to avoid those out of principle.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Techie shopping again

Anyone who knows me will know that I listen to a huge amount of music.

All of my music is stored on and played through my laptop in iTunes. There's a system called Airplay, which lets you send music over a network to a widget that then sends it to your hifi. Awesome system in that it just ... works, trouble is that it's subject to interference.

The Airplay protocol works by sending its information over wireless networks. I have older widgets, which only talk to older networks. And ... those older networks are crowded :

That's how a program called InSSIDer sees the airwaves around here. The trapezoids show how much of those airwaves are being taken up by each network and the strength of the signals. Mine is the olive green section on the right hand side. I've actually disabled the broadcast now in the hope of avoiding the interference.

What happens, is that your music will be playing through quite happily but then suddenly breaks up. If you're lucky, the streaming comes back on quite quickly. Unlucky ? It's time to reset all the bits and pieces. I've been dealing with it by changing the channel (where your network is, left or right of that graph) to hopefully avoid interference.

However ... I think there's a joker in the pack :

That graph has an anomaly in the middle, where someone else's wireless is transmitting at extraordinary power. You can see mine transmitting away at about -40 deciBels (dB). My neighbours' wifi are around the -80 to -90 dB level. That's normal for transmitters that are a distance away, plus walls reduce the signal too.

But there's a signal coming in at around -5 dB ? Through walls ? That's a broken bit of kit and I hate to think what it's doing to the people around that device. It must be like having an unshielded microwave on the loose. Transmitted power is on a logarithmic scale, which means that for every +10 dB, that's 10 times the power. So my kit at -40dB is 10,000 the power of the neighbours' by the time their signal gets through my walls. For the jammer to be 1,000 times the power of my kit after it gets through the walls ? That's pretty crazy.

What I've done for now is make my wireless stealthy again. The SSID I use is called Artemis (felt cool at the time). If I tell my devices to connect to Artemis, they will. But Artemis doesn't broadcast its presence. The idea is that it keeps the jammers away. Seemed to work too (hopefully stealthing it won't break the printer!).

But what I may have to do is spend money ...

The idea is that because wireless is the problem, eliminate it from the system. I'll do that by investing in Powerline networking gear to avoid going over the airwaves. It lets me hook up my Xbox and bluray player too without wires going across the floor. So each device would be :

Desktop -> router -> internet : has to be this way or you get lag (which is bad) hurting your gaming.
Router -> Powerline kit to the house.
Powerline kit to other side of room for the AV kit
Airplay widget hooking in to the Powerline kit

Laptop will be a bit different and has a couple of options. I can either use a wire to hook it up, or I can have it talk to the Airplay widget. That would be :

Laptop -> Airplay -> Powerline -> Router -> Internet

Should work. But I'll give it a bit more time before I buy kit. That'll let me :

Test whether stealthing the network again will work;
Research what's on the market;
Hope for cheap stuff in the sales !!!

PS There is of course yet another way. The old fashioned way. The boring way. The stretching a lead across the floor way. But ... not going to happen, it's not techie enough :-)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Gaming again

Got those nebulous thoughts running around in my head again.

Been playing just the one game again, which can be quite rare for me unless it's something with a storyline that I'd fixate on like Mass Effect or Deus Ex HR. (Curiously though, Mass Effect 3 broke that compulsion)

The latest game is Guild Wars 2, which is strangely compelling for a number of reasons ... Some of those are immediately apparent, although I wouldn't describe them as compelling. No - the shinies in this one are under the skin, not out front. (Yep - that includes when I'm talking about my elementalist)

Superficial pluses - the big ones here are game play and graphics. The gameplay is simplified compared to the obvious competition (Warcraft!), although I understand that the latest Warcraft updates have dumbed that game down even more.

Graphics shinies are always awesome ... except when they're so elaborate they get in the way (GW2 was criticised for this) or slow the game down. I used to have to turn the graphics shininess down real low in WoW when tanking because my machine couldn't keep up. No - graphics shininess is nice but gameplay is always far more important.

Historical point - I tried Guild Wars 1 in one of my early WoW breaks, it was a very pretty game even then (hey ! I'm talkin' environment, not characters), prettier than Warcraft's cartoony look. But I went back to WoW eventually because the gameplay was superior. Plus my guild needed me :-)

Nah - what's the real things that make it compelling ?

The big selling point of Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) was the storyline. That game was utterly dependent on cutscenes. But I just stopped caring very quickly about that storyline, perhaps because I thought it should have been a standalone 3rd installment of another series with the MMO aspects being a horrendous cash in. No - I think it was more challenge ... and lack of it. SWTOR had sub-par gameplay attached to environments that just didn't shine. It looked dated. And the storyline couldn't drag it out of that mire.

But then again, I'm finding the 2 storylines I've seen so far in Guild Wars 2 to be rather compelling. I'm amused, I want to know what's going to happen with my characters. The game is making me care, in the same way I'd care what happens to my Commander Shepards and crew or my Adam Jensen and friends.

I was quite sad when I had to let Faridah die in order to get an achievement ! Dr Mordin's ascent of the tower was a tearjerker. And I have the feeling that there's a bit of storyline like that coming my way in GW2 too.

Gameplay makes a big difference too and GW2 has innovated in 3 key ways :

Dynamic levelling is genius. A problem with most online games is that only a small segment of the content is relevant for your level. If you're too low, you don't survive. If you're too high, it's way too easy. My WoW warrior can happily solo the 40 man entry instance from the original WoW. 1 character, 40 person instance. That's not right ...

What dynamic levelling does is adjust you to the content. So when my level 20 (ish!) elementalist runs through the starting area, she's effectively a level 5. It paces you back according to where you are. In pvp, it matches everyone up to maximum level. It puts the game on a level playing field. And that's way more fun. If you go back to starter zones in WoW, it's a snoozefest. In GW2, you experience it the way it was supposed to be experienced.

It's subtle ... and it works. It makes all content at your level or below relevant, not just a fraction of what's available. It means you can level at your own pace (which to me is gold dust).

Second - World vs World : Me like. It's a truly epic player vs player battle. I spent a few nights in here, fighting away. I've not been in for a while though because I'm looking for a "Most experience without dying" achievement. In pvp you die a lot.

Third - the whole ethos in the game is different. Most MMOs are competitive. The first person to hit the mob gets the credit. People don't help each other. GW2 manages to turn that on its head, I've never seen so much cooperation in beating the events. It makes it possible to play the game at the appropriate level, as a single player. Groups happen because the game encourages cooperation.

Unfortunately, it also encourages my shoulder to bitterly complain at me if I spend too long in it.

Lol :-) Warcraft got me like that too, I suspect it's the playing position which is a bit different to shooter games and strategy games. But most of what causes the pain is the lack of a pause button. It's difficult to switch off for a minute or so to go elsewhere, as a mob may creep up behind you and tap you on the shoulder if you go afk behind the woodshed.

Apart from that though, I think I'm healing again. The legs have improved, my eyes have improved a bit. Hopefully I'm on to something with that assumption that White Bread = Bad.

Closing time - Guild Wars 2 ? Or restart that epic which was the Mass Effect trilogy run ... That would sort out my onrunning game time for a couple of months :-).

Sunday, September 02, 2012

More sleep, more data

Still figuring out what I'm needing to avoid or stick with as I shift my diet around.

I think I've gained some valuable data over the last few days. Friday's sleep broke the mould as it was fairly unaffected by the breathing issues. Saturday's sleep wasn't great (but not nearly as bad as it had been!).

Hell, my breathing had improved to the point where I was very happily singing along to the iTunes bits and pieces and not missing any words out due to not breathing at the right times.

What's the data ? What made Saturday night's sleep bad ?

All this week, I'd been having cooked dinners. But I occasionally have a massive sandwich instead. Because I'd got myself caught in doing "just ... one ... more ... quest ..." in Guild Wars 2, I'd broken off quite late yesterday for Doctor Who and didn't really want to be pausing halfway through to pull something out of the over. Answer ? Make one of those massive sandwiches on my lap in front of the telly.

Yeah I know right - domestic god ? Lol. There's that thing again where I have different standards for what I do for me to the standards I'd expect to give to others.

I'm digressing - what's the data again ? There's two big potential triggers from the bread (white bread - I'd gone back to something familiar) : Gluten and wheat. Gluten is the current fashion for something to be allergic to. Let's have a look at that one first :

From wiki - "Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include bloating, abdominal discomfort, pain or diarrhea, or it may present with a variety of extraintestinal symptoms including headaches and migraines, lethargy and tiredness, attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity, schizophrenia, muscular disturbances as well as bone and joint pain"

Yeah, I recognise a few of those but I don't think gluten sensitivity is the cause of bone and joint pain, that comes from being a nutter on the cricket field. I don't get migraines and luckily it's rare that I get a headache and that can sometimes be put down to caffeine withdrawal. Some of the others ... yeah. Meh. But again, don't think it's the gluten.

You could look at that list of symptoms and apply them to a huge number of people but then, as with all internet based research, always apply that sanity check to ask "is this really the problem ?". And I don't believe that it's the gluten in the bread that's causing me the problems.

How about what bread's made of ? Wheat allergy (from wiki again) symptoms :
Wheat allergies are not altogether different from other food allergies or respiratory allergies. However two conditions, exercise/aspirin induced anaphylaxis and urticaria occur more frequently with wheat allergies.

Common symptoms of a wheat allergy include sacroiliitis, eczema (atopic dermatitis), hives (urticaria), asthma, "Hay fever" (allergic rhinitis), angioedema (tissue swelling due to fluid leakage from blood vessels), abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting.[15] Rarer symptoms include[citation needed] anaphylactic shock, arthritis, bloated stomach, chest pains, depression or mood swings, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, joint and muscle aches and pains (may be associated with progressive arthritis), palpitations, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), swollen throat or tongue, tiredness and lethargy, and unexplained cough. Reactions may become more severe with repeated exposure.
Oh how many of those do I recognise. Easier to say what I haven't experienced of what's above (even to minor degrees). I was about to say "sacroiliitis" because I didn't recognise but on reading where the problem is with that, yep. Add that to the list.

Sanity check again though - the sacroiliitis, joint & muscle aches would be from the various cricket booboos. What is sacroiliitis ? It's problems where the spine meets the pelvis, yeah - I have that but it's a legacy of me hurting my lumbar area when I was 17.

So the symptoms point me towards wheat allergies. However, it's not as simple as that as I've been ok on brown bread. Must be something in white bread that's activating the allergy. It makes a fair bit of sense too, as I've been historically unable to drink more than 4 pints of bitter before having to throw up. That's not been from the alcohol either (I think!)

I think it fits with the growing season too. I've always suffered from hayfever but I got it especially bad in early spring and late summer with a gap in the middle. Perhaps that's lining up with the growing season. Could be. Or I'm just allergic to what's outside the window. (The eyes have improved since the wilderness outside the back got removed)

So - where to from there ?

Avoid white bread for a while. If I can - what may have triggered it last week was munchies at a contractor's office on the Thursday, I could feel my lungs closing up on the way to the car.

Not really sure apart from that - so much of the stuff that's on sale doesn't account for the more uncommon allergies. And even for the more common allergies, there's things like "may contain nuts" on the most unlikely things.

Looking at it a bit more though - I've still been a biscuit fiend and one of the most common ingredients in those is "wheat flour". Must be something specific in the white bread that's activating the allergy. Like the bacon buns at work which have lots of flour on the bun.

We shall see ! And I may get a little more information later too when I see what the reaction is to me downing a milkshake :-)

PS Pizza reaction too - could well be that it's not the cheese I react to but the pizza base itself ...