Monday, April 29, 2013

Just visiting

It was my mum's birthday on Friday, so the mob made the pilgrimage up there again this weekend.

Just me from this end but my sister had the Muttley with her. With my mum going in for brain surgery, the dog's been staying with my sister (and incidentally, been on a stricter regimen of diet and exercise - poor thing).

My mum's ok by the way, if you caught that BRAIN SURGERY thing. She's back to her old self, although bumping her head on Saturday morning can't have helped. It should be a really good thing, as the surgery was to correct a benign thingy that was disrupting short term memory and balance. We're a tough mob but our bones aren't great and that balance issue was leading to some nasty injuries.

Anyway ...

The gang's all back up there again, except my nan who we still miss.

Ended up doing techie spotting again :-) We all have our own laptops and other assorted computing devices. My mum & dad have them to keep their brains active as well. But my mum's been lacking a laptop lately, after the disaster which was an Asus Transformer pad. It was a bad buy for 2 reasons :

1st - it wasn't what they wanted. My mum & dad are well used to Windows and can interact with it. They're not that tech savvy though so switching to Android was too big a shift. Hell, switching from a Sky+ box to a Humax Freesat DVR was too big a shift. (oops! lol). But they got mis-sold this thing by a CURRYS salesperson and were not allowed to switch it for a Windows laptop.

2nd - it was unreliable, kept rebooting without cause. And the CURRYS people still would not honour their Sales of Goods Act obligations and replace the faulty kit.

Note the caps. I'm blacklisting PC World and Currys for a while (they're the same people), partly because I see no reason to shop there. They don't offer anything of benefit over the competition plus there's that whole sales of goods act thing. Comet were worse, look what happened to Comet.

Anyway .... (there's that word again for when I feel a rant coming on)

New laptop - Acer Aspire S3. It's actually quite Shiny. It's in the Ultrabook style, which means thin, light and fast. It fits all 3 of those, even though it's on the cheaper end of the range. It benefits from a Boost drive (20GB SSD) that retains what's used most often. SSD drives are lightning fast and it shows. It makes for a much smoother and more responsive machine.

Yep. Shiny. And it's got me thinking more of retiring my laptop (it's suffering as well from my skin condition) in favour of something newer and quicker. My laptop is good for web browsing, all the other general stuff and for streaming music continually across the network. However, try HD video and it'll soon overheat and slow itself down for protection.

I have my eye on the Acer Aspire V5-Touch. We've had a bunch of Acer laptops now and they've been consistently reliable and strong performance. Can't remember why we retired my dad's old one though (edit - yes I can, busted hard disc which prompted me to take notice of the signs mine was giving ...). I won't be buying yet though. There's no reason (outside of replacing broken stuff) to buy when there's no sales on.

Other new tech - printer.

They had a Kodak all in one which has been having issues ... We diagnosed it as a busted print head - no yellow came out of a new cartridge plus the other colours were bad. So we picked up an Epson printer.

Verdict - it gave a good output but the software is nasty. It sets up a few network drives, which is ok ... but it means that you get annoying pop up errors if you start the computer without the printer being accessible. That's unnecessary, the HP and Kodak software didn't need to annoy the user like that. The set up routine is also somewhat nasty although I figured it out in the end. You can lock the devices out of the network for up to ten minutes, with no "cancel" option to go back and abort when you realise you picked the wrong option.

Ah well.

So - techie business satisfied :-)

Not a bad weekend for me, the skin thing definitely seems to be improving although I hope I haven't set it back too much tonight by attacking it :-(. It's good, it's actually better than it's been for ages. This time last week, I'd written off me taking part in the first half of the cricket season. It's cleared a lot since then. I just need to stop "helping" it - lol.

In fact, it's improved enough that the dog wasn't too worried. He's a smart pooch and was giving a "what's wrong with your knees ?" sniffy investigation when I'd been there before. He wasn't too bothered this weekend, which another sign of progress :-).

In fact, I think subconsciously it's improved to the point where I want to get out and do stuff again. What's coming up ?

Star Trek Into Darkness - must see
Iron Man 3 - COME ON ! Shoulda gone to this already
Kit Car show at Stoneleigh - curious. That's next weekend
Bristol Motor Show - even if I wimp out of Stoneleigh, I'll go to this.

Right - I bought a bunch of new games (Total War series for 75%+20% off and Defense Grid) and they're calling ...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keep Smiling

Been noticing something lately.

I'm getting smiled at a lot.

And it's not just by the people who know I'll grin at the slightest excuse, it's completely random people too.

And you know what ? There's some utterly gorgeous women included in that collection of people who have been bursting into smiles as soon as they look into my eyes. (Lol - spot the demographic I notice most!)

I've spent a while wondering why it's happened too. I've not had another dose of plastic surgery to make me look amazing. I've not done any training (outside of the conditioning that comes with walking to/from the bus) so I'm not one of those people who can wiggle their pecs on command (to be honest, I wouldn't want to be). I'm back to being pasty white geek type.

I guess one reason is that my condition in general is improving. It must be showing from the outside, at least the outside bits I allow other people to see. I'll be back in short sleeves for work tomorrow, so people will spot the ugly half-healed bits on my arms. I hope I don't put too many people off their lunch.

However, there's a key word in that last paragraph : "healed". I've not been back to the Doc's lately, so no drugs to cloud the issue. But it does look like I've identified what was initiating the problem (eating too healthily!) and identified treatment (occasional gunk, lots of water and keeping the bad bits clean). When the healing's going better, that'll be the time to go back to the Doc's. I need to confirm what I'm allergic to, which means a test. However, the test won't give good data if there's interference from skin irritated from not being fixed yet.

That's not what I wanted to think about though. I wanted to think about why the pretty ladies all seem to be smiling at me these days :-) Perhaps it's the hat.

No - I think it's deeper than that. The skin thing has had it's own effect on me. I'd go to work, hope I wouldn't leak too much, I'd go home, I'd hide. Sleep (if I could) and repeat. That pattern turned me into an internal looking shell. Confidence was very low and I thrive and depend on my confidence. I think now that my confidence is returning (job's feeding me a steady diet of "yep, dun that rite"), it's starting to show in how I seem to the outside world.

That would be :
Easier smile
Less haunted look
Missing the pain behind the eyes
No zombieplague patches in visible places

Yeah. I'm probably seeming better than average at the moment. I'm still a long way away from being able to play cricket again. Things like some of the messier signs being visible if you know where to look. But - my condition is improving to the point where I can exert less care in managing the condition which in turn means better sleep and all those positive feedback things.

It also helps that I've laid to rest a few demons that were plaguing me, although that's partly about deliberately putting certain things on hold until I get better. Conditions at work are better now too.

I think that's enough for now.

Getting smiles = great
Getting smiles from beautiful women = pretty awesome
Definitely makes me grin :-)

PS I suspect it was probably the hat all along.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Turnabout is ... a pain ...


Of all the things that'll keep me out of cricket this year, I didn't think it would be internal injuries.

Today was a good day. The outsides of my legs were much better. I'm not counting my chickens just yet though, I need them good enough for me to be able to throw myself around without second thoughts. Otherwise, I'll just start off the damage again.

Since I went back to my old unhealthy diet and exerted more discipline to stop me damaging myself, my skin's been steadily improving. It's not ready for cricket yet though but it's getting closer. I will need to go back to the doctor's at some point though because there's a few awkward bits that refuse to totally repair. I also need to be gentle with the bad bits.

So ladies - no scratching of the back ;-)

Yep. Lots better than I've been for a while. Enough that I'm thinking more that joining in with the cricket season is a definite possibility instead of thinking I'd be on the sidelines.

There's just one problem ...

I'm getting old. The outsides are improving but I'm struggling on the insides. My leg muscles have always liked to destroy themselves with cramp (which I think is dehydration related to the skin condition) and my knees and hips are probably running low on cartilage.

Had to run for the bus this evening and was surprised that I didn't have a full running stride available. I still made the bus though so I'm not slowed down too much :-). My full running stride is pretty massive actually, when I say I'm quick, it's an understatement. I have enough scope to still be pretty quick on the field even when I'm managing an injury. (When I hurt my back in the last game of last year, noone noticed)

But ... there's that getting old thing again. It's taking longer to recover from those injuries and a few of them aren't healing all that well. I've known it was coming, last year's Pink Hat thing was done partly because I know I don't have that many seasons of running around left in me.

I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts - if my skin lets me :-)

Turnabout ? Last week it hurt to stand up straight because the skin on the backs of my knees was really bad. This week, it hurts to stand cos my left calf isn't too great. But I can live with that, a muscle strain will get better and the rest of me should follow as my skin lets me sleep more easily.

PS You know what's spooky ? Exactly the same thing happened last year, things cleared up in time for cricket but then worsened considerably after the season finished. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself ...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Filmwatch - Oblivion


We actually watched this one on Friday so it's taken a little while for me to think of stuff to put in the post. I was thinking about posting it yesterday but I held off due to what was happening in Boston. Hope they catch the culprit.

There's two things to review actually, the film and how we watched it. A criticism I have of the Vue iPhone app is that it doesn't break down film times by the screening type. So when we picked the 5.10pm showing, it happened to be a Vue Xtreme showing. What's that I hear you ask ? It's claiming to be better definition and better sound. More on that later.

How was the film ?

Love him or hate him and I know a tonne of people hate him for his off screen antics, Tom Cruise does get picked for a lot of very good movies. If you've not seen Knight and Day yet, you've missed out on a good one. This one is pretty decent too.

And that's coming from a engineer scifi geek. There has to be a lot of boxes ticked for it to get the approval of the engineer geek. Things have to look right. Designs have to look as if they serve a purpose and can perform their function. A centrepiece of this movie is the podcopter they fly around in. It's quite insect like in design, with thin stalks connecting a glass cockpit, 2 engine pods and a stabiliser at the back. The design just feels right. The engine pods are in the right place and they didn't clobber us over the head too much with how the design of things like the cockpit and the guns just worked.

Yep. Happy scifi engineer geek. The drones were suitably menacing too.

I'm staying quiet about the potential of growing food out of sight of the sky, undetected for 70 years. And I did turn around to CK about 2 minutes in as the scenario was being set up and say "Bullshit". Yep. Some of the backstory was contrived but overall, it made sense and didn't get in the way.

Yep. In a certain other movie I was foaming at the mouth at a starship being built on the ground. Grr. Good movie, big plot holes. The plot holes are more cunningly disguised this time.

I liked Oblivion. It kept the action going, the interest was maintained, it wasn't too unsubtle with telling its story. That's where a lot of modern storytelling falls down, it assumes idiocy on the part of the viewer/reader and dumbs it down way too much.

I won't say too much more because there's great potential for spoilers. It'll be a good one to watch the second time around to see how much is subtly set up for later.

That's enough about the movie, how about the cinema ?

Vue Xtreme is sold on better clarity of picture and better sound. However, instead of getting in on a £4.50 voucher, it cost me £10.55. That's a huge premium and is around the kind of price I will want to pay for the bluray eventually. Is it worth it ? No. I heartily do not recommend gimmicks like Vue Xtreme.

Better clarity in movies - is good.
Better sound in movies - is awesome.

However, cinema are rarely set up to allow the viewer to exploit that betterness. You are rarely in the sweet spot for getting anything from the surround sound and the distance of eye from screen means you lose some of the detail. That said, the picture followed the action well, whereas other Vue Cribbs projectors turn action to mush as they're too old to keep up with the frame rate. The sound was also too loud and was distorting.

The best bits on soundtracks are not the loud bits. It's the quiet bits that set up the atmosphere for the loud bits to make you jump. I watched the Das Boot directors cut off bluray last night and the biggest gain that bluray has is the sound quality. Things like hearing the clangs of spanners or hushed voices build suspense. Especially in something that depends on sound like a submarine thriller.

So - higher quality in movies ?
Cinema - save your cash. The distances involve conspire against getting anything out of the experience.
Home movies - huge benefit. Das Boot above and I'd cite Book Of Eli too for having sound that feels like the action is going through you.

You have to applaud them for effort though, cinemas need to keep the people coming through the doors in a time when things like movie channels on tv and movie services on the internet are taking the business away.

Gotta wonder how long the cinema will exist as an entity ? I like going to the cinema for the watching of movies with friends thing. But ... home cinema is a far superior viewing and listening experience.

When the amplifier plays nice that is. I'll leave it there before I launch into something about unreliable Onkyo amplifiers !

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Thirteen - Antihate

Someone said there's a bit too much hate out there on the interwebs and the world in general at the moment. Let's see if we can't do something to offset that, at least in the small way I can here.

And it's been too long since a music post too - lol :-)

First up isn't music directly but a Youtube person called Lucahjin. I first discovered Lucahjin via The GameStation podcast and ended up watching a couple of videos. The reason ? She has a voice that if you lean back and close your eyes, it feels like you're getting one incredibly soothing massage. Here's an example, her first video of a Journey playthrough. I'm definitely going to be keeping an ear on her second channel, Relaxajin.

Goldfrapp is currently playing on iTunes, which brings my mind to their best chill out album, Road To Somewhere. Listen, relax ...

Following Goldfrapp is a track from Simon & Garfunkel but I'm not linking the track that's playing. Instead, one of the most beautiful tracks I know. May you always find your Bridge Over Troubled Water.

And that gives me the idea for No 4 : Knights In White Satin, by the Moody Blues. This version is better than the Elkie Brooks version in my iTunes library simply by not overcomplicating a tune that sings for itself. The only thing that could make that song better is having someone I could sing it to.

5th is a recent discovery. I was walking through HMV looking at stuff I wasn't going to buy and over the tannoy comes another lady singer. My ears prick up and I'm looking her up via the iPhone app (Shazam). That tells me it's Beth Orton, who incidentally wasn't available to buy in the shop. Cue a bit of internet shopping later ... Here's to Thinking About Tomorrow. (watching Oblivion tomorrow!)

There was something many years ago called the Secret Policeman's Ball which was memorable only for two things. It was so universally awful that we turned it off halfway through. However the second thing that made it memorable was far better ... Natalie Imbruglia's Torn done to sign language.

Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow got bought recently but to be honest, it isn't great. However, Oh England My Lionheart is incredible.

8th in line is another new discovery, The Staves. Another one picked up after hearing it in the shop and on iTunes single of the week :-) Pretty darn good too. Here's Mexico. Check it out, enchanting voices that gang up on you with the harmonies.

Been collecting a little more classical lately. Here's an example : Clair de Lune. Listening to that makes me wish I'd learned to play an instrument instead of just trying to sing along to ...

... Tracks like no 10 Norah Jones singing a cover of Are You Lonesome. I hope you're not Lonesome tonight.

Been listening to more from Morcheeba too, here's Fear & Love. You never quite know what you're going to get from Morcheeba, they like to mix styles within their albums and even their songs. But when they go for a ballad style, you'll sit up and listen.

I'm a big fan of Bat For Lashes and probably would have gone to see her when she came to Bristol last year if not for the skin condition. Oh Yeah, I'm that big a fan.

Last one sees me looking at a few albums that are coming out soon (one's out already) and hoping they live up to the promise from the earlier albums. That's Paramore's latest (waiting for an acceptable price), there's one coming from Little Boots and Lene Marlin plus I do believe that Mindy Gledhill is working on one too. And I Do Adore Mindy Gledhill's fun style which she shows off in this track.

PS I've tried to keep all the links here new ... But it was just so incredibly tempting to link in Blue Sonic Boy as it played through from the Mice New & Improved album.
PS2 I'd have linked the wonderful and heartbreaking Laura from Bat For Lashes if I hadn't linked it before ...

Monday, April 08, 2013

Remembering division

We seem to be losing a lot of famous (and infamous!) names at the moment ...

It's been very curious to see the differing reactions to the latest one (the Iron Lady). To some she's revered, to some she's reviled. I'm not going to say which side of the fence I'm on (although some readers will know !), that's not the point of this post.

There's two points I want to talk about - how do we want to be remembered ? And how should we remember other people ?

That second point is actually the true key. How we look at others is a reflection on our own souls. You have to have a very dark place in your's to revile a fellow human being so much. It doesn't matter who it is you're talking about there. To wish another person dead is a sign that there's something wrong with you.

(I have to also say there "Or something seriously wrong with them." As believe it or not, I'm pro death penalty. But only in the truly extreme cases where permanent institutionalisation or incarceration isn't an option)

I'll not go too far back in history but when I heard that Gaddafi had died, I'd remembered what he'd done. I was actually fairly ambivalent to his passing, he'd been removed as a threat to our world by his own people. What my major emotion actually was involved some revulsion at our supposed allies, who had lynched him instead of using due process (like with Saddam).

What I've seen from some people with Maggie Thatcher resembles what the lynch mob thought of Gaddafi.

Yes you. I'm talking about you. Look at yourself from the outside without all those preconceptions and blinkered ideas that keep getting thrown at a world that doesn't agree with them and which doesn't want to know.

There's a few people like that out there. They'll insist on thrusting their own prejudice on you from a point of view of "yeah, my view is outrageous, how come your's is different ? something wrong with you ?" I can appreciate the art but no I won't be getting any tattoos any time soon, even though a few people I know see them as essential. But then again, having tattoos now would be spectacularly stupid because of my ongoing skin condition.

Been ranting haven't I ...

Chill pill time :-)

We've been losing some very significant people over the past few months and there's more to come.

Two examples - my nan is one. I've wanted to say something there for a little while now. I have a few different last memories of my nan. She was fairly smart, although age was slowing her down there. She could understand most of the modern tech, although that was partly a curse for us because it meant she could figure out how to break stuff. Lol.

But around Xmas time, she'd started fading and was losing track of conversations. By the time the end came, there wasn't much left in there. I'll remember that for a long time (curse of memory) but what I'll then do is retrieve the picture in my head of my nan grinning away at us. That's a better time to remember. It was also reinforced by what her friends said about her at the funeral. Their memories were wholly of the last good times, with my nan being the life of their little circle.

Yep - those memories, the good memories are the ones to remember.

My second example isn't dead yet but he's now on borrowed time. I've become a big fan of Iain M Banks. His Culture novels are well worth reading. The Algebraist was pretty darn good too. But ... he's been diagnosed with a cancer that gives him about a year to live. We'll remember him through his books. Hopefully he'll have the chance to write the truly definitive Culture novel. The last few have been promising to reach the heights of Excession but haven't quite hit it. Surface Detail was amazing but Matter and Hydrogen Sonata were non-Culture in the case of the first and So What in the case of the second.

Still, we'll remember him through some truly exceptional books. Like we'll remember Heath Ledger for films like A Knight's Tale and Dark Knight. He's another who was taken from us too early.

I'll leave it there - but I'll ask : when you reflect back on your thoughts, will you be truly happy that you metaphorically spit on another human's grave ?

PS It was Men In Black 3 (not bad actually) tonight but I think a viewing of A Knight's Tale is due.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In hibernation

It's Easter time :-)

Which means the first good chance I've had since Xmas for a much needed break. The stretch between December and April always tends to catch up on me but this time the break is needed more for healing than for getting my energy back.

This skin condition is still there, I dunno if it's better or worse than before Xmas. Actually, I know it's improved because I have shoulders that feel like they have proper smooth skin on instead of bark. There's still some bits of me that are spectacular though. That's where the holiday is helping, as it means I can keep the bad bits cleaner without interference from things like suit trousers. (Yep, I'm not stepping outside much and the heating is turned up)

Yep - it is improving but as far as cricket goes, there will be two things that stop me play :

Skin recovery - it's still taking a long time. If there's still any bad bits, I can't play because of how much I throw myself around on the field.
Internal damage - I'm getting old. At 38, I'm getting stiffer and stiffer and should really be looking after myself better. My hips won't support dodging around for that much longer. However, a slow me is still faster than a lot of people on a cricket field.

That said though, my legs aren't as swollen as they have been and I have bony ankles again :-) Yey. I'm also pasty white over much more of me than was the case a month ago. What I need to do is leave myself alone more so my body can heal itself. It seems to want to do that now that I've cut out a lot of the healthier stuff and gone back to a diet closer to what I had before the original leg infection.

But that's enough about health.

Easter is also about munching as much chocolate as you can get away with :-) Been doing my part there. The bad skin thing is actually helpful because it means I've not done that "just in case there's offers going" run to the local shop for more easter eggs. That said, I'll need to do a run in the next couple of days to get more apples. Nearly out of those again.

Also been catching up on recorded stuff, I've almost caught up on the unlistened to music and have been on the games again.

Recorded stuff :
From the Earth To The Moon is a decent series about the Apollo missions. I enjoyed watching this one again and having more time let me finish it off.

Series about actual events seem to be the things catching my attention at the moment. Series like those out of the Deadliest Catch stable. The latest ones are Yukon Men and Mountain Men, stories of people on the frontier. It's a simpler life and quite appealing, although I know I'm not healthy enough to survive out there. There's a sense of immediacy though about these stories that makes them compelling. Genuine danger lifts them above the artificial procedural fiction shows.

Music wise :
I had a wander through the Mall again last week, which means lurking in HMV for a while seeing if there's any attractive items on sale. Over the tannoy comes an unusual singer, with the Shazam iPhone app telling me it's Beth Orton. Weird how they'll play music over the tannoy that you can't buy in store. So I bought it from Amazon instead. Not bad - unusual, imperfect and quite charming. I may be checking out more later.

Games :
I completed the first step in the Mass Effect trilogy run that I started I dunno how many months ago. Mass Effect is a trilogy set in a scifi world a couple of centuries ahead of where we are now. It's dark and gritty, made darker and grittier by impending invasion by an implacable and relentless machine race of destroyers. This will be the first time I've replayed the last game since the first play through.

Few comments there - Mass Effect 2 is the better game of the 3. It has tighter combat and more varied (if not as open) areas than the first game. The bits that tie the game together (like the quest log) are tighter and less buggy. The third game should have built on that but fell short. Yes, the areas and levels were better but it felt like they allowed bugs in that shouldn't have been there. And one premise of the 3 series was that decisions made in the earlier games would have significant impact in the third. You didn't really see that as it felt your decisions were overridden in the third.

Still, it's one of the more epic trilogies in games. I'd rather play through Mass Effect again than finish the static Skyrim.

Talking of gaming, that's what I'm about to do now ... Not Mass Effect though, I'm gonna take over the world in Civilisation 4 :-)