Off with his head!

25 February 2009

I'm often filled annoyed by the fact that my world feels increasingly headless. It would be nice if occasionally I didn't feel like the world needs me to do something to fix things. What I mean by that is that lots of people I meet moan about things that need someone competent to take charge and sort them out.

I don't feel I'm anywhere near competent enough lots of the time, but counter-balancing that is the fact that, at least in my experiences since leaving school, if I don't take charge, no one else will.

This isn't just true of my life on a day to day level, it's true of how I feel about the world. The only person I feel I can trust to be in control is my father. Even then, he's just one man. Who does he turn to?

The British government feels headless to me - we have no charismatic leader who projects a calm air of competence. I can't say I remember Thatcher but from what I've read she had this quality, but then again all I ever hear from people about her is the negative aspects of her
government. It wouldn't be so bad if the people doing the bitching were actually old enough to have been alive as adults during her time!
I've little knowledge of her policies but I imagine I'd probably take issue with them, just as I have done with every British government I've experienced. I think both Labour and the Tories suck.

For this reason I feel that voting is pointless. I don't want either of the realistic options. I live in what I feel is essentially a totalitarian regime without the benefits if a strong leader!

This of course extends to my personal life. I'm interested in dating a woman, not a girl. I feel like most of the women I've got to know are not in control of their lives. A scant few are and I hold them in high regard because of it. It would be nice to date someone who would actually hold together under pressure, evidently that is but a pipe dream though.

The phrasing that springs to mind is "I'm your partner, not your father". Whilst I can provide a shoulder to cry on (badly, a lack of empathy is a serious hindrance) I am not here to solve your problems, fight your battles or absorb your frustrations. Similarly I don't expect to dump my problems on you, they are mine to deal with.

I guess I want someone who is in control of their life, mentally. It doesn't matter if they surf the chaos, that's more what I want than a control freak.

I don't like having to tone down myself in order to not put pressure on someone. I am me, I have a huge ego and a deficit of care for most things. If I actually care and say so, that is a big deal. Perhaps others dole it out everywhere - I do not.

Finally-
I look for hope and positive qualities in most people I meet and I'm constantly saddened by their absence.

Let's go shopping!

24 February 2009


Before I went to sleep last night I was reading about Woolworths on wikipedia, one of several shops that I essentially grew up with. They vanished a month or two ago fairly permanently and it got me thinking about which other shops I remember that have disappeared and why they might have disappeared.

The first that springs to mind is the ridiculously named "Zavvi", one I did not have fond memories of. However, Zavvi was just a rebranding of the newly independent chain of Virgin Megastores. I didn't shop in them when they were open due to the offensively high prices (well, high to me) although the one on Princes Street here in Edinburgh had an uneven floor that made me feel like I was a bit drunk whenever I was in there. Can't say I liked that!

What I do remember though is wandering around a Virgin Megastore when I was in Paris back in 1999 or so. I remember Sennett buying a Simpsons Men In Black tshirt but moreover I remember being impressed by the size and architecture of the place. It had this wondrous sprawling quality to it.

As music and video retailers go though I've never bought much from Virgin but I did buy a fair few things from MVC when one opened in Carmarthen, one of my hometowns in Wales. The prices were pretty good and having a membership card lowered them further. Shame they do died out back in 2006.

Getting back to my original thoughts, I was wondering what people actually buy from a place like Woolworths?
I've not had any good reason to buy from one since I was a little boy and was entranced by all the toys. Should I want music I'll either get it from the Internet or buy discs online, same goes for video. Clothes I wouldn't buy there and their general tat was overpriced. What was their main revenue stream?




The market for physical copies for music isn't what it used to be - there's still money in it but there's not anywhere near as much. How many people do you know that carry portable CD players with them?

In terms of shopping in general, as a guy, I rarely buy anything. I buy food and drink, occasionally I buy clothes. I buy art/craft supplies and the odd game. Other than that, what shopping remains?

If I want electronics I order them over the Internet, if I want videos it's easier to just pull them from the 'net. This isn't something particularly new for me, I'm not a one man economic meltdown, it's been like this for years for me. What do normal people buy on the highstreet?

Game over, man, game over..


"You're going to write about your experiences? Wouldn't that time be better spent experiencing?" - Captain Applepants

Well, maybe it would, if it wasn't for the fact that my fingers actually hurt from playing it so much. Despite having been fairly busy with stuff recently I've managed to fit in at least twenty hours of GTA IV's first episodic downloadable content on our 360. Well, Matt's 360.

Weighing in at 1600 funny monies ("MS Points") it cost about £13 and I've got to say, so far I've been impressed. I had been looking forward to the release but not been expecting much. Rockstar have indeed exceeded expectations and released an expansion that not only breathes life into GTA IV (Not that it needed it) but actually expands the scope of the world in a fun and meaningful way.

I'd make the comparison of GTA III and GTA: Liberty City Stories but it'd be unfair as The Lost and Damned isn't a shitty tech demo. This expansion is actually fun to play.

Whilst playing as Niko Bellic was great fun, I essentially avoided motorcycles and spent very little time on the third island of Liberty City (Alderney - paralleling New Jersey, I'm told). So far I've found myself exploring what feels almost like new areas and it's worth noting I've spent a great deal of time in this version of Liberty City as Niko, 72+ hours, in fact.


One of the major changes is the bikes - I can actually ride them quite well when I play as Johnny (Johnny Klebitz, protaganist of TLAD). Johnny doesn't fall off at the slightest bump but also has a much greater number of bikes available to him. I personally prefer the choppers but the Captain seems to favour plastic fantastics (a nickname the game used for them at one point). I like the mass and rumble of the choppers in the game, my current favourite being the Innovation, a bike that becomes available after hunting down all fifty hidden seagulls.

Seagulls?
Yeah, GTA IV replaced hidden packages with 200 hidden pigeons, TLAD has its own hidden collectables - 50 seagulls. Thankfully it only took a few hours with a map to hunt them all down, something I couldn't be bothered with in the original game due to the absurdly high amount of the damn things (yes, I know, not as bad as San Andreas..). I was initially disappointed with the reward for the job but after some experience with the Innovation my mind was changed. Without it I couldn't have won the game's races.

What's most concerning is the fact that once I finish the story I'll nearly have 100% completion. A frightening prospect.

What I will say for the game is that it has tougher combat. Whilst Niko faced guys that could be felled with a few carbine rounds, Johnny commonly encounters foes who are 'arder than an armour-plated triceratops. Headshots work, of course but the higher level gang wars result in countless gangsters packing serious heat making mincemeat out of anything that crosses their path. This is probably a good thing though - I found the combat in GTA IV almost too easy much of the time.

In general I would say - if you enjoyed GTA IV, get The Lost and Damned. It has new weapons, new vehicles, fun characters and a decent challenge. It's not too expensive either and hopefully if there's a decent financial response to TLAD then Rockstar will produce more top notch stuff for us to play with.


Ends and Music

18 February 2009

Well, it's official, I am once again single.

I should probably be upset or depressed, but I feel pretty good. It wasn't my fault and I don't think I did anything spectacularly wrong, maybe I was actually horrible or something but from what I was told I'm in the clear. There's always the possibility I was utterly lied to, of course but there's little point in losing sleep about that.

I now harbour some ill-will towards Nicoletta though, not for ending our relationship but for not replying to an email I sent her shortly after the conversation we had (I was barely given a chance to talk to her, she retreated to some other urgent commitment, real or imaginary). I don't blame her for running off, although I consider it rather unfair. What I dislike is not getting any response to what I sent her. I wanted some closure so we could get on with our lives, evidently that was a little too much to ask for. I don't imagine I'm going to receive any kind of pleasant response following this blog entry but it doesn't really matter now, does it? That ship has sailed.

Either way, when things were good between us I really enjoyed our relationship, other times it was fairly stressful. I never really got comfortable though, it always felt like she was about a minute away from cracking and losing her mind. Perhaps one day her life will be calmer and less likely to cause death by stress, either way, lots of the time it wasn't her fault but I still didn't want to be on the receiving end of that. I've been in a car with someone who's had quite a few drinks and I didn't fear that we'd get home safely. Being in a car when she's wound up is by far much scarier, especially when there's nothing I could do or say that would make things better.

Just a moment, got to turn this record over.

I'm listening to my copy of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel. I've no idea whether that's a camp choice of music or not and, to be frank, I've little interest in any negative remarks about my taste in music.

I'm specifically listening to this on vinyl for the slight crackling of the record. It's really comforting and provides a vague link to the film High Fidelity, one of my favourite films, possibly even sneaking into my top three films. I should really consider making it a top five if its going to be in there though, given the prominence of lists of five in it.

A meandering tale of the life of Rob Gordon, a record shop owner. It has many comedy elements but for me it's barely a comedy, it's an interesting story covering commitment issues, love, breakups and music.

The characters in the record shop - Rob (John Cusack), Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) discuss music in a way I could. I wish I could hang around with people and absorb the kind of knowledge they have of music. I simply don't understand music the way they do and I really wish I did. I know they're fictional entities, but I'm sure people like them exist and I wish I could absorb some of their knowledge on music.

When I watch High Fidelity, released in 2000, I think of the many subtle but big differences between the world in the film and the world I live in. For a start, there are no mobile phones. Calls are made to and from landlines exclusively - mobile phones change the way relationship matters pan out quite considerably. If someone calls my phone they get me or they get nothing. In the film if Laura calls Rob at his store she stands a good chance of having to go through Barry or Dick. Similarly, when Rob calls Laura at work he may well speak to Liz first. There's a more public element to communication, rather than the more private nature of mobile phones. No texting either, come to that.

Another important difference is the mix tapes used in the film - if I want to give someone a mixtape, how would I go about doing it? Tapes were fairly rugged, tangible and tactile. There was enough room on the cover for some art. Our digitised music, by comparison, is far less personal. My parents had mix tapes, my sisters had mix tapes. Me, what do I have? How do I give music to someone?

It's odd watching the film - much like some sci-fi films are set "five minutes in the future" it feels like it's set five minutes in the past. In an adult world I will never experience, something I'm partly glad of but also partly mournful about. In some ways I would have liked to experience that world.

I've basically finished all the portable Mordheim terrain I've had in the works now. Hell, I've even finished painting all the models I currently have to hand, something I never expected to happen.

When I was younger it was rare for me to finish a model - I'd usually find the process less enjoyable than the end result and lose interest before finishing. I don't know if these days I have a longer attention span or whether I simply paint more quickly. Either way, I've painted not only all my Skaven but all my human mercenaries too (Reiklanders). I've set them up on the table as if it were mid-game - I have played a game on the terrain but neither the terrain nor the painting was finished so I didn't bother taking photos.

First off an overview of the finished terrain (clicky to embiggen):




When flat-packed the terrain looks like this (Black Skaven provided for scale):

The whole lot can be assembled in a matter of minutes and packed away in about the same amount of time.

Some low-level shots:






The overall cost of the project has been about £10, not including paint. Foamboard, thin card from cereal boxes, some bamboo skewers and plenty of PVA glue. I'm rather pleased with the results. I'm not sure how much use it'll see but we'll see. I enjoyed building it and it can easily be packed away. The next step is to get hold of some fabric to form a play mat, doubling as a bag for the pieces. Hopefully I'll be able to find something suitable soon.

Avoiding the rush hour

11 February 2009

I've just finished my first lecture of the semester (no, Napier, I refuse to call it a "trimester").

Generally I'm feeling pretty positive about it, even if I was one of the three people brave enough to speak up during the class. It was as if the entire class was terrified to say anything, how bizarre. Or maybe it's not and I've just missed so many classes that I'm utterly out of touch with the norm for uni students here at Napier.

Something that also struck me as odd was that most of the class, as in, everyone except me, was wearing muted dark colours. Now normally I don't notice but in this case I was wearing my snowboarding jacket (light grey with lots of orange) over my flame shirt and flame cuffs, a veritable walking fireball. I do so love to stand out.

It's also worth mentioning that our heating has FINALLY been repaired. I woke up to the sound of it being repaired and then got up around an hour after it'd started running. The pile of dishes has already been tackled leaving only a few stragglers and the heating was on full blast until about 1400, allowing us the luxury of wandering around in shorts and tshirts whilst the snow still lay fairly thick outside. Ah, heating, how we've missed you.

I'm still working on acquiring some film for my SLR although I've some in mind over on eBay, although it's about five years out of date. I'm told that won't really matter as its not colour film, I hope the advice is sound although regardless it shouldn't cost me much and should allow me the chance to get the hang of using the hardware.

In the meantime I need to figure out all my commitments and objectives at the moment - I'm currently in a period of flux though as it's not the end of the second week and as such I'm not quite sure how busy I'm going to be. I'm doing my best to keep society work organised so it doesn't creep up on me and drag me under. Similarly I'm trying to organise social events on my calendar so I know in advance when I'm definitely busy, something I've not really done before.

I dislike when others force structure on me, usually because it's a generalised structure that doesn't work for me (such as huge numbers of "self-study" on my timetable - another way of saying that they don't want to have to actually use their staff, it seems). That said, it seems if I can set a reasonable structure with enough time left aside for freedom I should be okay. I need time to be able to relax and these kinds of periods can't be scheduled rigidly or I don't use them. Complicated, I know.

I've never been much for photography, not just because of the complexity of the jargon I've encountered either. It might be one of those things like music or poetry - I just don't quite understand the idea on some sort of fundamental level.


It should also be noted that as a teenager/adult I've never lived in a world where digital photography wasn't prevalent. I bought my first digicam when I was about 15 for something like £180, including a 16MB SmartMedia card. At the time there weren't that many other people of the same age who owned them but this changed over the next few years.

The point being that I've basically never dealt with actual film. I've always been able to see photos immediately after taking them - immediate feedback. Similarly, I've barely any idea of how much it costs to develop film.

When I was growing up as a boy my mother would take huge numbers of photos, something I'm very glad she did as we have photo-documentation of a great deal of our pasts (although it took major surgery to provide the time for my mother to finally sort them all!). She eventually moved to digital photography and has owned about as many digicams as I have (about 3, not including phones).

It's a little odd that there's a whole generation whose only exposure to film photography is in the context of art, if that. It's especially surreal as I feel I'm one of them.


That said, on a recent trip to Wales I borrowed a load of old lenses as well as a camera with the intention of putting together a DIY 35mm DoF adapter for my video camera (as mentioned in a previous post). A side effect of this is I now have my father's Nikon F-801 and a few lenses for it, a 35mm SLR camera from 1988. There's no way I'd sell it of course, it's not mine to sell, but it has been sitting gathering dust for years and in terms of IWC's photography needs it was long ago replaced by digicams.

So, I've got a camera from two decades ago, some reasonable lenses and little to no knowledge. I could ask the Captain for some pointers, but to be honest I think I prefer not knowing for now. I'd rather experiment a little and get a feel for the device before trying to properly improve.

I'm just thinking that it might be fun to get hold of some film and take some photos of my life. It'd be nice to be able to post some physical photos to my parents in New Zealand, do things a little old school, as it were.

Apparently this is blog post number 100. How about that?
This is of course entirely subject to change as I can retroactively blog (that's how I transferred over all my old Bebo blog posts).

This evening I've been hammering away at the new intro sequence for the NSS podcast. It has some rather nifty title card things, although I'm not going to show them off just now. They may go out on this week's show, either that or next week. Soon all will be revealed!

In the meantime I'm trying to figure out how to cheaply put together the following two things:

  • A 35mm Depth-of-Field Adapter
  • A supporting rail system

The idea behind the former is to allow my video camera (Panasonic GS300) to use lenses from a 35mm camera. Why would I want to do that?
Well, the answer is pretty simple - to allow for nicer footage and shallower depth of field. You might notice how camera footage from a video camera/digicam/phone looks very different from footage in movies. One of the reasons is the depth of field.

By using a 35mm adapter I would be able to shoot footage where the background or foreground isn't in focus. This way whatever I'm focusing on stands out more prominently, giving depth of field. VoilĂ , much nicer looking footage.

Of course, I may be completely misunderstanding the whole matter, but this is what I've understood so far.

The problem is of course that whilst I have both a macro lens, a 35mm lens and a videocamera, I need the stuff to make them work together. I need stuff to connect them together and some ground glass (or similar translucent material). Hopefully I'll be able to find suitable stuff and make it happen.

Once I've put one together there's the next problem - supporting the damn thing. My camera is just a small thing and doesn't have the strongest of connections. Hell, half the time the damn wide-angle keeps falling off.

To fix this I need to design a system of supportive rods, something I'm still working on in my mind. The main issues being cost, materials and tools. I'm not sure what would be most cost effective and where to source it. I'm thinking perhaps curtain rails or ski poles as a basis. Not quite sure how to attach them but they could probably hold the weight.
Either that or we could butcher another tripod..

The main reason this has become a priority is because we're on the verge of releasing the fifth season of the podcast. The intro sequence is getting a fairly drastic revamp and we've added an extra crew member, bringing us up to a total of six regulars. I want to keep pushing us to be better and one thing that we can improve is our filming.

Following that I need to either buy, research or invent portable lighting solutions.

Today has so far been a good day, which is why I'm blogging about it now before it all goes wahoonie-shaped.

I was up early and got bacon, hell, I didn't even have to cook it myself. Cheers, Matt.
Well, bacon roll consumed, to Craiglockhart I went. My modules for university have been somewhat of a mess for a while but I think most of the issues should now have been resolved, although there's still a few minor bugs I'm having to squish, given that I've cleared them with the relevant people but still need to get my course administrator to understand that things are fine. I persevere.

This sounds really tedious but I actually find it really enjoyable. The reason behind this is a simple one - I'm good at manipulating systems, as many of you know. When I'm dealing with uni staff I have to try to get them to understand that whilst the system is built one way, there's no reason why it has to work just in one way. This usually isn't very difficult even if it does get accompanied by "umm"s and "I'm technically not supposed to do this". Another one that often seems to come up is that SAAS (I believe that's the acronym) won't pay up if I arrange things my way. Despite my very pronounced English accent it would seem that none of them consider that I'm not a Scottish national (or long-term resident, etc..) and as such am not eligible to have my fees paid by their government!

It amused me particularly this time as when I went up to the desk with my choices I was asked my name. Upon hearing it I was greeted with a grin and a "Oh you're Ben Fox. You're like a legend!"
Yes, I have a huge ego.
Anyway, it seems it wasn't a coincidence that Patrick Hart knows me by my first name - evidently I am someone that comes up a lot, given the way I work the system to do my bidding.
She'd seen my name written down in many places and had conversed with me via email. Well, kinda.

I received an email from this new member of staff and quickly responded. After that I heard nothing. The thing being that she had in fact written a response but had ended up sending this to a member of staff rather than to me and no one had pointed out that maybe it that staff member should have sent a message back saying "Uh, who was this supposed to go to?". Either way, I never got the message. Chaos ensues.

It's fun!

Other events of note - the nearby canal has frozen over, except a small area around the bridge - end result, lots of ducks. There were eight males and six female mallards as well as a couple of moorhens. I think they were moorhens, anyway. They moved like tiny tugboats and had red beaks, I believe that's right.
Mmmm, ducks.

I miss the warmth.

04 February 2009

Just a short whine about the weather here. Not really a whine, even, more a sort of "damn you, Murphy".
As most of you should have realised, it's been a bit nippy recently. It's -5° outside right now (23°F for any Americans..).
That's not really the problem. The problem is that our boiler is STILL broken. Maybe, just maybe, it'll get fixed today (Wednesday). It's been at least a week. We can still shower but we've got no heating and no hot water.

Normally the dishes pile up because we procrastinate or we're busy (usually a combination thereof).
At the moment there's a load of dishes we actively want to clean but can't because of the lack of hot water. Plates, glasses and other small things aren't a problem - a few kettles full of hot water sort them out. However, bigger things like our wok are just too damn big to be quickly cleaned, a concentrated campaign would be required to eliminate the filth. Three male students and plenty of other kitchenware.. yeah, I don't see it happening either.

My room is damn chilly though, even with the triple-glazed window closed. Two exterior-facing walls are normally not much of an issue but at the moment I'm really feeling it. The Captain was in here earlier. He wore three pairs of socks and told me to get back to work. I may or may not have been mildly violent, it's all a bit of a blur.

We did make a snowman, however. I say "we", I mainly mean Tom and The Captain. I would have helped more but fingerless gloves aren't very handy for snowcraft. I helped a little and supervised.. Okay, fine, I was there, sharing in the snowman experience. There was also some other random student who was in the nearby smoking shelter (Craiglockhart) who came over and put some extra polish on John, the snowman. The poor fellow didn't last long, I hear he was victim to a snowball fight although details were sketchy. Is there a word for snowman murder? Nivicide?

On the whole though, things are going well. Society matters are on track and my module situation is resolving itself. I may even be able to progress into third year to an extent, depending which modules are available over the summer. I might even get myself back on the programme rep list. Amusingly I own a programme rep hoody but am not officially one, although I used to be. I told Yvette when she was handing them out that I was supposed to be. I was, of course, not lying. I was asked if I wanted to continue to be one and was promised the relevant details/paperwork would be sent to me, a promise that wasn't honoured. Hopefully I'll soon be able to get that official status back. So, if you're on the Business Management programme here at Napier and have any feedback, questions, comments or anything like that, I'm one of the people you can talk to about it!

I don't promise you answers, but I can easily get in touch with the relevant people. Oddly enough, despite however many hundreds of students on the programme our programme leader, Patrick Hart, recognises me immediately, going so far as to use my first name. I'm not sure whether this is because I'm easily recognisable, a compliment to his cordial disposition towards me or a token of notoriety..

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Tomorrow is probably going to be quite a busy day, methinks, a lot is planned.
I don't imagine it'll work out and I'll probably finish the day having accomplished a fraction of what I'd like to have done, but I can at least start out with noble intentions.


On the society front we're about to launch season 5 of our podcast. Currently we're discussing improvements and changes but a few things are on the table - a new style of intro sequence for one thing, although this may mean our theme music is going to need tweaking which hopefully won't take too long. Similarly we're working on adding some new segments and presenters (in the sort of "we've got some concrete ideas now" kind of way, not the misty-eyed, hopeful way). It should be fun although it won't be easy. Ah well, an interesting challenge!


On a personal level I've got a lot to get sorted. My academic status is a bit of a mess and needs to get sorted. By the mark I got in my last piece of coursework I'm reminded that if I take a small amount of time and effort then it's easy for me to get a decent mark - all I've got to do is motivate myself to apply myself. In order to do this I'm going to see how many modules I can study as I ended up studying pretty much just one module last semester, a situation I'm not happy with. I'm falling behind for no sensible reason and it's time to rectify that. I emailed a member of staff about it a week ago and I've so far had no reply but perhaps the staff were off for a week or something. They should be back tomorrow so I'm going to have a bash then.


Ideally I'd like to be in a position to bash out a module every week or every fortnight. It's not going to happen but I'd like to see if I can at least study enough that I need to be at uni every day. I've had plenty of time to do nothing so I think it's time to get some work done. I need to be busy to get things done so busy I plan to be.


If at all possible I'd like to still fit in a Mordheim campaign too and I'm in a pretty good position to do that too, considering the terrain is now built and shortly the final models will have been painted.


Once more into the breech, methinks.