Whenever I see things like this I get a tad melancholy. It’s not because of the “they can afford to do that” envy or anything like that – it’s that even if I had the cash it couldn’t be done here. Well, it could possibly be done if money was no object, but so can most things.

The problem is size and style. In my younger days I would take a school bus. Sometimes it was one of these:

Other times it was a coach. For a little while it was something in between. Then, just like now, it was some variation of a coach in terms of design. Hardly glamorous.

I’m not trying to suggest that the American design is glamorous. It has its charm but ultimately it’s a school bus – it probably smells a bit funny and groans a lot. What it does have though is potential.

By comparison, well, have you looked at a UK coach?

I’ve used them for years and still find myself baffled by all the wasted space. All the seats are raised onto a deck and from what I can tell the only thing underneath is a vast cavity for luggage. Normal buses have the floor a short distance from the road so I’m assuming it’s not required for the mechanical operation of the vehicle.

For the sake of argument, say I scraped together my pennies and bought one of these monsters – what then?

Could I strip it down and rebuild it? Would it compromise the structural integrity to totally shift the floor down a metre?

It may seem a lot of trouble but as a normal height male I find coaches extremely claustrophobic any time I stand up. There’s seats everywhere, barely any room to move, and if I’m not careful I bang my head.

The same would probably be true of an American school bus – the difference being that their regulations for vehicles seem to be significantly more lenient than ours. I would expect to be able to take an angle grinder and blow torch to much of the passenger space without raising an eyebrow.

From the diagram I see that the maximum standing height is about 191cm in a UK coach. I’m 183 and so it’s hardly surprising that head room is an issue for me. Crunching some numbers though I can see that sacrificing some luggage space would allow for at least another half metre if not more. Even so, I imagine that without working very hard the whole thing will feel like a giant bird cage. So many windows!

(That and the thermal emissivity of glass is garbage so keeping the thing warm would be a pain. Hardly comfy.)

Putting aside all that, I really don’t know how one could make a coach look anything but drab. They’re not fun, they’re not luxurious, and they’re always cold.

It makes me a little melancholy, as I said.

I may be late to the party on this but it comes up each time I watch the video and so I’d rather get it off my chest than leave it bouncing around my skull.

A few months ago I discovered this:

It’s amusing and charming, aside from the trailers for other songs at the end.

It’s based on “If I Were A Boy” by BeyoncĂ© and it’s the video to that which gets to me:

The problem is that I cannot get through it without pausing repeatedly in exasperation. I like the song but it all reminds me of how pathetic I feel her character is in the video. For simplicity’s sake I’m going to refer to “her” and “him” – I don’t know who wrote the song and whether there is even a specific subject.

I’m not surprised that her man would turn off his phone. He’s supposed to be an alpha male – why would he be interested in some being on the receiving end of some needy whining?

This sounds harsh, I know, but ultimately it’s a problem I have with many women I’ve met. Constant insecurity may be good for the economy but it’s hardly a good foundation for an adult relationship.

It took me years to build up and learn to be confident in who I am. Ultimately though I like me and expect a similar attitude from whoever I’m with. We support each other but are capable of existing independently of the relationship.

This notion that she expects her man not to flirt with other people surprises me. I flirt with other people but I’m not shopping around for someone new, the same applies for her. I’ve no fear of being ousted in favour of someone better simply because I know I rock.

I could go on and on but in general it simply comes down to the fact that it’s stupid and sexist. There are some things that are men being lousy people but other things are offensive, sweeping statements. Furthermore, men are men. That isn’t an attempt to excuse bad behaviour, it’s more that the context should be remembered. There are other options for partners (which come with their own set of differences and challenges). Ordering a steak then complaining that it’s not vegetarian-friendly seems a bit silly to me.

I suppose that sort of thing has appeal as broad as its generalisations though. It’s not like women don’t get lots of horrendously sexist stuff thrown their way!

Now that I’m seriously thinking about how to get back into the swing of proper video work I find myself thinking back to the last time I did it.

I get rather bitter and frustrated talking about it though because looking back I could see how much potential we had.

Certainly, it wasn’t a fully fledged show but there was still plenty going on. We did indeed live up to what we promised those who committed to getting involved but sadly most people weren’t willing to commit.

Unfortunately I can only provide a low-res version of the content (although I suspect the files may be hiding on a hard drive in their original glory). Everything was actually originally in 1080p and looked glorious:

It’s a world away from the ghetto charm of Napier Subculture. For the most part I can’t bring myself to watch old NSS content but the ENTV stuff still holds up quite well, particularly for such early work.

Sure, my presenting is rather ropey and the colour grading might be a bit over the top, but I can see what we were trying to do. More importantly I can see that with time we’d learn and improve. The flip side to this is the aggravation suffered when something clearly sucks but there’s no clear route to improvement.

I hope that in time I can pick back up where I left off. I’m tired of being bad at this stuff.

I don’t currently own a tablet. I can see some personal use cases for one now, a bit of a change from when they first started to appear but even then they’re pretty marginal.

Sadly it seems that there aren’t currently tablets available with a feature I’d like: HDMI input.

Searching for such things inevitably results in a swathe of people with reading comprehension issues. HDMI input does not simply mean “can be plugged into a HDMI cable”. Yes, there’s a cable involved but that’s not what “input” refers to. It’s all about the flow of data. Phrasing it that way sounds very neck-beardy and grumpy, I know, but it’s actually a really simple concept.

There’s a screen and there’s the thing with video content on it. A source pours video content onto a screen. VHS players plug into a TV so that the stuff on the tapes can be watched. Have fun trying to watch a tape without a screen.

A tablet has a screen – are there any tablets that accept video being fed into them?

At the moment I’ve got a nice shiny camera and getting the video from it whilst using it is easy – plug in a mini HDMI cable. Unfortunately I don’t have a portable HDMI display. Sure, they’re only about £150 or so but that’s a single use device. What else do I have that would find that even remotely useful?

Instead it’d be great to be able to wire up a tablet when I need it. Perhaps this is simply too obscure for most things but some rumblings seem to suggest that some of the Asus Transformer tablets can be used this way.

Unfortunately I can’t find any documentation to support this whatsoever. This isn’t exactly helped by the fact that a phone call to Asus UK head office got me a young man who seemed quite sure that HDMI-in is possible.

The manual for the Asus T100 has the following to say:

Micro HDMI Port

This port is for a micro-HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) connector and is HDCP compliant for HD DVD, Blu-Ray, and other protected content playback

[page 18]

That’s all. HDMI isn’t mentioned anywhere in the rest of the document. HDCP suggests it can be used as a monitor. Suggests – it doesn’t stipulate.

Great.

At this rate I’m just going to have to wander around Currys with a camera and a few HDMI cables!

I used to really enjoy listening to Radio 4’s The Now Show but in recent years I find it increasingly depressing. The problem is partly in the hosts – they’re starting to sound really run down and miserable – but more so the content.

Each time I listen to it I’m reminded of the content on BTN. Heavily biased, editorialised, and strangely disturbing.

I don’t have much more to say on the subject. It just felt worth mentioning how much it’s starting to represent bare-faced propaganda.

A few days ago someone asked me why there aren't any games that involve exploration and learning rather than gun violence. I got the feeling that her impression of video games was fairly common - they're all violent shooters.

Aside from the fact that the industry could really do with an extensive PR campaign to dispel this misconception there's actually a very real reason why such games are uncommon.

Firstly there's the technical issue - implementing hit-scan combat is easy. 3D models moving within a digital playground drawing lines between them is quite easy as a concept.

Secondly - we're talking about games. Games have rules and win conditions. They may be somewhat ill-defined (as in Minecraft: build something) but they're there. What would be the objective in such a game?

I'm not trying to be dismissive or flippant, I'm simply pointing out that it's not always as easy as "Make a game like this!". Personally I'd quite like some more games with a Dead Rising/Pokemon Snap mechanic.

I'm sure that there's any number of fun mechanics to still be discovered but as it stands implementing what she was asking for is a little tricky.

Lastly there's the concept of natural environments. Cities are simple geometric shapes - nature is made up of fine details and complex patterns.

Creating that on a large enough scale to explore is very difficult to do well. We have lots of tricks to make rendering common things easy but well done grass is unheard of. Leaves look terrible as anything other than background elements.

Humans shooting each other in blocky environments is easy to do. Is it that surprising that it's what we've worked on getting right when shareholders control the purse strings?

Any 40K player who has played the original Dawn of War games will have noticed the low detail of the 3D models. That is to say that the real models the game is based on are finer detailed than the in-game ones.

This is even true of the more recent DoW games, although the gap is closing. Not really much of an issue most of the time but a fun little detail for those of us who started with plastic.

Personally I don't mind a lack of detail as long as it's hidden from me. I grew up playing games like Little Big Adventure 2:
1043

The zoom level was fixed. A closer inspection wouldn't reveal low resolution textures because it was all pre-rendered. It's not a recent move away from the style but yet I'm still baffled by its decline in popularity.

Surely it's not that much trouble to use the same models but with better lighting, pre-rendered? Yes, it means the camera's position is fixed but is that such a terrible thing?

Even when I can move the camera I generally avoid doing so. It's disorientating and doesn't actually improve my ability to assess the situation. Perhaps there's pride in a fully 3D environment but I've never seen a strategy game that looks better for it. Blurry textures, low poly models, and badly implemented overlay graphics. Yuck.

A third person shooter is much better for a 3D environment, but a top-down one?

Perhaps Wasteland 2 will convince me but I'm rather sceptical from the outset, sadly.

Mine's a cider!

24 October 2013

Normally airports put me in quite a cheerful mood. They're gateways to possibility.

This trip I'm not so up beat.

It's not a journey to a funeral, or something else suitably moribund. No, it's just off. I think the difference is actually rather soppy.

I miss my old lady. I've grown so used to travelling with her, experiencing things together, and having another person I can truly talk to.

Wandering through the shopping mall section of Schipol with a combination of wonder and sneering holds no appeal if I'm doing it alone. Watching the countryside go by inspires no joy.

I feel like I'm missing out on properly experiencing these things. As if I need someone to share them with to make them real. This doesn't mean validation - I mean that it doesn't feel like there's a fun experience to be had without company to enjoy it with. It's all being viewed through a lens of what we can't do rather than what I can experience.

Arguably this is a good thing but it doesn't change the fact that I can't talk through the fun things we could do here. It's just not the same without my best friend. Hmph.

Perhaps I should save myself some time by following Harry Biscuit's example and inventing an automatic sulking machine. I don't have his gift for integrating swans into the design though!

It comes with candy.

23 October 2013

It's a little tragic how it doesn't seem to matter where in the world I land, there's always either a McDonalds or a Burger King.

When I was little I was rather enamoured by them; hardly surprising given their concerted efforts to ensnare the youth. Presumably based on the same rationale as religion and tobacco.

As an adult I wouldn't dream of purchasing from them unless given no other option. For the asking price I'd rather have something tasty. Yet every time I walk to the supermarket I walk past a packed BK. It's not just teenagers though, it's adults twice my age. It's people dolled up for dates...

This isn't supposed to be sneering elitism, although I imagine it seems just as bitter. It upsets me to see both adults with childlike pallets and money leaving the local area. I can't imagine the vast swathes of cash they bring in are siphoned back into the city.

The former is a point of contention due to the amount of wonderful experiences being missed out on. I enjoy cooking and try new things as often as I can. The spice of life is literally just that.

The latter is a structural issue. I'd rather see the local economy stimulated in order to generate positive social change.

Both, in the long term create a better environment for myself but given the timescales involved I don't think I could reasonably be accused of having these opinions primarily for my own purposes.

It makes me a little sad that I feel the need to pre-emptively defend my views. Don't be so stingey with the relish!

But all my stuff is there!

22 October 2013

Something that has really been getting my goat lately is my inability to write. It’s not that I’ve been in the wrong headspace (the usual issue) but that I can’t think of anything to jot down.

There’s lots of different things I’m working on but none of them feel worthy of an entire blog post. Perhaps I’ll have to upgrade them to a full post to fill the backlog though. Concerning.

Usually I draw on the news or Reddit for inspiration. As far as the news goes there’s progress on a cure for baldness which seems to say what I’ve been thinking for a while. I’ll be bald for a bit and then be able to get my hair back. Soon it’ll be Mohican time, then supervillain o’clock. I reckon I can deal with that if there’s hope for a fix by the time I’m older.

In gaming news it seems like there’s a lot of dry stuff about the new consoles. Their launch lineups seem to be slipping faster than my hairline though. Once again – follow the Fox’s advice, wait until they’ve been out for a bit!

Other than that it’s mostly been people shouting at me for not enjoying things the same way they do. The Binding of Isaac is a great game but I personally need a reference guide when playing it. Apparently that’s the wrong way to play and I should desist post haste. I wonder how they feel about wine…

As you may know I don't read that many books these days. I spend a lot of time online so it isn't as if I'm not reading, it's simply not literature.

In an attempt to change this I started reading a book given to me by my mother -Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes.

I'm a few hundred pages in now and considering giving up. It's not difficult to read (unlike Atlas Shrugged), it's simply so miserable!

Each accordion's journey seems to involve misery, abuse, neglect, and toil. Lovely. My life is pretty wonderful but not so much so as to invite that kind of escapism. I've no interest in reading something that feels one step down from 1984.

What I cannot fault it on is its evocative atmosphere and frank grime. It feels dust-caked and grubby. When I've read a chunk I find myself wanting to make a cup of tea and look at something more pleasant - like Warhammer 40,000.

Perhaps I should take another run at my other book - a Swedish version of Generation Kill. The second invasion of Iraq is more cheerful than this metaphor-heavy tome.

I'm not sure what to make of the difference between modern video games and old video games.

When I was little it seemed like games fell into three categories - simple, complex, and educational. I'm going to discard the educational ones for the purposes of this post due to how little I feel I learnt from them.

Simple games were things like Crystal Caves, Pac-man, and Worms.

Whilst fun they were hardly plumbing the depths of what was possible. The core game loop found in them was simple and most people could pick them up as long as they could get a grip on the controls.

Then there were the complicated games. Transport Tycoon, Syndicate Wars, Dungeon Keeper, and so on. They were generally isometric (a style which I still love) and their mechanics would take a bit of thought to understand.

There are still some complicated games but in terms of percentage of releases I feel they make up a much smaller segment of the market. Arguably their prevalence was due to the target market in the 1990s. Home computers were owned by geeks - smart folks who would understand and enjoy these sorts of games.

The reason I'm left off balance by the current state of things is fairly simple - the technical limitations of those times have been removed. I'm not sure how this affects things. My battered old iPhone could run those games (at roughly the same resolution!). They could probably be run in browser without too much technical voodoo.

Another facet of this is the resource cost. Is it more or less of a challenge to make games like that now?

Are the established tropes a problem? That is to say are today's gamers simply not familiar with the style? Does that manifest itself as disinterest in more complex games?

Personally I'm not interested in jumping into anything too intimidating. Command and Conquer wasn't hard to pick up but I can't say I ever tried to master it. Looking at some of the more recent complex games I find myself put off by their impenetrable nature.

We'll see how things go. I'm going to keep fantasising about a fun isometric strategy game. One day maybe I'll realise it and find the answer first hand.

When I was in university the internet bacon fad was at its peak. I'm not entirely sure why but my vague preference for bacon over bran became exaggerated to the point where I was apparently seen as a bacon lover.

Bacon is great, obviously, but I can't say I'm all that fussed. I can cook any number of other tasty things but for some reason bacon became associated with me.

Unusually for me I just ran with it. It seemed to be a cool thing to be seen as and helped build the persona that I was cultivating. It was fun to be the cool guy for once. My grades probably suffered somewhat but given my degree choice that didn't seem particularly important. In the end I missed out on a first but still got a pretty good degree. Damned if I know where the paperwork for it is though!

This notion of reinvention of the self is fairly important and something that is often poked fun at in popular culture. There's even a Simpsons episode in which Milhouse moves and becomes popular.

That persona is buried for the moment but elements of it live on. I hope to rekindle parts of it should I ever get a new podcast off the ground. I wonder what will become the totem for it.

The previous one was anchored to the fingerless gloves I used to wear. Putting them on made me feel confident and outgoing in a way that nothing else did. People would tease me about them but it was entirely worth it because of how they made me feel.

Damn gravel.

18 October 2013

Over time I’m getting better at understanding what my mind needs. Our bodies need things, obviously, but I don’t feel the needs of our brains are currently covered in a normal education.

As you’ve probably seen from recent posts, I’ve been feeling frustrated and apathetic. It’s miserable and hard to overcome, but I try. Tea and sleep don’t always do the trick though.

What I found helped was Minecraft.

I don’t mean playing it for endless hours, I mean trying to solve a problem in it. I didn’t succeed in totally solving it but the process of trying different logical systems switched my mental gear and left me feeling much more cheerful.

As a result today I got some sculpting done, created some voice over material for someone, and worked on my blogging backlog. It doesn’t sound like much but coming from a day that was mostly moping and procrastinating it’s a big shift. I even reached out to a friend to see how he was.

I wonder which other bits of my mind I’ll be able to understand over time. I know that sometimes my social meter runs down and needs to be replenished. My old lady provides social contact but one person is not enough to keep me going all the time.

Icon design by ELC

17 October 2013

Today I went to an Apple store. I was not impressed.

I don’t know what a “Genius Bar” is as a concept but in practice it seems to be a bunch of extremely loud, pretentious, pillocks. I’ve heard the term before but today was the first time I saw it. The reality is just as pathetic as the name.

This may seem extremely partisan start to this blog post but it’s more just to get my initial irritation out of the way.

The thing that brought me to the Apple store was their hardware. You may have noticed that I’ve not been releasing many videos and I must say it’s not something I’m proud of. Unfortunately creating video content requires a production process of some sort.

In the old day that was plan –> film –> capture –> edit –> render –> upload

Today it’s plan –> film –> edit –> render –> upload.

Sadly it also takes much, much longer to do. That’d be because I film in 1080p these days – i.e. 5 times the resolution of the old footage.

Skimming through footage is hard, colour grading is hard, tinkering with effects is hard, exporting is a pain, and everything takes forever. Basically the extra processing power required to handle this stuff is expensive and I simply don’t have it.

I can play the latest games, sure, but editing HD video is a godsdamned nightmare when it comes to hardware.

However, when we were working on ENTV Chris never seemed to have any trouble using OSX and Final Cut Pro. He’d achieve the same thing but it’d take seven minutes to render, not an hour.

Many a time I’ve yammered on about how I don’t need much in the way of additional possessions – that has held true for quite a while. As a result I’ve not asked for a Christmas or birthday present in years and have quite a backlog of favours stacked up.

So, in order to edit properly I want a Mac. I want it to be portable and if it could manage the odd game or two that’d be swell too. More importantly though I’d like something that suits my needs and works.

Unfortunately from what I’ve seen the resolution on the low end Macbook Pros is far too low whilst the high end ones go in the opposite direction. Hmph.

The reason I end up being as picky as I am on this front is simple. I don’t like upgrading unless I see a good reason to. I also tend to use my machines a great deal. Many hours every day. As a result I want something that makes me a happy chappy, not something that’ll have to do.

I’m not interested in the Apple brand, I’m interested in a solution. Windows laptops are generally junk (from experience) and do not offer a unified solution. Furthermore the video software for Windows is abysmal. Yuck.

There’s also the problem of overheating. My last laptop died when its graphics card did. It could render Bioshock beautifully but it’d keel over with heat exhaustion before I got more than a few metres from the bathysphere. That’s no good. I need something I can rely on and send back to the manufacturer as defective if it doesn’t behave. A turn-key solution.

Today’s outing did little to assuage my doubts. The hardware was outdated and overpriced. Luckily from what I’ve just seen online there may well be new models by this time next month. Perhaps they can win me over in time for Christmas.

So many bits of paper…

16 October 2013

Growing up in the early 2000s I, like many others, had access to a careers adviser. I believe her name was Jenny Rule but I could be mistaken.

She was a perfectly pleasant person but ultimately I can’t say I found any of my mandatory visits to her office helpful at all. I get the feeling that the same could be said for most others, sadly.

The reason I mention this is because it’s the only thing I can think of experiencing when it comes to official career guidance. Little was done to provide me with any realistic view of what was available out there, something I don’t feel has ever been corrected.

I’m not trying to suggest that my life would have turned out differently merely that even today I see no clear link between satisfactory careers and academic choices. Some people I know work in offices, others are doctors, pilots, and bankers. I don’t envy any one of them but I find myself thinking “What are the other options?”

I studied biology and history at A2 level simply because I found them interesting. I studied Spanish to better grasp language. None of the other subjects seemed to help build towards anything anyway leaving me at a loss as to why I’d bother with them. Studying physics might have led me to a career in high science but it’s simply not a field of interest for me. I was good at it but it bored the socks off me.

Frankly most of the high level stuff seemed pretty redundant. History was useful in terms of teaching me how to argue a point with supporting evidence. It wasn’t so good at getting me to remember much history though.

Essentially I think the frustration I’m trying to express here is with the lack of connection between happiness, career success, and academic choices. The pressure was piled on at the time to make the right choices but no one was able to actually provide any real guide as to what that meant. Visiting universities proved no more help either. They too assumed that somewhere along the line this stuff had been covered – so choose your damn degree subject!

Without a clear blueprint for career success I find myself muddling along and opting out of most things. Being disinterested in money seems to baffle most people I come into contact with. If had an extra £50 per week in my pocket I’d perhaps buy a few more beers and the occasional new pair of cheap jeans. Other than that I don’t see what it would change other than consuming most of my time and energy. Is that a sensible exchange? To me, absolutely not.

The figure of £50 stems from the fact that the more one earns the bigger the bills become. Income tax, rent, council tax, and a variety of other costs spike up and swallow up the lion’s share of the new income.

Perhaps the best bet at the moment is to ride out this recession and try to build revenue streams that don’t directly pay me but provide the other things I want in life. That’s the principal behind much of what I do with Fox Box after all – allow me build models without making me personally pay for the privilege!

A 24 hour economy would be interesting to see, I feel.

At the moment many supermarkets are open until 2000 or even later but ultimately at night the city is silent. Why?

Well everyone’s sleeping and so why bother being open?

What’s the point in going into town if one is up? Everything’s closed!

Obviously this wouldn’t be a small change, it’d be a drastic overhaul of a culture. I’m not suggesting it should happen, it’s just a fun idea to think about.

Personally I usually sleep between about 0400 and 1200. I like mornings but get the most done at night. As I set my own routine there’s no particular reason to be up in the morning. What I do know is that even if one works a night shift society feels it’s perfectly reasonable to sneer at anyone who then needs to rest.

The perception of laziness seems to be more connected to adherence to a conventional schedule rather than actual work done. What if that went away?

Existing infrastructure supports a certain number of people concurrently. Increasing that number is incredibly costly and so things stay the same until they need to be replaced. What if the total capacity of the system went up by increasing the amount of time it was in use?

It’s a fun little thought experiment at least.

Keep your damn jetpacks.

14 October 2013

For a while yet it’s still 2013 and yet I’m still not really backing things up.

This is definitely not a good thing.

For me the problem is that the amount of data I generate these days is a lot higher than the storage solutions I have available to me allow for.

When I was a teenager I would burn data to DVDs and that was fine. Bandwidth constraints meant I didn’t download all that much and video content was in SD or lower. All wasn’t well but backing up wasn’t too much of a chore. Backing up 40 GB of data only takes ten single layer DVDs. Buying spindles of discs for a few pence per disc made that quite feasible to do.

These days I download plenty of things and want to hold onto them. The problem comes from the fact that HD content takes about 1 – 2 GB per episode. A single season of an American TV show will easily fill 5 single layer DVDs. An eight season show like Dexter would fill over thirty such discs and take most of a working day to write. Then those discs need to be carefully stored.

Dual layer discs would halve that but their price is still quite high even all these years later. Affordable, but annoying.

What about Blu-Ray?

Storage wise it’s no cheaper to buy 25 GB BR discs than to buy the equivalent in dual layer DVDRs. At 25 GB per disc at least one could store a season per disc. Not too bad, I suppose. Less hassle.

I do this simply because I’ve yet to find anything approaching the Steam-like crossplatform video service that would remove the need for this sort of behaviour.

Disc-based storage seems to have stagnated though and it’s rather disappointing. It’d be nice to be able to burn a terabyte to some sort of slow disc system for long term storage. I don’t need all this footage right now but I can totally see myself digging it out in ten years to hunt through.

When I was in school I read about Holographic Versatile Discs and yet here we are, nearly a decade later, still footling around with expensive, low capacity discs. Come on, guys.

I’m going to end up lugging a spindle of discs with me for quite a while yet it would seem. I wonder if tape drives still exist..?

Apparently Bebo is attempting a comeback:

Thankfully the way they’re going about it is savvy and amusing. I say that because like many others I’m sick of companies pretending they operate in a vacuum. They avoid ever mentioning the concept of competitors, let alone their names, even if their rivals are ubiquitous super giants.

I’m not sure whether I’ll like what Bebo becomes but I’m willing to give it a shot. I was extremely hesitant about joining Facebook and still barely use the service.

Perhaps it’s due to how I grew up using the internet. We were all primarily aliases who sometimes had real names, not the other way around. I don’t recall knowing coolsi’s name but I remember the personality attached to the name.

These days social networking is primarily our real names with aliases as an option. How I present myself really depends on the context. It’s not so much about giving a false impression as being free to redefine myself when entering a new community.

Joining with a photograph, name, friends list, interest list, and a vast ocean of attached data doesn’t leave much room for growth. I have content dating back to when I was in my early teens – should that be dragged behind me when making new friends?

It’s not so much about keeping it a secret but as revealing it over time rather than up front. I want to be able to shape the lens through which people see me online just like I can in the real world.

Bearing all that in mind I still find Facebook useful. It’s like a directory of people allowing convenient access to them. It’s just not what I consider sociable.

I recently discovered English comedienne Sarah Millican and it gave me hope.

It’s not so much related to her comedy as to her attitude. Don’t misunderstand me – her comedy is utterly brilliant and leaves me in stitches. This post isn’t about that though, it concerns her approach to relationships and sex.

Hearing her perform it’s immediately obvious that she hails from the North of England. Since the time I was seven my parents would spend a few months in the area every summer. They still do, even though I’m no longer able to accompany them.

DSCF1707My experiences with people in that part of the UK are incredibly positive. They’re friendly and welcoming people, at least from what I’ve seen.

What I’ve not really seen them do is have any real way to discuss sex and relationships. Perhaps they’re quite progressive but that hasn’t been my understanding thus far.

Sarah Millican’s frankness about things really makes me happy. If we can start talking about these things a little more then that can only be a good thing. Certainly, it may be awkward, but it does at least put us a step closer to finding out how to make each other happier.

Go look up some of her performances. She’s wonderful.

Yesterday I talked about the resolution of old games and touched on emulation.  Today I’m going to have a bash at explaining why I generally don’t bother with old games.

Catch-22 is still brilliant, 1984 is still miserable, and old games can still be good. I don’t want this post to be taken as me slating anything older than my GCSEs, it’s more an explanation for my own preferences.

We’re looking at 15 – 20 years ago and whilst some games hold up I dare you to tell me GoldenEye 007 is still good. Seriously, try the multiplayer. Back in the day it was great fun and we all had a blast. The problem is that it hasn’t changed whereas these days multiplayer is a finely tweaked experience played by millions evolving year on year.

Tomb Raider 2 was beloved by many and even I had a copy. I didn’t particularly like it at the time though. In fact it made me rather miserable that I couldn’t play it due to the game mechanics.

Tomb Raider (2013) on the other hand was a lot of fun. It was built around modern game conventions and provided an excellently creepy adventure.

Was it that I was too young back then? Perhaps. But surely I’d still get some enjoyment if I went back and gave them a go? Nope. Most titles feel clunky and badly designed compared to the tight experiences we’re given today. I’ve been spoilt by games built for an audience that wants to have fun.

Seems a daft way to put it, doesn’t it?

Bear in mind what existed prominently then and barely survives today:

The arcade.

(I’ll approach this from a tangent if that’s okay.)

When I was looking for schools to attend I visited Monmouth. Whilst there I saw a book that had guides for virtually all currently available N64 games. After taking the entrance exam as a reward I was given the book. I still have it, as it happens.

There was a game that received several pages of coverage in that book – War Gods. I’ve just tried it on an emulator. It’s awful. What I hadn’t realised is that it was ported to the N64 from an arcade cabinet.

Really?

Yep. Arcades were still relevant back then.

The impact of this on game design and game design culture should not be underestimated. These days gaming is less of an impulsive pursuit but back then games generally favoured simpler mechanics for a “pick up and play” setup. Of course they were also fairly awful at user-friendliness and as such were rather unwelcoming.

Without universal internet access there weren’t gamers and developers sharing ideas, comparing mechanics, and having a good moan.

As a result the games that leaned heavily into their arcade roots tended to work better than those that were in the awkward teenager phase of game design. I’m not much of a fan of the arcade style and so what I end up playing is clunky games that are trying things that we’re only really starting to get right several decades later.

With all that complaining I’d best plug something that I feel still holds up. It’s the game that I wanted to play enough to bother getting high res textures running on – Lylat Wars/Star Fox 64.

It’s an arcade-style on-rails shootery thing. Certain things are tracked but in the middle of a game there are no saves.

Start at Corneria and eventually defeat Andross on Venom. Succeed, lose, or quit.Glide64_STARFOX64_03

A run takes about an hour and depending on a number of factors the route changes. Pretty arcadey, really.

Much like how the best 2D platformers of the old days still hold up due to that genre’s lengthy history and considerable refinement arcade style games are generally still pretty good.

Last night I played through it again and today couldn’t stop myself from having another bash at it. It’s sometimes challenging but always fun. Being able to actually see things makes it a bit less squint-inducing too!

I’ve no intention of playing through GoldenEye 007 again though. I’d rather take a run at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or the rather fun remake of GoldenEye for the Wii. Same concept, new style and mechanics.

Just don’t get me started on Super Mario 64. Ugh.

There’s few old console games I genuinely miss playing. Generally speaking they’ve not only aged graphically but in terms of design.

Old graphics bother me in many cases. Usually they’re a mess of terrible 3D models with blurry textures that prevent me from getting into things. The models may be bad but usually the kicker for me is the textures. They didn’t look great at the time and by comparison they end up looking about as good as the paper graphics in Dishonored.

The other issue is the fact that they were usually rendered at 240p, i.e. 320x240. Lovely.

I suppose to some of you these numbers mean nothing of any real value. To be honest I’ve been looking at them for years and they’re second nature to me. In order to remedy that have a diagram:

My monitor is 1080p and as such a 240p image has 27 times fewer pixels than it. Another picture might help put that into perspective: resolution-explanation-2

So why not just upscale it then?

The problem there is that the game wasn’t designed for higher resolutions. In fact the textures were barely good enough for 240p!

Some games suffer more than others. Mario Kart 64 looks surprisingly good, for example. The racers aren’t 3D models, they’re actually sprites. The environments are kept simple to prevent things looking dreadful and for the most part it works.

mariokart64

To me sitting on a sofa playing that upscaled on an old CRT TV back in the day that was fine. I’m not at my TV though – I’m at my desk where the screen is less than a metre from my face.

The above image might look okay on this blog (where most images are only 460 pixels wide) but if it was upscaled to 450% (to fit my screen) it’d look like a bit like this:

upscaled-mk64

Yeah.

The CRT displays found  in old TVs didn’t have a fixed native resolution and so didn’t really upscale things, they just showed them at the resolution provided, up to a maximum threshold. It meant that even four person multiplayer was feasible. Imagine how tiny those little windows would be on a modern 1080p TV!splitscreen

LCD monitors and the like have a fixed number of pixels and attempting to show lower resolution stuff on them involves scaling and interpolation. Generally it gets ugly.

What this boils down to is the fact that the N64 is staying in that drawer in my parents’ place.

What about emulation though?

Well I’m starting to experiment with it for the N64. It’s not my first time playing with one but it’s been a long time. These days I have good enough hardware to render things at my native resolution and run masses of post processing on it to tidy things up as best as possible. There’s also efforts to retexture these old games to make them a lot more presentable.

Here’s Star Fox 64 using Unaided Coder’s texture pack:

unaided-coder-starfox64

Not bad, eh?

More on that tomorrow though.

Pink moustache wax

09 October 2013

Listening to Radio 4 isn’t always stimulating but sometimes it does manage to highlight something that gets me thinking, as you probably know, dear reader.

This time it was Lyft, a peer-to-peer car sharing service. Somewhere between a minicab and hitchhiking. The drivers get a bit of cash (from what I understood) and can work on demand.

Also from the BBC was this story:

When indie band Frankie and the Heartstrings released their second album this summer, they were so alarmed by the lack of record shops in which to sell it that they decided to open their own.

Whether they’ll survive or not remains to be seen, obviously, but I found it interesting in terms of creating opportunities for themselves. If they can foster a sufficiently loving culture for tangible music then they stand a chance but I would not personally put money down on them but that’s just the pessimist in me talking. If the music industry reassesses its approach to the tangible then things may well work out but they’re not exactly known for their foresight…

These two things both struck me as two different components in a new economic model. The boys and their shop initially setup only for two weeks for their album’s release – an on-demand shop if you will.

What if our city centres had many on-demand shops? How hard would it be to configure premises for that?

Certainly current rent models probably wouldn’t support it but how many high street shops need to stand empty for months at a time before it becomes perfectly clear that legislative change is needed?

Moaning about the current state of things is of course the British way but I do get quite a kick out of some of the possibilities people are bringing to the table.

While I bumble through life trying to figure out where I want to go I feel constantly, yet silently, pressured by both society and my parents to get things sorted.

I put it that way because I’m honestly not sure what is expected of me to satisfy that demand. No real roadmap seems to exist for my generation, from what I can tell. We get married at a range of ages, our careers jump around all over the place, and our incomes seem to remain universally low.

An opportunity, of sorts, has come my way, but I’ve no interest in taking it on. It seems like an exchange of time and stress for a fairly small monetary sum. I’m not quite sure what’s involved but crunching the numbers I cannot imagine that it’d be sensible to take it on unless the salary was about three times what it’s likely to be. I’m not motivated by money, I’m compensated by it. If I’m having to give something I don’t want to give then the pay off had better be enough that when I’m done I can use it as a springboard to better things.

Of course to my parents’ generation this seems like laziness and to some extent it is. How often do they say things like “You don’t know how good you’ve got it” ?

I know how good I’ve got it. It’s a wonderful life of minimal responsibilities, a full belly, and intellectual stimulation. I save up for a new pair of jeans because my old pair needs to be replaced after a decade of use. I’m considering replacing my phone because I’ve used this one until it has worn out.

Why would I want to exchange that for an extra £50 per week? In six months that would only come to £1300 extra. Hardly the deposit on a house!

Part of my unwillingness to jump into that system stems from my observations of the generation between my own and that of my parents. They’re in their 60s and 70s, their children are in their 40s (with some outliers like myself). Mostly they seem to be fairly miserable with how their lives have turned out, in my experience.

I don’t mean a soul-crushing despair, more a general malaise and a feeling that things are “okayish, I guess”. That seems like something worth burning the majority of my waking life on. Sign me up!

Given the option I’d rather be paid less and spend it doing something I mostly enjoy. Being part of a film crew, for example. I’d like to learn and would be willing to work hard, even if the pay isn’t great. Also those sorts of things generally aren’t permanent positions – that’s perfect for me.

The opportunity in question is the kind where I find myself CC’d into an email and my name listed amongst others in a business plan. On the one hand it’s very generous and well meant but on the other hand the level of condescension and presumption is wearing very thin. Given that the role is being given as a veiled form of charity I’m not exactly flattered and it annoys me that I’m being put in a position where declining would cause offence.

When I was still in Christ College I got hold of a copy of Dance eJay 3 and had a play with it. It was 2004 and we didn’t really know what we were doing. I shared it with a friend and we each put together a little tune.

Being the strange packrat that I am, I still have them, somewhat remarkably.

I sometimes listen to them again. They still sound good to me. Imperfect, certainly, but perfectly listenable.

What makes me a bit miserable about it is how ignored eJay is. Of course when it isn’t ignored it’s derided and sneered at. Gods forbid one play with LEGO before building models from scratch.

More recently I’ve been trying to put together some audio things for the Wooden Dice Geekcast and for that I’ve been using eJay HipHop 5 Reloaded. Is it the best tool for the job? Well that depends entirely on the criteria.

In the hands of a skilled musician or sound engineer, I very much doubt it. For me though it means I can quickly hash something out and play with settings to get something I like. I was browsing around Reddit’s stuff on making music and it seemed to boil down to this:

Want to do anything good? Forget it. It’ll take the best part of the decade to even scratch the surface. I can’t believe you don’t know what frequencies are in relation to the multi-layered audio soundscape that makes up a modern track. Go play with FLStudio or something and leave the grownups to make things. Gosh!

Whatever I feel like! Gosh!

Of course they didn’t put it like that, it was veiled behind a facade of helpfulness. When learning biology in school (as a bright eyed eleven year old) I didn’t arrive in the lab to have Dr. Ripley tell me “So, phospholipid bilayers?”

That would have been intimidating at that stage. Instead we started off with more basic stuff and eventually built up to (or drilled down to, depending on perspective) the nitty gritty.

That approach seems to get thrown out of the window when it comes to music from what I can tell. Hmph.

I’m no musician. Not naturally anyway.

I’ve been taught a bit of all sorts of things though – violin, cello, guitar, keyboards (piano would be a bit strong), and like many Brits, recorder. None of it comes particularly naturally to me but like many things I wonder if it’s because it’s not been explained in a way that fits into my mindset.

When I was learning to drive I wasn’t until I was on my third driving instructor I understood how the clutch worked. The other two had tried to explain how to use it, and I was approximately able to, but I didn’t understand what was going on and how it impacted other things.

The third one explained that it wasn’t a binary system and gave me a bit of mechanical understanding on its role in the system. From then on I didn’t have any problems at all. Well, obviously I had to get all the things needed to be licensed down, but the car operation bit was a non-issue from then on.

I wonder if the same is true of music?

From my perspective it’s nice sounding noise. There’s some patterns to it but I don’t feel I’ve been taught the mental tools I need to really appreciate it. I’ve been to gigs playing music I really like and unless I’m doing something else I get actively bored.

historyofrock

Musical notation makes sense to me, even if I’m a bit rusty on it, but again, it’s not given me anything in the way of understanding music. I’ve read A View From The Bridge, I’ve seen it performed, and I’ve studied it yet I still don’t appreciate it. Maybe it’s just a lousy play but perhaps I simply lack the tools to understand the drama of it.

In time I wonder whether tools for music might become part of the normal curriculum. I can but hope.

I don’t like my attitude towards Japanese games. I feel it’s aggressively negative, bordering on prejudiced. That said, I try to create opportunities for myself to lose this attitude. Most of the time that doesn’t work out.

There are of course exceptions – the Katamari series is wonderfully odd.

Sadly most of the rest of the time I’m woefully underwhelmed.

The issue generally stems from different approaches to gaming. If I’m playing an RPG I want to roleplay a character of my own choosing, to some extent. By that I mean that there should be a suitable vessel for me to use within the game world. Not a blank avatar but someone with sufficiently malleable characteristics for me to take the reins of. This is pretty much the polar opposite of what I’ve experienced in most Japanese RPGS. Here’s a character, care about him and his stupid problems. While we’re being dramatic we’ll probably shift tone in a few minutes to that of a Tracy Ullman era Simpsons episode.

So, strictly defined story with very little player agency. What else?

Feature creep.

box-tickers

It seems to be true of both their magazines and games – more is better. Doesn’t matter if it’s great, lots of variety is what we’re going to give ‘em!

As much as I like convergent devices I don’t want the extra features if they’re badly implemented. A game where there’s mini-games, collectables, and superfluous game mechanics can work but it’s very hard to do right. In the vast majority of cases I feel it ends up diluting a strong experience drastically diminishing my enjoyment of the core game.

Lastly there’s attitude. Having grown up in Britain perhaps this affects me more than those stateside. Here people are cheerful and chipper but in a wry and reserved manner. Excessive exuberance comes across as hollow and inspires cynicism. In most Japanese games I’ve played it’s common for NPCs to be enthusiastic and excessively friendly – that is to say (from my perspective) they might as well be cardboard cutouts. Real people in my cultures rarely act like that under any circumstances.

Result? I subconsciously reject the setting and find myself feeling alone in a crowd of plastic smiles.

Hopefully in time their design philosophy will shift towards something I find more agreeable. I’m not suggesting it needs to be the same as Western design, it’s simply the only thing I have to compare it to for the moment.

 

Recording of this post.

Most of the time when someone says “How are you?” it’s my understanding that it’s not a real question. Of course just because the correct response is “I’m fine, you?” or similar doesn’t change the fact that I’m an awkward git.

When someone initiates conversation with me like that, or with something similar like “How’s things?” I usually try to reply with something useful. By that I mean that I’ll say how I am and what’s affecting that, or what I’ve been up to lately.

“How are you?”

“I’m okay. A bit stressed – I’m struggling with a couple of sculpts.”

It’s not much, I know, but it’s more useful than “Fine” as a conversational gambit. Presumably I do it because of a combination of wanting to give an honest answer to a perceived question and due to the principals of improv. “Fine” is the equivalent of killing off the leads others provide – not a good way to do things.

Hardly a world-shattering revelation but I felt it affects my life enough to be worth blogging about.

 

Recording of this post.

Visiting London I was surprised by just how many people are using the blue Barclays bicycles. They were everywhere!

Whether they’re good value for money or not seems to be up for debate but it certainly seems to be helping to promote the bike’s place in modern British society. Quite the change from when I was little, I feel.

Back here in Wales the Active Travel (Wales) Act has been passed that may mean that further down the line better infrastructure exists for people on bikes. I put it that way because there’s a distinction to be made between them and cyclists.

Having spent time in Edinburgh I must say that I feel it’s only cyclists that really use bikes there. For normal folks the road network is too much of a shambles and the resulting traffic too dangerous. I can only put up with a certain amount of moaning from them before dismissing them as pretentious blowhards. That certain amount is “not much at all”. Perhaps in time Edinburgh will be fine for more than simply walking but until then I feel that just about everyone is having a lousy time.

Personally I look forward to better cycling infrastructure. I’ve been licensed to drive for the best part of a decade but have rarely had to use that skill. Cars are out of my price range and realistically completely needless for the vast majority of my life, even if they are fancy status symbols. I walk or take the bus. I’d like to cycle but find the infrastructure lacking for someone who hasn’t been on a bike in ages.

It makes me think of part of a TED Talk (From 4:16):

This notion of cells that hold most things within a 20 minute walk really appeals to me. Getting around them on a bike or travelling between them sounds like a nice way of doing things in the future.

I say “nice” simply because I’m a bit too tired to get into all the social aspects I feel such a setup would allow for. Sorry about that.

 

Recording of this post.

Ankle deep slurry, eh?

02 October 2013

Something that bothers me about the UK is the way that London is like a different planet that just happens to share the same shape of milk bottles.

It’s a sprawling metropolis that pretends it’s the capital of the country. Have you seen the capitals of Scotland and Wales?

London might as well be its own city state! It bears virtually no resemblance to most British towns. The seat of government is there though and it seems that most policy decisions are based on it. Have you been to the rest of the UK’s towns? They’re a few streets of shops and a load of houses. Concepts that suit London map very poorly to the rest of the UK and in this day and age it baffles me why it continues.

When politicians talk about the state of the UK today I always feel like they’re imagining that Glasgow and Swansea are like mini versions of London. It’s hard to swallow anything from people that seem so out of touch with the common reality in the country they are supposed to represent.

I might add that I cannot stand London. It’s a remarkable city but there’s very few places in the UK that I find less pleasant.

slitheen-blaine

We're in Cardiff. London doesn't care. The South Wales coast could fall into the sea and they wouldn't notice! Oh… I sound like a Welshman. God help me, I've gone native.

Recording of this post.

I was walking down the street today and noticed something I’ve seen many times before – a shop with a politician’s name on it.

From what I can tell these are offices of sorts for these politicians, used for their surgery hours and little else, most of the time.

I’ve never actually seen one open.

My issue here isn’t with the notion of having somewhere one can talk to a politician, elected or otherwise, it’s simply a question of cost. Surely renting such a venue is a fairly large money sink? Are their supporters okay with that much money being poured away?

I phrase it that way because they seem to be closed most of the time. Any property standing empty or closed is losing money, not gaining it. Of course if it was an open shop (paying staff to be there) when there are no customers then that too would be a drain but that doesn’t really factor in here.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply hold office at a local town hall or similar? It seems an awful lot of trouble for a glorified billboard. Perhaps it’s subsidised in some way but in a time of austerity it seems a rather frivolous use of scarce resources.

 

Recording of this post.