I was considering putting together some sort of fancy infographic for this final post but the tools seem to break when I try to use them and gathering the raw data is a bit of a nightmare.

It's been a long year and I estimate that I've written between 70,000 and 75,000 words on this blog.

Unsurprisingly the average word count per month tails off as I find myself with less to say. Not bad though, not bad. Perhaps my writing has improved, perhaps not. I've certainly done a lot more of it though so that's definitely a plus. It also makes me feel like I can keep something like this. Sometimes I need reassuring of my own awesomeness. I'm not as clever as I used to be but I'm certainly not done yet and doing things like this helps me remember who I am.

I don't know when I'll update this blog next though. That shouldn't be taken to mean "That's all, folks!" - it's more that I'll be returning to be irregular updates style of, aha, yesteryear.

Stay crunchy, men.

Something that I've thought about before but not gone to extensive efforts to deal with is the copyrights of fonts.

In the past I used to download quite a few fonts for a variety of purposes (mostly related to Napier Subculture) and saw quite a few things that placed restrictions on their use. More recently I've been working with a few other people to try to put together a finalised version of the Gorkamorka document template for tUGS.

I'm still not entirely satisfied with the box-out options but the headers and footers are mostly good now. The fonts look good too but the rights attached to them are a lot murkier. Recently I took the time to try to clear things up a bit and discovered something interesting:

In the UK and US typefaces cannot be copyrighted.

Well that makes things easier, doesn't it!

Except fonts aren't typefaces. They're ruled to be little software programmes that scale typefaces and as such are classified as literary works and therefore remain encumbered until the end of human history, or as close to thereabouts as to make no difference.

What is in fact not illegal is to print out the font and recreate it. Yep - if one prints out a letter per page, scans it in and traces it in a font program then it's all nice and legal. That doesn't seem bizarre, does it...

So aside from spending a day or three recreating fonts what are our options when it comes to text for Gorkamorka articles?

Well it depends. We have been using a rather costly font from Adobe called News Gothic that dates back to a typeface from 1908. It looks stylish and all that and whether people pirate it or not to run the template doesn't affect us but it's not exactly in the spirit of things if we don't throw in the fonts as well.

Of course we don't own the rights to it and so can't grant a software license for it, so we're out of luck there. A single license for each of the four weights of the font would set the user back £100. Not exactly worth it just for a scenario, unless you're a headcase like me. On the other hand there has to be something or we'll end up with documents floating around that look dreadful!

As it happens though there's been a recent development (relative to how long we've been using the font) - Adobe System Source Sans Pro:

Whether it's suitable is the next job. There's also the problem of whether we're trying to recreate the look of Da Uvver Book or articles published in things like Gubbinz?

The problem here is that Da Uvver Book uses a serif font and Gubbinz uses a sans serif font. Erk.

Da Uvver Book uses Palatino (based on the 1948 typeface) for its body text. This font was bundled with Mac computers from 1984 onwards (as far as I can tell) and (If the data on the PDF is right) the book was put together using QuarkXpress on a Mac.

So now instead of needing one free font we need two. Great. Well here we're in luck too as there is actually a free version called TeX Gyre Pagella that seems virtually indistinguishable from the Apple version. Sorted.

There's also the matter of Civic.ttf. It used to get passed around as an Orky font and it is actually relevant but that's not its name. Its name is actually, sigh, Honda. Well, sometimes it's ITC Honda. Other times it's Heidelberg Normal. Yeah, tracing its origin has been awkward and my best lead so far is Corel, 1992. Since then there have been various other varieties of it.

Ultimately it may be the font that has to receive the ol' scan and trace treatment. Perhaps while I'm at it I'll throw in some other glyphs, after all I drew most of them for use in Tagz.

But why a spatula?

11 December 2013

I’m actually writing this post on the 30th December 2013, although it’s dated 11th. I often write posts and back date them in order to catch up, as it happens.

Sometimes it’s because I’ve been busy doing other things and haven’t written a post for the day. More often though it’s because I couldn’t think of anything to write about at the time. I rarely let myself get more than a few days behind but moving flat really threw things out of whack.

It took four days to move, effectively, and that was without unpacking. It also took a few days to get a connection back. Whilst posting things can be done from my phone I do need to get enough exposure to content to have something to write about. There’s just not enough offline to justify a post every day!

Given that this project is scheduled to end on the 12th and I only lost about a week and a half of productivity I decided to plough onwards. I also made the decision to move the end-date to the 13th to make up for the fact that I didn’t post anything on the 29th December last year. If we’re doing this, we’re doing it properly!

It’s now several weeks after that though and I’ve been slowly catching up. It’s been heavy going, it really has. Normally if I am a few days out the gap will give me some breathing room kicking my creativity up a notch. That hasn’t happened this time, annoyingly.

I’m doing my best not to cheat by writing about things outside the scope of the time period though. This may seem an arbitrary restriction but I tend to look back at content I’ve created years later to establish timelines. Messing with that will annoy my future self, I expect, and that’s just unnecessary!

So, let’s see if I can drag myself over the finish line. Accursed wall.

As I start to think about game design more I'm very pleased to say I feel I'm starting to fit it into my mental toolkit.

One of my many game concepts is coming together in my head at the moment in a way I find quite satisfying. The difference between this game and others is the way it's allowing me to learn to think about ticks, something I feel I need to have a good grip on in order to build the more ambitious games I dream of creating.

From what I understand a game tick is one complete cycle of the core program loop. I believe Minecraft runs twenty ticks per second, for example. I'm not sure of the precise timings of mine, especially given that it'll initially be built in Scratch.

The reason I'm so happy about this is simple - I did not do the reading, it just presented itself as a sensible solution to the problem. A few quick searches showed that it was indeed the way lots of games operate. Good good, now for me to figure out my own preferred way to approach the problem. It's probably glaringly self-aggrandising but doing things this way works best for me, I've found. The idea being to learn through creative problem solving in order to allow the new skills to gel nicely with my way of thinking.

Yes, I'm a pretty snowflake.

I don't read anywhere near as much as I did when I was little. Even when times were tight it was one luxury that wasn't denied me - there was never a shortage of things to read.

When I was a child I also loved Star Wars. Three films and a few books were my experiences with the series. As I got older my interest in the series waned, much like many others. It wasn't so much that I grew out of it as it drowned my interest with sheer volume. New, fairly mediocre, films, more books and games than anyone could be expected to get through, TV shows, ugh. On and on. I still love episodes IV - VI but most of the rest feels like its had all the character polished out of it.

When something new comes along I worry that it'll become like that. I tried to play Mass Effect, for example. Couldn't stand it. The universe was this vast space opera that I found immediately off-putting. It's a game. If I wanted to spend time getting to know something to this degree I'd dedicate my time to something that actually existed, like ancient Egypt.

Another bit of legacy from when I was younger - as I lived in the countryside I wouldn't be able to pop to the library when it suited me. My mother would pick up books during the day that she thought I might like and continued to do so for many years. This seems to have actually made me very bad at choosing new IPs to explore!

So these days if it's not a Pratchett book, or something by Richard Morgan (She was good at picking things I'd enjoy, not just "family friendly" things!) then chances are I haven't been near it. I look at things like The Wheel of Time and balk at the task of getting through the numerous volumes. Really I should think "Wow! Look how long I could stay in that world if I wanted!"

But I don't.

What helps is if there is some other media that can serve as a primer. I don't want a movie of the entire book, just enough to get me over the initial hump. The same works if there's a game. I'd quite like to read BioShock: Rapture to spend more time in the setting. It might be terrible but the fact that I've experienced some of the setting already is enough to make it familiar. The same is true of the Assassin's Creed series. I could go for a few books about that!

Something I find does help a little is browsing the titles on a Kindle. I can't easily see how long a book is, or see the front cover. It doesn't exist as a tangible thing and so the barrier to entry is lower. I'd much rather find more things in the world for me to enjoy than try to pretend my own failings aren't the issue.

But come on, why should I care about Commander Shepard?

In the run up to Christmas the issue of parents getting presents wrong raises its socially awkward head.

Personally I'm rather glad that my family doesn't really do presents any more. Tasty food and good company is preferable to anxiety and awkwardness that would happen when we did things the traditional way. I wouldn't say I was a spoilt child but I certainly wanted things, as kids do. Hopefully my parents have forgiven me for that by now, but I doubt it. I'll probably continue to be repentant and apologetic for the rest of my days. Sure, I was just a little lad and I was hardly Veruca Salt but they still deserve better. I don't think it helped having peers receiving vast mountains of gifts, admittedly.

On the more positive side there were many wonderful gifts. Starfox 64 (in the big box with the rumble pak) was probably one of the best gifts. I don't still play it, although I still have it, but that only means I don't play specifically that cartridge. I still love the game!

I was fortunate though and don't recall receiving any video games that didn't match the systems I owned. I suppose it was a little easier as I only had a Gameboy Pocket (obtained by trading things with someone at school) and an N64 (saved up for). Friends had things like the NES, SNES, Master System, MegaDrive, and so on, but not me. That isn't supposed to be a moan, it's to clarify that there were plenty of systems around but by the time I had one the market was essentially it and the PlayStation, simplifying things for my folks.

What confuses me is that to this day there are stories of parents giving the wrong games as gifts. It was a minor plot point in a Simpsons episode...in 1995 and a bit of a cliché at the time. When it comes to presents I could understand if a child wasn't clear what they wanted but when is that ever the case?

I don't know about you but when I was little I knew precisely what I wanted when it came to toys! If anything as I've got older it has got hazier making me much harder to buy for, but back then I remember really wanting the Action Man Stealth Jet. It would cost about £84 in today's money, so pretty pricey. If I didn't get something I consider myself lucky in that I wouldn't get something like it. That doesn't seem to be true of many others though, even today.

I can almost understand my parents' generation making mistakes about these things. What confuses me is about today's parents. Did they not experience this as children?

It's especially baffling when it comes to console games. They're colour coded. A quick glance at a child's games collection would be enough to see which they have. Hell, listening to them for a few minutes and making notes would be enough. Instead we still seem to have parents that call every games console a "Nintendo" (or in the US for some they're still all "Atari"). How can they manage to discern which kind of coffee they like, or how to do their jobs?

Now that home video games are on their fifth decade it's getting more than a little pathetic. Confusion about which game a child wants is fine, but what it's to be played on? Do people still receive second hand VHS cassettes when they only have a blu-ray player?

Actually, they probably do. Nevermind!

It’s cool, I know him.

07 December 2013

Last month I was having real trouble deciding between MacBook Pro models on the basis of dedicated graphics cards vs. integrated graphics. In the old days I would have always said “dedicated, duh” but on a machine not destined for gaming it’s not an obvious choice.

That said I asked on Reddit and amongst the well-intentioned but fairly useless responses one link stood out. Reddit user no-mad provided me with this link.

Essentially it’s a real world test of Final Cut Pro X with a standardised project on a variety of different hardware setups. The results make the decision easy:brucex-final-cut-pro-x-benchmark2

The dedicated GPU is nearly twice as fast. Sorted.

The thread did also bring to light something else – the battery life can be unaffected. OS X automatically switches between GPUs depending on the software being used at the time. As such if the beefy card isn’t needed it stays turned off, keeping the battery alive for longer.

Right-o, best get the device ordered!

Whilst I may no longer be a teenager I still find the film Fight Club useful in creating new ways to think about other people.

What annoys me most in this instance is the fact that any musings that so much as reference the film (not the book, I can't say I've got 'round to reading my copy) need an explanation. I often find people slating their teenage selves and the like on the subject. It's as if Fight Club has become a corner stone of an awkward phase people wish to forget. You know, kind of like saying things had "attitude" or were "radical".

I don't believe said people have actually moved past what their teenage selves glimpsed in the film. Perhaps they like to tell themselves that but in reality I cannot help but feel it's some sort of coping strategy to help them deal with what they feel is normal.

Yes, I know, it sounds very angsty, but that's rather the point. By labelling it as "angst" one can simply dismiss it rather than put in the effort taken to think about it.

I despise that kind of sloppy thinking. Round off the awkward parts and it can be slotted into a convenient mental pidgeon hole and forgotten about rather than assessed frankly and dealt with.

The reason I'm thinking about this is due to the rather forcibly delivered phrase "Just let go" (not to be confused with "Let go. Begin Again."). Certain people I've met really fall into this category, that is to say the category my mind brought up. These people are not necessarily control freaks in the traditional sense but one could arguably trace their dissatisfaction and frustration in life to their inability to let go.

Said group smile and laugh in agreement with things that say that "no one is normal" and "everyone is making it up as they go along". The second phrase is the one I'm most focussed on with regards to this issue. I would hope that you, dear reader, have encountered plenty of people who are not "winging it" in this way. I know I most definitely have. This isn't actually about a contrast with such folks, it's more a reference point to navigate the issue by.

The first group who like to hope that others are similarly lost are in some ways right. A great many people live this way, somewhat tragically. Many others do not though and it's not due to having easier lives or fewer responsibilities but a difference in attitude (not to be confused with Attitude!).

The others have, to a greater or lesser degree, let go. It's not that they don't have worries, concerns, and the like, it's just the way they approach life doesn't involve trying to make things perfect. Instead of trying to steer, they surf. I suppose one could even make a comparison with playing Guitar Hero. One can either embrace the music and attempt to surf the rhythm or one can insist on trying to force things to fit one's own distorted view of "how things should be". The song doesn't care either way and will blare on, it's just a matter of whether it squeals and whines or flows melodically. You know, unless it's by Rage Against The Machine song...

This isn't to say that one shouldn't try to change one's world, just that approaching it like a bratty child rarely gets good results. Moaning and stressing that things aren't going one's way is unproductive. It doesn't make anyone happy or improve anything. Having a bit of a moan from time to time is refreshing and fine, it's more when it becomes a lens through which one views the world that well-being problems start to emerge, I feel.

Perhaps it seems like coffee shop philosophy but I would prefer to label it as "accessible" if we're doing things that way.

Early 2012 was a bit of a tough time for me, emotionally. One of the advantages of that is it meant I felt justified in playing an unhealthy amount of video games.

I say “unhealthy” mainly in jest as it was more as a way to keep myself occupied while my mind slowly processed the tough things it had to adjust to. As a result I favoured nice, in-depth games. That doesn’t mean simulators that emulate their source material to a depressing degree. For me it means worlds that I could go for a journey through.

To that end I started out with Assassin’s Creed 2. I seem to recall Matt owning the first game but everything I’ve read about it tells me that it had aggravating shortcomings absent from its successor.

That killed a few days, maybe a good chunk of a week, and provided action, adventure, humour, and a fun alternate reality in which Assassins and Templars were secretly at war. Nice.

Luckily for me there were two more games to have a bash at – Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Whilst certain elements of them were a bit needless (bomb crafting, for example) they kept me engrossed for the most part.

Having become thoroughly enamoured with the series at this point I looked forward to the next addition to the series with high hopes. Sadly Assassin’s Creed 3 was impressively dull. That is to say it seemed to go out of its way to avoid being enjoyable to play. I won’t waste further words on it but for reference if featured a new protagonist and was set around the time of American independence.

Then there was Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Despite the name it’s actually the sixth game in the main series but the change may be to reflect the hasty switch to a new and more interesting lead. He’s got a Welsh accent, a troubled past, and is chums with Blackbeard.

Yeah, it’s pretty solid. It’s not as good as some of the older ones but compared to the game before it it’s a masterpiece. I doubt Ubisoft will reuse Edward Kenway but he was fun to play as and gives me hope for the next game, hopefully appearing in Q4 2014.

When it comes to minimalism there’s something that comes up again and again and it is this:

If you haven’t used it in six months/a year/other time period get rid of it.

Whilst I can appreciate the sentiment behind this I find myself wondering about it. Of course, on the one hand there’s the freedom of not having too much stuff and that’s understandable and fine.

On the other hand there’s another form of freedom – hope. This has to be sensibly tempered, of course, but one of the reasons I do not get rid of as many things as I might like is simply hope. Intending to use something for a potential task in future does tend to lead to hoarding-type behaviour. On the other hand if I don’t have access to something I can rarely afford to just repurchase it.

Take my guitar and amp. They’re currently not stored in Cambridge with me and that’s not a major issue. I’ve no intention of resuming my attempts to learn to play just yet. I would like to though but it’s something for a little way down the road.

Similarly my wargaming boards and desert mat. I love them and get a lot of use out of them but at the moment they’ve not been used in quite some time. Should I just get rid of them?

No! For one thing the mat is rarer than hens’ teeth these days and for another I realistically expect to resume using it in the foreseeable future. It sat in storage for around a decade and then saw frequent use.

I do have things that are just sentimental junk but they currently fill a small box. The plan is to cut out the desired parts, make a scrapbook, scan said scrapbook, then archive it in my family home.

The reason I’m thinking about this stuff is this article. Whilst interesting I can’t imagine stashing so many things for no good reason. I’ve got all sorts of things and hate throwing things away needlessly but I draw the line at old PCs of no value. I threw out a couple of ancient laptops feeling bad about wasting the valuable contents within but the way things are built makes repairing them a non-starter. One had a chronic over-heating issue that might be solvable but was mid-range at best in 2004. The other was better but had a toasted graphics card. Good luck there.

I’d love to reduce each hobby to a reasonably sized box. That way I could store them conveniently and withdraw them as and when desired. That’s the goal at least.

I’d love to travel with a minimalist set of gear and I’ve done it to some extent, but I also don’t want to give up on my hobbies. But those extra dishes or bookcases? Why pay to hold onto those?

Yet people pay through the nose to do precisely that. Bizarre.

Yesterday I posted an entry with quite a few embedded videos and it got me thinking about YouTube.
Whilst it’s a huge monolith of a site at the time of writing it’s worth pointing out that when this blog started it wasn’t even 18 months old. Google bought it in early October 2005.
To some people, like the kids on the Scratch forum, that’s ages ago, but from the perspective of adult me it’s not that long. Certainly it’s aeons in terms of personal development and life but in tech terms there haven’t been many other massive shifts in things (with the exception of the rise of social media and ubiquitous smart phones).
For some reason it makes me think of one of the films that came with our first DVD player – You’ve Got Mail.

I think it’s because the film shows a world of adults using technology to communicate. They’re established in their lives and are using email to converse rather than letters because email is nifty.
I’ve used YouTube to share video with people but I’ve always felt like there’s a whole community out there that I not only don’t understand but that I haven’t got the right mindset to ever be part of. For years online streaming video wasn’t really feasible on the internet connections I had and as a result I avoid using it.
I recall Remy wondering aloud why I would prefer to read a news article than watch a video on something. His dyslexia explains his preference, I imagine, but for me it’s due to multi-tasking. I don’t like doing one thing when I’m at a computer browsing the web. Streaming video can’t be multi-tasked.
I’ve probably said that before but it bears repeating. I’m only just starting to appreciate PDFs fully – that prejudice took years to get past!
What makes me a little sad is that it’s a world I’ll probably never appreciate because it’s changing all the time. Video responses are already gone, comments have changed, ratings have changed, Google Plus integration is being hammered in. Whatever once existed, the YouTube I perceived, is probably already a minor historical footnote.

Oh dear gods, the comments!

02 December 2013

My post titles are often cryptic or odd but they’re usually related in some tangential way to the contents of the entry. Yesterday’s was actually directly related for once – Chris Myles’ design work combines various bits of engineering to make functional wrist-blades.

Before I get on to that let’s ensure we’re on the same page with regards to what wrist-blades are. They’re from the game franchise Assassin’s Creed and extend without a button being pressed:

Unlike the official one sold by GameStop:

Various reviewers seem to love it but personally I think it looks awful. I would expect such a thing to be expensive but actually be good. This one isn’t too dear but it’s so half-arsed. No, thanks.

(Myles) Ammnra’s version on the other hand not only looks the part but is operated by a ring:

The second version of it included a safety mechanism operated by rotating the ring:

There’s even a “blueprint”:

He now sells a gravity fed version but it’s not quite as fun:

The point being that things are imagined and then it just takes a bit of motivation and someone makes it a reality. The availability of tools, technology, and the ability to share information makes this stuff happen.

If only one could get more people focused on solutions for a more mobile lifestyle!

I’ve been harping on about furnished and unfurnished accommodation recently and it reminds me of what I talked about in June. Space is what one makes of it.

The reason I despise divan beds (box-springs) is simple – I feel they add very little whilst making any room they’re placed in feel much smaller. Some have drawers to make up for this but in my experience those drawers are only a fraction of the actual space they take up.

This might not matter in many countries where houses are massive but in places like the UK rooms are tiny. The concept of “open plan” didn’t get much further than offices so these houses are then further segmented by superfluous walls. Hooray.

Sofas are comfy, sure, but I’ve yet to find one that does anything except sit there. It may sound silly but barely any furniture seems to be designed to actually take into account the environments they’ll mostly be part of.

With any luck better access to engineering software will help with this over time. Clever solutions are there to be found if we can ensure the tools to find them are in the right hands. I would also hope that the market for these sorts of things will grow given the fairly large shift in lifestyle for my generation.

By that I mean that we need to be able to move in order to find work. It’s hard to pack up traditionally bulky furniture. Flat-pack helps but it doesn’t factor in weight. Have you tried lifting a flatpacked bookcase? Ouch. That’s why I sold them.

…and perhaps a little-

30 November 2013

As I mentioned the other day some furniture is required for our new flat.

Rolling up to Ikea with a van full of possessions with an hour before closing was actually not that stressful. Hotdogs and gingerbread milkshake helped, admittedly. Mmmm, healthy.

The main thing we were looking for was a bed and mattress. Very grown up (the amount of time we spent looking at the children’s section notwithstanding).

What surprised me both there and at other places I’ve seen selling these things is the sheer cost for some of them. I can understand spending more on a mattress, certainly, but the bed itself?

Why would anyone spend £800 on a bedframe? What does it achieve that a normal bed doesn’t? Amusingly I would imagine our bedframe will actually hold its value but such bizarre follies aren’t worth that new, let alone second hand.

I think about it in the amount of time one is affected by the piece of a furniture. A suitable mattress makes a lot of difference but the bedframe is only relevant whilst awake. Even then, is it the best part of a thousand pounds relevant?

I’d understand if it was an exquisite four-poster carved from some expensive wood but this was just a fairly ordinary looking metal bed in a shop window. I could see someone paying a quarter of that, sure. It looked sturdy and had good handholds and mounting points, but £800?

On the one hand I feel like an adult when I think about storage needs (ugh, divan beds still exist – why?), cost/benefit, and similar. On the other I feel like I’m some how not part of adult society by the fact that I question the acceptance of such bizarre behaviour.

I’d rather take that remaining money and spend it on a better office chair, some nice lighting, a new set of cookware, a small sofa, and various other things. For that kind of money I could refit most of the dwelling!

So apparently I actually can drive a van.

There were some initial problems – like the fact that the handbrake goes down reeeeally far and neglecting to ensure it’s hit the floor activates a constant warning chime as soon as one drives over a certain speed. The speed thing confused me though – why can I drive in first gear with the handbrake on without a warning?

Needless to say that was somewhat stressful in rush-hour traffic in Cambridge. That and the fact that the sign in front of the gates made turning a rather scary affair when one isn’t yet certain of the turning circle of the vehicle.

A few niggles aside though it’s actually really easy. Far easier than the automatic Toyota Hilux I did some of the driving with when I moved down from Scotland.

The amount of control one has with a manual transmission makes life much easier driving in the UK. In other countries where it’s more a matter of distance than precision I suppose automatic prevails. In the UK though I feel like I’m driving with metaphorical mittens on when using an automatic transmission.

Hiring a van was a bit strange. Not in terms of an uncomfortable experience but in how much of an adult thing it is to do. It’s not often that I do things that make me feel grown-up so it’s somewhat of a novelty when one comes up.

Driving a car regularly though? I can barely imagine that kind of life. Then again, why would I want to? I should probably see if I can remember how to cycle though. Ye gods, it’s like Holland in Cambridge. My other half was constantly on cyclist duty – I didn’t want to be one of those van drivers who hits folks on bikes although having driven one I can see why it happens.

Today could have gone better.

On Monday I booked a van with Hertz. One way from Cardiff to Cambridge, picking it up on Saturday morning and dropping it off on Monday morning. I paid my £75 deposit and gave it no more thought.

Today at 1400 my phone rang. It was my local Hertz place. Their system had screwed up and they didn’t have a van for me at all. I’d be refunded but nothing more.

Helpful. As I’m sure you can guess, dear reader, trying to find a one-way van on Thursday afternoon for that weekend is not in anyway like emptying a lake with a sieve.

Hertz did offer (via Twitter) to reimburse me the difference if I do get a van so with any luck later I’ll be able to get them to cough up. In the meantime it’s looking like I’ll be catching a train to Cambridge tomorrow, fetching a van, driving to Cardiff, sleeping, packing up the flat, then driving back to Cambridge. Fun.

Oh there’s also parking and finding out if I can actually drive a van!

I’ve never stayed in unfurnished accommodation before. It’s not that I’m opposed to it, it’s simply that during my time as an adult I’ve not been offered anywhere that wasn’t loaded to the nines with piles of vaguely suitable furniture.

So here in Cambridge we have our first place that’s utterly bare.

I actually really like it. Certainly it means a few things have to be acquired but it’s up to us where they go, if they stay, and how we treat them.

Personally I love the fact that the flat feels so much more spacious. Other places I’ve lived are full of cruft that sprawls and limits the available room to stupid levels. The novelty of having a whole room that can be configured as anything from a dining room to a TV studio is wonderful!

Today’s You and Yours dealt with the role of the undergraduate degree in the UK, primarily from an employment standpoint. That’s all well and good (or isn’t, as increasingly seems to be the case) but there was an argument raised and then dismissed somewhat that bears repeating.

One speaker talked about the way in which a university education broadens horizons and allows space to grow as a person. A little later a man in his late sixties poured scorn on the notion. Way to fight stereotypes, eh?

I certainly see the value in taking more vocational degrees but I also feel that to overlook universities’ role in shaping young adults does our society a disservice. The older gentleman’s generation had a lot more autonomy from a much younger age – mine don’t feel qualified to call ourselves adults without smirking until we’re well into our 30s. That isn’t actually a complaint – previous generations had a tough time and I’ve no desire to experience what they had to endure.

It’s an important point though – at the point of joining university we’re still teenagers. We’ve been railroaded into higher education and expected to make big decisions about our futures without any real grasp of what is out there.

Having the space to find our passions is really helpful in creating a better society, I feel. Surely it’s better to have graduates enthused about things and ready to push things forward than more worker bees competing for an ever-dwindling number of jobs?

By that I mean that what we need to create further employment is a combination of visionaries and those who can make it happen. If there’s no room for our young people to find their way to such things then progress feels unlikely.

At the moment it feels like we’re somewhere between the two. Encouraging young people to go to university but then not getting them to explore and learn was a big problem, at least at my uni. We don’t exactly have much of a culture of participation and so when given the time and space to explore the result is mostly a sad trombone.

Well, I did my bit to help that at least. It’s someone else’s turn now.

Sometimes I play a game and find it infuriatingly easy to grasp. It might seem strange but most games that are easy to pick up and play act as if the player is mentally incapable of putting on their own shoes. Assassin’s Creed 3 was basically one long tutorial, for example. Here’s an open world – do precisely these things in it. Clashes somewhat with the whole sandbox thing, really!

On the other hand there are games that are truly baffling. Final Fantasy VIII is probably quite easy to understand the mechanics of as long as someone else explains it. The game manages to repurpose words, mangle ideas, and generally play havoc with intuitiveness. Of course it’s far from the worst but it’s one I’ve actually played more than an hour of.

Last night I played a game that found the right middle ground and made me laugh while it did it. Gunpoint.

It was one of those “Where did the last couple of hours go?” type games. It’s been a while since I played one of those!

I bought it for a pittance on the Humble Store. Steam redeemable and I was able to pay with USD rather than leather-bound pounds. Not bad!

(Of course it’s also available from the developer’s site.)

I’ll leave you with (my) Conway’s final blog entry:

A case of crossed wires

17 dead. 16 injured. 20 jobs. $13,000. I've had better weeks.

They don't let me name names on this blog, but the person behind the hit I was investigating is probably being picked up by the East Point police about now.

I, er, may have killed more people than I actually avenged here.

The trigger man's dead. That would have felt good if I hadn't just taken a seven story body slam.

I don't know.

I guess I picked the least shitty of two incredibly shitty sides.

Maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe all that matters is that I now have the ability to kick down doors.

Either way, I think I need 10ccs of ketamine and a Columbo marathon.

Cornelius? Rupert? Travis?

24 November 2013

Way back in April I talked about titles and self-identification. It was essentially a lengthy post in which I talked about modesty, self-promotion, and my own insecurities surrounding the subject.

2013-05-24 16.44.17Since then I’ve accomplished a few things. I’ve created (and sold) enough things to consider myself a sculptor. Perhaps not a great sculptor, and I do keep trying to spell it with an E rather than an O, but I think it’s now beyond doubt.

Furthermore I’m now less than twenty posts away from completing my blogging challenge. I’ve written a post for each day of 2013 so far. As such I think I can call myself a blogger without feeling like a pretender now.

Then there’s film stuff. There was something wonderful in an episode of Indy Mogul that I’d like to share (at 6 min 30 seconds):

In which case I think I can safely say that I’m a filmmaker, and a podcaster.

That makes me happy. I’ll be happier once I get my mixer back though…

Back to the shed with you.

23 November 2013

Now that the big three have released their new consoles we’re kinda done with truly new hardware for the next five to ten years.

I know this because I’m capable of coherent thought, like the rest of you.

Apparently that’s not the case if BBC comments are anything to go by:



Of course he could be talking about revisions of the consoles, but given that he accepted my eight year comment I get the feeling that it’s more a matter of ignorance and bloody-mindedness.

There’s also the matter of the Steambox but I get the feeling that it’s not really a direct competitor to those and wouldn’t be the sort of thing to arrive as a Christmas present.

What aggravates me most about this is the idiocy behind the comments. Why would a business compete with itself?

The eight year length of the previous generation suggests that the lifetime of the hardware is more than a year. The fact that the launch is big enough to get coverage on the BBC should be enough of a clue to indicate that these are uncommon events.

Apparently that can be disregarded though because of these damn kids and their gadgets.

As per usual I’m a bit paranoid about repeating myself but today I’d like to talk about university as an abstract concept before I experienced it and the reality that I discovered.

My first understanding of what university might be comes from a folder my father owned. He was an art lecturer at Trinity College, Carmarthen in the early eighties, if I’ve understood things correctly. I believe he also did a spot of teaching up in Scotland but I’m a bit more hazy on the details.

The folder, well, ring binder, presumably belonged to one of his students. The interior was covered in scribbles and conversations and painted a picture of how students behaved at the time. I don’t recall it being particularly offensive or obscene, although it did have a few bits that made me cringe. All in all though it was surprisingly innocent.

What made me a little sad is that there’s virtually no way for me to see what life was like back then. I’m interested in that world, even if I have no desire to live in it. Wanting to avoid that I decided to do things differently during my own time at university.

As a result I have an extensive series of videos that catalogue what we went through. It shows the environments, how people talked, entertainment, clubbing, music, drinking, studying, and so on. Certainly the presenting wasn’t great (although it improved), but I could see myself putting together some sort of montage of what university was like using the old NSS material as a main source.

I don’t long to be back there, as fun as it was there’s plenty of things I don’t miss about that time. I’m very glad I documented it though – it was an interesting time in my life and makes for a wonderful highlight reel.

I want to say “tennis”.

21 November 2013

Today’s You and Yours had a little throwaway comment that really aggravated me. In reference to people buying the PS4 and Xbox One Winifred Robinson said the following:

It’s twenty-nine minutes to one; stay with us to meet the grown men who have taken time off work to play on the new Xbox One and Playstation 4. I know, I know…


In fact, it upset me enough that for the first time I lodged a complaint with the BBC. I’m a grown-up now!

Here’s the main body of the complaint:

This was presumably meant as light-hearted fun but I am sure I'm not alone in taking offence at such remarks. Literature, film, and sports enthusiasts are shown plenty of respect but newer mediums such as video games are the subject of snide elitism.

I may think Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge is utter dross but I don't dismiss and mock those who enjoy theatre.

Poking fun at the players for taking excessive time off work (two weeks in one case!) is fair game. Patronising sentiments are over the line. If those spoken to had taken the time off work to attend a book festival or take part in a sports tournament it wouldn't be reasonable to mock them. Why are video games felt to be an acceptable target?

Video games are not just for children. Statistics show that most players are in fact adults. When I was a teenager I expected this idiotic stigma to have dissipated by the time I was in my late twenties. Apparently that's still not the case and I'm disappointed in the BBC's attitude.

Hopefully that’s suitable. If UUPC treat games badly that’s one thing, the BBC on the other hand has no right to act like this.

If you’re interested in the segment she was referring to you can find it here.

Today I received an email that really brightened my day. It was a notification that a file had been shared with me. Now I’m going to share it with you:

WD’s Minecraft server backup, December 2012

It was my understanding that it was gone but apparently that’s not the case.

Perhaps it’s not of interest to more than a couple of people but this cheered me up immensely. It’s a world that has existed since its humble beginnings on a spare old Shuttle machine in my bedroom at Dalry Gait.

With any luck I’ll be able to put it back online at some point but for the moment it’s just single-player.

It features the incomplete Nether rail system, a somewhat clogged Grand Central Station, and lacks WorldEdit. That said, feel free to grab it and have fun with it!

I currently shoot video with a Panasonic SDT750. It has the option of a 3D lens but honestly I didn’t buy it for 3D. I picked it up because it’s a pretty good 2D camera.

That said, from watching Indy Mogul, it seems that DSLRs are the new de facto standard when it comes to video work.

As nifty as that is, it doesn’t really help me at the moment. On the plus side it also doesn’t hinder me.

I no longer need to worry about putting together a 35mm adapter. These things were all the rage a few years ago – essentially making camera lenses compatible with camcorders. They were expensive or could be built with a lot of frustration and stubbornness.

Instead I can focus on putting a suitable DSLR on my wishlist. I’m in no hurry to get one but it’s nice to know what the next, significant, step will be. As I said yesterday, I’m not interested in having the best gear, I’m interested in the best compromise.

What that means is that an incremental upgrade would be a better shotgun mic. Would it actually be particularly useful? Maybe. Would it help me do anything significantly better? Probably not.

Rode VideoMicI used to run with a RØDE VideoMic and it was really not that much of an improvement over my trusty ATR55. In fact, I prefer my older mic because it works well at concerts. The VideoMic’s audio ended up utterly unusable whereas the levels from the ATR55 was perfect!ATR55

Here’s some video (low res sadly) shot with it, from six years ago:

Yes, it’s imperfect, but the environment should be borne in mind. It was shot in a stone-walled cellar with a small crowd.

Here’s one of the songs from it, Captain Magenta - Star

If I’d had a better microphone it might have turned out marginally better but I reckon the limiting factor was my own skill. These days I would hook up a recorder to the PA feed as well but in those days I didn’t know to do that.

Similarly at the moment any video work I do is hindered more by me than my gear. It does encourage me to try to get better though, knowing that there’s more than an incremental step ahead of me.

Yesterday I talked about Indy Mogul, or at least how it used to be. I’m not sure whether I like that it has become something else, but there’s more useful stuff coming out of it these days, even if it isn’t as quirky.

From what I can tell there’s no main website any more and it’s just two guys – Griffin Hammond and Russell Hasenauer. It does seem that they’re doing some cool (and perhaps more importantly), useful stuff.

Here’s something from Griffin:

To me that’s one hell of a build. I will have to give it a shot myself as I’ve only got work lights (and not enough of those). They take vast amounts of juice and heat the place up to the point where one actually needs over mitts to adjust things. Safe!

Then there’s Russell:

How’s that for handy stuff?

The world of photography is a poisoned well for me and so finding friendly and approachable information really helps. Other sources seem to focus on things I not only don’t understand but also find to be barely relevant when explained. I’m not interested in having the best gear, I’m interested in the best compromise. What are the chances that the extra hundreds (or even thousands) of pounds on lenses will make me a better film maker?

Better to focus on the few lenses I’m likely to need and use before worrying about processed silicon oxide with ideas above its station.

There’s also the fact that Griffin is making a documentary and doing a variety of interesting videos surrounding that, such as this one:

To me that’s both fun to watch and actively useful. It’s good to know that I was on the right track in the old days!

Anyway, it seems that whilst Indy Mogul isn’t what it once was what it is now rocks too.

I used to watch Indy Mogul and whilst it was fun it was rarely actually useful. The problem was that the audience kept requesting things that were, in all honesty, pretty useless.

To explain this a little further there was a running joke that eventually they’d do MJOLNIR armour from the Halo series, as it was requested so often:

Think about this – what kind of films would that build be useful in for a bunch of kids in their early teens?

Infuriating requests aside I did find the host, Eric Beck, rather charming. Something they did do for a while was “Four Minute Film School”, a segment that wasn’t as endearing but ended up significantly more helpful:

Tomorrow I’ll go into why I’m bringing this up.

I’m not entirely sure whether it was through emailing the managing director or just the usual procedure but I received a rather apologetic phone call today.

Here’s a little background on what happened.

Annoyingly making a complaint to Apple seems to be intentionally difficult. However it does seem I got through some how.

I do feel a little bad in that it seems from the very vague and generic description I used the chap I spoke to was identified. I didn’t mean to get the individual into trouble, it was more about the overall attitude of the store. It does at least seem it wasn’t undeserved but still, my intention was more towards all staff.

What I did learn is that the staff member was in fact wrong. From the time of the announcement the store was expected to have the new hardware on the floor within 48 hours. So the machines there were the new ones, he should have known that, and could have just said “Yep! Shiny, right?”

This blog post isn’t so much to set the record straight as to underline that one should stick to one’s guns. Hold places to account and make them treat you better (unless they’re run by Bernard Black), within reason.

At least the chap on the phone was helpful, patient, and courteous. I wasn’t expecting false joviality or upselling and thankfully that’s not what I got. I’m already fairly sure of what I want, just don’t talk yourself out of a sale!

Schmosby out.

15 November 2013

Minor gripe – How I Met Your Mother.

Aside from the fact that it’s been dragged out nearly as badly as Prison Break I’m really not enjoying the way this final series feels like one long bottle episode.

That and the fact that it has become a huge caricature of itself.

Continuing yesterday’s post about tech specs and the problems choosing between Mac Book Pros is causing me, I’d like to talk a little about processors.

As I’ve mentioned before Chris didn’t seem to have any trouble editing 1080p footage on his Core 2 Duo MBP in 2009. Not the most amazing processor in the world but certainly a solid one in its day and apparently better than the quad-core Phenom II 9500 I currently employ.

Clearly a dual core machine is more than up to the task. A quad-core would be nice though and let’s be fair, who uses a dual core these days?


Well the 13” late 2013 MacBook Pros are only dual core.

Part of me keeps wondering if that’s going to be enough for what I’ll be asking of the machine. If I want anything better though that means switching to the vast and unwieldy 15” MBPs. Would that be worth the extra bit of processing power?

Regardless of all that there’s the issue of Intel Quick Sync. It’s basically a hardware encoder as part of the processor. That’s awesome, obviously, but can it be used with Final Cut Pro X?

It seems that only Quicktime X supports it on OSX – but does Quicktime form part of the backbone of Final Cut Pro X?

Either way it seems like the most efficient way to encode things and that’s of considerable interest to me. I’ve got vast volumes of stuff I’d like to push over to H264 if I only had a quick way of doing so.

The question then is whether Intel Quick Sync would limit the usefulness of a high end processor and therefore make a quad-core a needless power suck?

Then there’s the fact that by the time I’ve figured this lot out the new ones will be released!

I’m really having a hard time deciding between different models of MacBook Pros. It’s not just a conflict of options but between different facets of my personality.

On the one side there’s the part of me that has been looking at tech specs since he was a teenager. The numbers matter and the notion of paying more for less is difficult for him to deal with.

For the same price one could get a Windows-based laptop with far superior hardware. It could play games and stuff!

Then there’s the other bit of me that clears its throat and points out that such hardware fails quickly, overheats, and generally can’t realistically be used for any sort of heavy gaming. A desktop is suitable for gaming, a console is good too, but a laptop just cooks itself.

It’s interested in an appliance that can be relied on. It wants to do video work and needs a nice environment for that. It’s interested in finding the best compromise in terms of form factor, battery life, and speed.

At this point I should perhaps point out that the 13” late 2013 MBPs have Intel Iris graphics cards. The 15” ones have Intel Iris Pro, or NVIDIA GeForce GT 750Ms.

Now given the additional power requirements I clearly don’t want a dedicated NVIDIA card. It’d be great for gaming but as that isn’t the machine’s primary purpose I think we can sensibly take that off the table.

That leaves a choice between Intel Iris (5100) or Intel Iris Pro (5200). That’d be easy normally but unfortunately the Iris Pro is actually… uh… not that bad. It’s pretty good in fact. From what I can see it’s actually about on par with the graphics card in my current desktop (a GeForce GTX 260).

The Intel Iris GPU on the other hand is only about 40% weaker – but how much of an issue would that be on a machine not for gaming? Furthermore how would it compare when teamed with an i7 processor? (an optional upgrade)

Next we must factor in the screen resolution that these would be played on. Unlike my desktop the effective resolution of a 13” MBP is either 2560*1600 or 1280*800 while the 15” sits at 2880*1800 or 1440*900.

The reason for multiple resolutions is Apple’s “Retina” displays. Basically they render in an effective resolution of 1440*900 but each pixel is actually four pixels. Either way rendering at the lower resolution should look fine when gaming – providing either ~50% or ~63% fewer pixels than my display.

So even though the GPU would be weaker on the 13” MBP the processor would be better and the screen smaller (and thus asking less of the GPU). Tempting…

Perhaps this helps illustrate the conflict it generates in me!

Ew. Muddy.

12 November 2013

There’s just over a month of posts left and I’m running out of steam.

It’s not that I don’t want to write it’s simply a matter of content. I’m really struggling to come up with enough things to talk about each day. The writing part is relatively easy but the inspiration is proving to be a stumbling block.

Due to both time and hardware problems I’ve put the recordings on hold, as you may have noticed. I may well revive them later but for the moment they can wait.

I’m going to fight on as best I can but it does seem to be an uphill battle. As it’s mid November I don’t feel too bad about it though – it was an ambitious project after all.

It didn’t take long to finish the latest Pratchett book, Raising Steam.

This time around I read the newest Discworld book on a Kindle, a first for me. Aside from the fact that seeing the percentage completion created a sense of progression there was the fact that it allowed me to avoid a problem I always have.

I do not like hardback books.

They’re heavy, the covers get scuffed, and they’re awkward to read in the bath. Transporting them is a nightmare and they don’t fit nicely on the shelf.

Of course Discworld books are always released as hardbacks first. I try to restrain myself but nearly every time I end up buying the books as hardcover. Later I sell them and buy a paperback copy but it’s so much damn hassle.

This time around I downloaded an ebook to avoid the problem. When the paperback becomes available I’ll pick that up and add it to my collection. It’s not a perfect solution though – hardbacks sell for a bit more and so I’m not giving the author the full price. Whilst Mr. Pratchett is hardly strapped for cash it does feel a bit rude!

A compromise for me would be paying full price and getting the ebook and paperback as part of that. Sure, the paperback wouldn’t arrive until six months later but it would at least mean all parties getting a fair deal.

I’m not really one for collecting books. I own plenty from growing up but as an adult it’s rare for me to acquire new literature. The Discworld ones are an exception though. They have their own shelves in my childhood home. The only hardbacks I tolerate there are the ones featuring large amounts of artwork.

That reminds me – I need to draw up a list of which books I’m now missing!

I’m not entirely sure how to feel about Raising Steam. On the one hand it’s miles better than the rather stodgy Snuff. On the other it seems a bit off in other ways.

Firstly there’s the timescale of the story. It seems like months and years pass in a few page turns at times, something that’s pretty unusual for the relatively compact timeframes usually employed. It some how feels like large swathes of content are being missed out on – a sketchy narrative rather than the usual oil painting.

Then there’s the progression of technology. I love the industrial revolution series featuring the loveable scoundrel Mr. Lipwig, but this one almost pushes things too far. It feels like the Disc has stepped from a fantasy setting to an early modern one. Some how that loses some of the delightfulness of the world.

What I can say at least is that the number of characters that get in on the story is rather fun. The Witches only get a passing mention and Rincewind only appears as a footnote, but they’re not forgotten entirely.

If this was the last book in the series I don’t think it’d be the end of the world. I hope it isn’t, but it’s certainly better and more unifying than its predecessor.

I’m left wondering whether the The Watch TV series is actually happening or not. I think it could be rather fun, assuming it’s put together with care. Care and trolls.

Letting agents baffle me.

It’s currently 2013, at least for a little bit longer, and yet this sort of thing is the norm:


Now it’s not quite that bad. The picture is displayed as 710x473 and so (cropped to fit this blog’s layout) is this size:HRT042400292_04-cropped

I don’t know about you but that’s merely okay. Amateurish, really. We could be seeing much bigger images but apparently that’s too much to ask.

In fact, in putting together this post I found that the image is actually 2160x1440! There’s just no way to reach the high res image on their website!

Full size that’d be this big (again, cropped):HRT042400292_04-full-size

It has apparently become so ingrained in the industry as to be standard practice. Reasonable high resolution images are squished down (in HTML no less) to unresizable small things. Daft.

Even worse, the “video” they provide is actually just a slideshow of the same images!

My exasperation stems from the fact that these companies charge both landlords and tenants through the nose whilst providing the most meagre service possible. Is it too much to ask someone to wander through the place with a modern phone and shoot some HD video of the place?

Apparently, at least for now, it is.

Despite the popularity of the internet I’ve yet to encounter a bank in the UK that doesn’t handle the whole affair terribly. Things have much improved since my first attempts to use such services many years in the past but that only serves to illustrate how truly dreadful they used to be.

For example, I needed to look up six months of bank statements and output them as a PDF. No problem, thought I, having been told it should be easy by in-branch staff.


The service, despite having the records, refuses to output more than three months of data at any one time. Furthermore the print function needs to be used separately for each page of data.

The end result was six PDFs which I then stitched together using PDF Split and Merge.

Firstly – why does their print function behave that way?

Secondly – it’s bloody text data, I’ve already cleared security, and it’s my own damn accounts – why only three months?!

It’s truly infuriating when I’m trying to update my personal accounts and frankly baffles me. Why is this still so damn difficult?

Today’s grip comes to you courtesy of Belkin.

A while ago I bought a Belkin TuneStudio. It worked wonderfully and I was very happy with it.

This morning I tried to turn it on to be greeted with nothing.

A couple of hours on the phone with Belkin resulted in them offering another product worth what I paid for the device (£37.50). Given that they list it on their site for $250 (and claim that’s the reduced price) I feel that was more than a bit stingy.

It’s not about the money though – it’s about a mixer. They don’t make mixers any more and so feel that despite being within warranty they’re well within their rights to tell me where to stick it.

Unsurprisingly I’m not okay with that. I need a mixer, not a set of speakers. It doesn’t have to be the same one, but it needs to have most of the features – notably the USB interface and multiple XLR inputs.

As it happens Alesis do one for £59. It doesn’t have the iPod interface but that’s fine with me.

Of course it’s not made by Belkin so they don’t offer it as a replacement. Personally I don’t see why that’s my problem. They sold me a mixer and promised it would work. Seven months later it’s broken and they’re acting as if that’s something I should just accept.

Phoning them results in various reps telling me about “their system” and how they do things. I don’t expect my customers to care about which software I edit in when my levels are messed up. People ordering from Fox Box don’t get a lecture about how I can’t refund them if they paid in cash. I do what I have to in order to make things right – how I go about it isn’t their concern.

Similarly I don’t see why their system is something I should care about.

Anyway, the plan now is to package it up and post it to head office. I’ve got enough semi-functional Belkin junk cluttering up my life. They can take back their sloppy work.

I’m truly sick of big companies feeling like they can just fob their customers off and hide behind their own bureaucracies. Time to make them answer for their false promises.

Watching The Sopranos may not be the best way to get the measure of Italian-American culture but it was the starting point. It got me thinking about the other Italians I’ve had contact with.

It seems both they, and actual real Italian-Americans consider themselves Italian, even many, many generations later. At this point I find myself thinking about a somewhat inelegant quote from Tyler Durden.

Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.

It seems many of them cease to be Italian and become Americans with Italian roots. That was rather the point of US immigration policy in the past, I thought.

Personally I hold citizenship in both my home countries and so feel quite justified in calling myself both. Speaking the language and retaining significant family ties helps as well, culturally, but over the course of several generations that becomes somewhat tenuous. First generation, obviously, second too (depending on circumstances), but by the time we’re getting into third and fourth do they really have any appreciation for where their family lived long ago?

This isn’t supposed to be a criticism of embracing cultural/ancestral roots, or a slight against Italian-Americans. It’s more a commentary on human nature and the way we tend to dive into nostalgia and familiarity when faced with new and strange circumstances.

That and it reminds me of this Mitchell and Webb sketch:

There’s not many films I can stand to rewatch more than a couple of times. Appropriately I watched V for Vendetta again today.

It’s still powerful, it still moves me to tears, and I still love it. Wow.

There’s not much more to say on the subject than that, really. Oh, except the fact that I look rather creepy in a V mask:


I don’t really like going into shops if I’m actually after something specific unless I know I can find it myself.

Sooner or later it involves dealing with a member of the shop’s staff. Whilst in their spare time they may well be lovely people when on duty most of them seem to become downtrodden cogs. In some this manifests as weary misery whilst in others it becomes more adversarial.

I know that it’s tough being them and I don’t like to bother them if I can avoid it. In most cases I don’t need them to do more than put my goods in a bag and hand me a receipt, in all honesty.

Sometimes though, just occasionally, I have questions. I try my best to know what I’m talking about before inconveniencing them to minimise the cringe factor for all involved. Regardless of this there are occasions where it’s unavoidable.

Today was one of those days.

As regular readers may know I’ve been doing my best to move back into video. To do that I need some good tools and whilst I’m very pleased with my camera my desktop leaves a lot to be desired in that arena. It was a pain to edit on in 2009 and it has only got worse in the intervening years.

Before I jump in I want to get a feel for what I’m getting. I want to take a bit of a look at some actual MacBook Pros in various sizes and configurations and determine what suits me.

What should also be pointed out is that this will be a work machine for several years. I’m not going to be able to just replace it on a whim so I want as much bang for my buck as possible.

Around the 22nd October Apple announced the new versions of their MBPs (I’m sick of typing out “MacBook Pro”. The initialism looks daft but it’ll have to do). A few days later there were reviews and by now it’s my understanding that they’re out there in the world.

Are the ones in the Apple store up to date? From what I could tell, they weren’t but I wasn’t sure. I tried to ask a member of staff but he was curt and dismissive. It seems I was wasting his valuable time as a mere potential customer.

Given how hard Apple make it to complain I wanted to have a moan somewhere.

Apple Store Cardiff – you were rude and disappointing.

I’ve probably bought a copy of Linux Format at some point – no, I’m certain I have. It came with a copy of Slackware (that I couldn’t get anywhere with) and had a feature on Ruby On Rails.

It seemed like a solid magazine and I was impressed with its professionalism. It seems until recently they had a podcast called TuxRadar. I’ve never listened to it but apparently it was good.

There’s the backstory to this.

More recently I discovered Linux Lifestyle. From what I’ve surmised it’s basically TuxRadar without Linux Format. I’ve not discovered what exactly happened to cause the departure of the writers/podcasters but I imagine it’ll become clear in time.

It’s no Lugradio but it’s a hell of a lot better than the Ubuntu UK Podcast. There’s none of Tony Whitmore’s mood killing as soon as games are mentioned for a start.

I’m just going to take a moment to have a proper moan about this. I mentioned it back in September but the episodes since have really driven it home. As soon as games get mentioned on UUPC all the cheeriness drains from the recording and it becomes apologetic and awkward. From what I’ve understood Tony really doesn’t like games (but is really keen on Doctor Who). Personally I don’t care about half the stuff discussed but I still enjoy it due to the enthusiasm the hosts bring. As soon as it’s something I care about they’re not willing to make the effort.

The video game industry is bigger than the movie industry, or the music industry. The role it plays in the future of Linux is not non-trivial and it aggravates me no end to hear it treated like it’s just something for lesser geeks. If it hadn’t been for games lots of us would never have put the time into learning about bloody computers.

I’m sure Tony’s a top bloke but his pet peeve is making his role on the show my pet peeve. If you can’t bear to talk about it, step out of the room and let the other hosts run with it.

Right, back to the original subject – Linux Lifestyle!

At the time of writing there’s only a few episodes but they’re good enough that I wish they were twice as long. Give ‘em a listen!

So much dust!

02 November 2013

My phone is finally starting to give up. I had to open it up and repair it the other day after the home button decided to opt for early retirement.

Fixing that was surprisingly easy, it’s the other issues that are a bit more stubborn.

Firstly, my phone is convinced that headphones are plugged in.

This doesn’t appear to be a hardware problem. Cleaning the jack hasn’t helped. In fact, plugging actual headphones in registers and changes the volume settings as per usual. Apparently my phone thinks it has multiple nested pairs of headphones plugged in. Great.

Perhaps upgrading its firmware is the solution. I’d give it a go but iTunes has long since given up allowing me to backup the device. It gives the following, ever so helpful, error:itunes-failing-to-backup

iTunes could not back up the iPhone “Flamekebab” because an error occurred.


No error code? Nothing?

I don’t particularly want to wipe my phone, thanks. I’ve got data there from my 2007 iPhone! I’m rather attached to it, in fact.

If I can get Santoku to actually boot then perhaps I can scrape that data off without too much trouble but it’s pretty aggravating that I have to resort to third party tools.

I really hope I can back it up as I think it could be rather fun to run iOS 6 on such an old device. It doesn’t have all the new bells and whistles but it would at least mean I could run some modern apps.

iOS 7 on the other hand… Yuck. I still love skeuomorphism. In time my tastes may change but for the moment I’m loathe to leave it behind.

I can’t help but feel I’ve written this post before. My apologies if I’m repeating myself.

Occasionally my mental gearbox slips into the right gear to think about game design whilst simultaneously in the creative lane. I’m abandoning this metaphor at this point, I hope you’re okay with that.

During one of the many periods of wasted time when I was in the Netherlands I got to thinking about the designs for one of my games. I have various things in progress, my QR code battler being the furthest along. It’s currently stalled until inspiration strikes me for move sets but this one has been at the concept stage for the longest time.

That evening it finally took a step forward from there into the basic mechanics stage.

The more I read and learn the better equipped I find myself for tearing down games to their core gameplay elements and this is at last paying off. I was able to look at my concept and break it into three stages of play and then look into what each stage would involve. Perhaps this doesn’t sound all that impressive but for me it’s huge. Figuring out how an individual bit works isn’t all that hard but getting a feeling for the overall puzzle it fits into takes me a while.

For my current concept the pieces are starting to fall into place. It’s going to take some time and a lot more in the way of scribbled notebook pages but it’s at last more than an imagined isometric masterpiece.

The thing that helped most in all this was MIT OpenCourseWare’s Game Design course. The recordings aren’t great but the content’s good. Trying to think about my game concept as a board game was surprisingly helpful.

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 Beyoncé 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.


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?