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.