Wednesday, November 30, 2005
After dropping Alicia off at school, I usually have half an hour or so to do a bit of housework before starting work, so this morning I got stuck into cleaning out the fridge. I have been meaning to do this for ages but I have been lacking the necessary circular tuit. I through out all of the half empty jars that we were supposed to eat within four weeks and some of the mankier contents of the veg drawer, and then gave the interior a good clean in readiness for stocking up for yule.
Work today was mostly taken up with getting to grips with the totally counter intuitive report writer that comes with our purchase ordering system. My pointy haired boss wanted a report of the the authoriztion matrix so she could check everything that had been set up. The sql code for the query was tricky enough – a three way outer join to link the main table to the approver names table for each of the authorization levels – but then the challenge was to find out how to insert the new columns into the existing report layout. Cut and paste an existing field and change the properties? No. Clicking (both right and left) and looking for some sort of insert field option? No way, jose. File, Insert? Naah! The fields were actually hidden in an unlabelled drop down box in the status bar. Say what?
It was then time to pick Jamie up from school, and I kicked my heels for ten minutes before going to find him. He eventually sauntered out of the gates, covered from head to toe with mud and looking like a refugee from the Somme. I sent him back in to wash his hands, and then when we got home we went in the back door so I could get his clothes straight into the wash.
A bit more work, a walk with the dog, and then fish and chips for tea – yaybo! I finished off Call of Cthulhu at last, so I can play Animal Crossing next week with a clear conscience. I had thought about buying xbox360, and in fact put in a pre-order back in the summer, but I ended up cancelling it. I think I’m going to wait and see what the Nintendo Revolution is like. If the DS is anything to go by, then there is a good chance that we will see the most interesting games in that format, rather than just endless driving, shooting and sports games which is all there seems to be on the 360 at the moment. The next Zelda game is supposedly still due on Gamecube, although it would seem to make more commercial sense to make it a Revolution launch title.
“Now … at my end … I can fully see. My last case opened in me a new fear … a real fear … a fear of myself, of what I am … and of what I have always been. All that I was, is now lost.”
After a flipping difficult level with hordes of deep ones, a deep fried mother hydra, a gong that deafened me (with a pretty good simulation of tinnitus) and a final nerve jangling escape through collapsing tunnels I found myself back in the asylum where I started the game. After a epilogue that showed me just how insignificant I was in the face of cosmic madness, I ended my life with a ligature. Utterly fantastic, utterly gripping and utterly recommended.
“Hope? Purpose? Pleasure? All meaningless. I now walk in the shadows between worlds … and it is there I have finally glimpsed upon what lives in the dark corners of the earth …”
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I love my little mp3 player. I’ve taken to loading it up with a random selection of songs and putting it on shuffle play whilst I’m out on my walks with the dog. Tonight I’ve been treated to Dubstar, Bjork (something off the Medulla album, I think), Led Zep and Beware of the Flowers by John Otway to finish on. I certainly wasn’t singing it when I was bringing the bin in and anybody who says I was is lying.
Secondly, Tescos at Dudley were being their usual rubbish selves when it came to selecting my lunchtime sarnie. No cheese and tomato for the umpteenth time, and the only thing that was remotely appetising was a monstrous concoction known as a Ploughman’s Wedge, presumably because it was big enough for him to use to prop barn doors open with.
Finally, the snow in the midlands had cleared enough so that the roads were clear, but the fields to the side of the motorway were a brilliant white under crisp blue skies this morning. I was expecting a slow journey, but it wasn’t too bad – a touch under two and a half hours in the morning and about the same coming home tonight.
Right, time for some Mario Kart DS methinks – anybody online?
Monday, November 28, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Fencing workshop today, and it seemed an awfully long time since the last one (actually only six weeks, but tempus fugit as they say). The hall was freezing, and it took us a while to get warmed up both mentally and physically, but after that it was a most productive day.
Lots of work on second and third intention attacks, and inviting an attack by leaving an opening to tempt your opponent into a rash move. The ultimate test of this was to do the defence blindfolded (or in my case with a bag over my mask) and when the parry actually connected, most satisfying it was too. All in all - BEST!
Secondly, Jan has just cooked us fajitas for tea, with cheese, sour cream, potato wedges and West Indian hot pepper sauce ... mmmmm! ACEBEST!
Finally, Jan read my mind and bought me a copy of Mario Kart DS from Game today. It's even better than I expected, with bright, colourful, smooth 3d graphics, intuitive and fluid controls, dozens of different tracks, race types and options, and best of all seamless, wireless internet multiplay. Yay! SUPERACEBEST!
As the denizens of uk.games.video.handheld would say, I HAEV TEH KRATS!!!1!! As I would say, I have had an excellent day.
If anyone else out there in blogland fancies a game, my friend code is 463 916 579 953
Friday, November 25, 2005
Work has been irritating - we've got an ongoing problem with the maintenance invoicing system, and every time we escalate the call with the suppliers they just ask for yet another backup copy of our data files. It is perfectly possible to demonstrate the problem with any set of data, so they are just stalling for time and wasting mine into the bargain. Gits.
Still, at least I've got some sushi for lunch today, and it's Friday so life is sweet. I might finish Call of Cthulhu this weekend, if I can get past the bit where I got to last night - stuck on a ledge on the side of an abyss being attacked by these ... things ... that look like a cross between a hot air balloon and the scrapings off an abattoir floor with far too many eyeballs for comfort. Just over a week until Animal Crossing is released in North America, and then however long the post from Canada takes to wend its way over the North Atlantic. Meeep!
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
I needed a game to play during the hours of daylight (such as they are) while I wait for Animal Crossing to arrive from Canada, so I loaded up Freelancer. It’s a space trading/combat/exploration sim and despite the title, it’s quite heavily plot driven. Just as you settle down for some money making activity (pirating space transports and orbital storage depots is my favourite), the next section of the plot kicks in. It’s quite a good plot though, with some spectacular set piece battles and a good mix of mission types including the very sensible cut and run ones where you end up fleeing from superior forces trying to reach a jump gate. Good fun, but I’m tempted to download a hack to put me in a neutral universe where everybody isn’t trying to kill me all the time.
The other game continues to be Call of Cthulhu, which is fabulous although bloody hard in places. The level I’ve just finished was set on a navy ship, overrun by marauding Deep Ones, lashed by supernatural waves (“Why am I looking at the moon? Ah, the boat is tipping up to nearly vertical”) and finally being battered by the absolutely humungous Dagon – quite the most stunning boss character I’ve ever seen in a game. For some reason though, I found myself singing “Dagon. Daa-aa-gon. Dagon come and me wanna go home” … :-)
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Well, in the words of the famous curate, parts of it were excellent.
Here be spoilers – highlight below to read on …
The quidditch world cup, the dragon, the band playing at the Yule Ball, Barty Crouch Jr, Mad Eye Moody, Voldemort and the final denoument were all well crafted bits of cinema, but even excising a good third of the book still doesn’t make what plot there is make any sense whatsoever. To cut to the chase :
- How did Barty Jr keep up the act for an entire year? How much potion would he have needed if he was swigging it every couple of minutes?
- Why doesn’t Dumbledore see through the polyjuice potion at any point?
- If wizards under 17 are forbidden from competing in the tournament, why is Barty Crouch happy for Harry to take part given the risk to his life? Couldn’t Dumbledore just have forbidden him to take part and made Harry retire from each event before he got into danger?
- Would Dumbledore have let the children in the lake drown if they hadn’t been rescued in time?
- The whole tournament is an elaborate wheeze to get Harry to touch the cup, which assumes that he is going to win and he isn’t going to get killed at any point.
- If Harry needs to survive, why does Krum try to kill him in the maze?
- If all Voldemort needs is Harry’s blood, why doesn’t Barty just kidnap him or give him an old boot portkey or just stab him during a private lesson or something?
- It’s implied that nobody believes that Harry actually saw Voldemort – why don’t they just extract his memory using the pensieve thingy?
Oh well, at least the kids enjoyed it, although I think some of the tinies in the audience will be having nightmares tonight …
Friday, November 18, 2005
Last night was Alicia's parents evening at school, and it was a bit of an ordeal because the ex decided that she ought to show an interest and turned up as well. It was not enough that Alicia had got A grades in every subject - she had to find something to pick on and criticize. In this case it was a couple of pieces of Spanish homework that Alicia had handed in late through being disorganised and forgetting to put in her folder on the right days. Never mind that it had already been sorted out between Alicia, her teacher and her form tutor, it was as if Alicia was on the verge of failing her exams or something. Also, she seemed to think that Alicia shouldn't have been at the parents evening as if she was incapable of discussing her own education in an adult way. Grrrr.
Still, accentuate the positive. Alicia is doing fabulously well at school, and is really one of the star pupils so yaybo for her. I think a trip to see Harry Potter is on the cards this weekend as well as a bit of extra spending money for a new dvd or a book or something.
In other news, my lip is healing nicely - the swelling is starting to subside and there isn't any infection where the stitches are. It's still an interesting shade of purple, but the lump has definitely gone - hurrah!
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Personally, I can see a place for both - as you probably can gather I am a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, but my other all time favourite is Animal Crossing, the forthcoming DS version of which has me stupidly excited. From jacking cars and whacking punks in Los Santos, to harvesting fruit and designing t-shirts in a sleepy little town full of animals is not that big a step, surely? The release of Nintendogs, one of the fastest selling games ever, has shown that there is a huge market for non-violent, blue sky games, but the last time I went in Game it was tucked away on a shelf labeled 'Children's Games' ... as eny fule no, your typical 10 year old is much more likely to be playing a gangsta game than walking a virtual puppy or writing letters to imaginary animal friends.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Well, at least it was quick. The injection was probably the most unpleasant bit, although when the surgeon said "Oh - it's burst" that came in a close second. I now feel as if I have been slapped in the face with a wet kipper and the stitches on the inside of my lip feel like a large hairy spider that has taken up residence in there.
It's not too bad now, as long as I talk through gritted teeth like Clint Eastwood ... feeling lucky, punk? Apparently the swelling will get worse over the next two days, so I might have to substitute a Marlon Brando impression tomorrow ... :-)
In other news, I am finally going to get the lump on my lip lopped off today, in fact in an hour or so ... gulp. It will be such a relief not to be biting on the damnable thing all the time though.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Do people no longer need to go out walking in inclement weather? Are the nation's dogs destined to go unwalked for the winter months, and any other wet days for the rest of the year? Will gardens go untended and lawns unraked? Will piles of leaves go unkicked and puddles go unsploshed? What has happened to the great British boot?
In the end we had to go to Homebase in the retail park where I had a choice of any colour I liked as long as it was green, for some rather cheap and thin boots that will last me a year at most. My last pair of stout boots were over twenty years old. Go figure.
Still, at least the trip to the particular circle of Dante's hell that is meadow shaped gave us an excuse to mooch in the shops and boggle at the christmas lights and the Santa's grotto that had a queue stretching halfway along the shopping mall - it's not even the middle of November yet! In fact, I saw a packet of mince pies in the supermarket with a best-before date of the 28th of November. Madness. Utter madness.
We were going to go for a coffee in Cafe Revive in M&S but there was a long queue, tables waiting to be cleaned and lots of items sold out on the menu board (patently, it all goes to rack and ruin when Loops is not on duty) so we gave it a miss and went to Starbucks instead, where I had a delicious Gingerbread latte - mmmmmm.
Returning home suitably booted, I took Barney for a walk and settled down to play a bit of Call of Cthulhu. Hoo boy, scary stuff.
After repairing the generator and frying the shoggoth, as well as releasing poison gas into its lair for good measure, I found myself trapped in a small temple like room far beneath the basement level of the Marsh family gold refinery. At one end was a statue of a bat winged monstrosity with tentacles where its face should be. As I examined the statue I could feel my heart start to race and see my vision blurring as my fragile grip on reality started to loosen. From behind me I could hear an eerie voice whispering one word, repeated over and over - 'Cthulhu ... Cthulhu ... Cthulhu'. I turned around in a state of panic (in both the game and real life) to find that the source of the voice that had nearly tipped me into gibbering insanity was ... Jamie. Aaaargh!
What wonderful children I have ... :-)
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Well, neither of them were science fiction, but yesterday did develop into a day for slobbing around watching dvds and playing games. I did do some washing and ironing in the morning so I didn’t feel too guilty … :-)
The afternoon matinee was ‘The Italian Job’ – a classic 60s crime caper that I picked up from the bargain bin in Tesco last week. I’d only ever seen the butchered pan and scan version on tv before, and this is a film that really benefits from a crisp, vibrant wide-screen picture to show off the shots of the Italian Alps, the 60s cars and fashions and the iconic car chase through the back streets of Turin. The plot doesn’t really make all that much sense, and it takes a while to kick in, but the minis are what we’ve paid for and the movie doesn’t disappoint. Excellent fun.
Following that, what could we do but play a bit more Midtown Madness 3 with me driving the mini and Jamie taking in a police car playing tag in Paris. At one point we ended up on the roof of a building jousting and trying to ram each other off the side. ACEBEST!
A break to walk the dog in the nippy twilight – I really must find my wooly hat and gloves before it gets much colder – and then a couple of hours on Call of Cthulhu. This game continues to amaze me with its audacity and inventiveness. The plot took a left turn (I’m now on a gangbusters raid with J Edgar Hoover and his FBI goons), but the mechanics are quite unlike anything I’ve ever played before. At one point I was edging across planks through the rafters of an old warehouse – so far, so Tomb Raider – until I made the mistake of looking down and suffered a highly convincing attack of vertigo. The screen blurred and swam in a most disconcerting fashion until I looked up again – wooah! I’ve also caught sight of my first Shoggoth and am currently hiding behind a pile of crates on the verge of insanity. Eeeek!
What could top that, but the late night horror of ‘Dagon’? Made by the team of producer Brian Yuzna and director Stuart Gordon who seem to have carved out a niche for themselves in the low budget Cthuloid horror genre, notably in the schock gorefest of Reanimator, this was superb. This takes the original HP Lovecraft story and sets it in present day Spain, where a yacht with four wealthy young dilletantes is dashed onto a reef by a violent and unexpected storm. Struggling ashore for help they find themselves on the run from a town full of strangely deformed half human villagers and weirdly tentacled creatures.
There are plenty of in-jokes and sly references for fans of the genre – the protagonist wears a Miskatonic University sweat shirt, and a sequence in run down hotel with much frantic bolting of doors and shoving of wardrobes will be very familiar to players of Call of Cthulhu – but it is not a post modern, ironic horror flick or a big budget CGI creature feature. Rather it has much more in common with the Hammer Horror B movies of the seventies – a bit of gratuitous nudity, a bit of gore, some effective monsters and a lot of genuine shocks. There are one or two CGI shots – and one very effective money shot of the title creature – but this is perfect low budget film making. It’s a Spanish co-production, which means there are some sections of Spanish dialogue (which might be useful for anyone learning Spanish *coff* Will? *coff*), but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to take a holiday in Imboca (and that’s another sly reference for Spanish speaking HP Lovecraft fans). Well worth £4.99 from play.com I would say.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
According to the last analysis report from our timesheet system that I've just run for September, I spent 22.07 days working and 6.29 days travelling. A quick look at the calendar shows that there were 22 working days in September. Hmmmm.
Two days down in Brum this week, and they didn't get off to the best of starts with a three hour trip on Tuesday morning. There are roadworks just off Junction 28 and traffic stacks back to Sheffield on most days. Ho hum.
Work has been heads down, no time to draw breath with setting up on the new purchase ordering system as well as the usual slew of support and analysis reports to run. I didn't leave until after half past six, and it's a good job that I checked my hotel booking because I found out that Expotel had booked me for next week, not this. I rang them up and they were able to get me into the hotel across the road rather than the Copthorne, so I didn't get a swim or any wifi access last night.
I was knackered as well. I had something to eat and a pint in the bar before going up to my room to watch tv, but I fell asleep on the bed straight away, woke up briefly to struggle into my jim jams and then asleep again until the hotel central heating woke me up at half past five.
After another busy day I left at a little after four for a two and half hour drive home, a trudge round the woods in the icy moonlight with Barney the dog and then sit down with an appropriately theatrical sigh … aaaaah!
Good-Energy mention on their website that mobile phone chargers that are left plugged in are using electricity even when you’re not charging your phone. We’ve all known for some time that it’s better to unplug your telly overnight than leave it on stand-by for the same reason: appliances using power they don’t need to. Saving power is saving yourself money in leccy bills and prevents some unneccessary carbon dioxide from being released.
So here’s my meme: what’s plugged in on your desk? What doesn’t need to be on all the time? Blog your answers, and then tell me you’re now switching things off if you weren’t before.
Cordless phone basestation
Not Plugged in
PC (Windows 2000)
Of those, the work ones can be unplugged when I'm not actually working, the W2000 pc only gets plugged in when it is in use (and it's administered remotely so it doesn't need a monitor), the whole switchblock for the server could be switched off when that's not in use. Thinks ... the only thing that needs to plugged in all the time is the phone base station, so with a bit of juggling I can switch off all of the things that don't need a permanent supply from one point. As for other things round the house, we need to make sure that tvs aren't left on standby when not in use and switch lights off when not needed. I'd like to have more energy saving bulbs for places like the hallways and loos.
Anybody else want to have a go?
Monday, November 07, 2005
I left Jamie busily creating mayhem in Parisian underpasses and went to collect Alicia from her mum's. For one thing, I couldn't find my car key so I had to get the spare one out of the bits and bobs drawer, and for another herself started going on about money again. I should be giving Alicia the child benefit money she says. I am, says I. Ten pounds for bus and lunch money, five pounds pocket money, and the rest (a princely £1.85) is left over for little luxuries like clothes and food and a roof over her head. Grrrr.
I came back and spent a bit longer looking for my key card. I must have had it the previous day when we drove home from Meadowhall, but it wasn't in any of the places that I normally put it. Curiouser and curiouser. I went upstairs to download some pictures off the camera and noticed that the sound wasn't working on the server. I tried the usual round of resinstalling drivers and checking devices with no joy. In the end I gave up and went downstairs to watch the mighty Green Day playing live on Top of the Pops, and jolly good they were too. Time was, I would watch TotP every single week to see what was in the charts but I haven't watched it for years since they started mucking around with the simple format of playing new entries and climbers, one or two videos, doing the countdown and then finishing with the number one. The show is now on BBC2 on a Sunday and seems to have gone back to basics, so it might be worth watching again. After the last couple of years of the pop music scene being dominated by manufactured Boy/Girl/Whatever type bands there seem to be some interesting acts around at last - not least Green Day and the whole neo-punk scene.
We were all a bit giddy after that, so I put my Orbital DVD on and cranked up the 5.1 DTS mix of the Doctor Who theme and jumped around the living room like a loon for half an hour or so. At nine we watched 'Heads up with Richard Herrings' on some obscure poker channel (why are there so many poker channels now? When did that happen?) which was amusing, but full of dreadful and slightly seedy jargon. There were lots of references to men "holding 'em" and going "all in" on a "head's up" before ending up with a "flop". I now realise what I must sound like to somebody that is not computer literate when I start wibbling on. That was followed by the penultimate two episodes of 'Funland' on BBC3 - grim stuff, and I really don't know why they keep describing it as a comedy drama, but gripping and intriguing nonetheless.
This morning, I was on a roll. I found my key under a bag of apples on the work surface, fired up the server and after a little bit of detective work tracked down the sound problem to a missing driver for the plug and play software enumerator, and to cap things off found a set of Nvidia drivers that cured an odd texture mapping bug on the Ge-Force card so that we can now put Sims 2 back on for the kids. Oh, and I also compressed a video clip from 66Mb to 4Mb with no loss of quality. Yay me.
Right, now to go and delete lots and lots of unused contract codes from our accounts database, so that the code lookup in the purchase ordering system will run at a usable speed ...
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Blimey, it’s been a long week, and no mistake. Still, we’ve all made it to Friday night and it’s time to relax at last. Friday nights are part of the rhythm of our lives here – listen to the 6:30 comedy on the radio, maybe have a bath with a glass of G&T, play some games, eat pizza or other easy to prepare comfort type food, watch something funny on the tv and then fall asleep half way through the Friday night chat show. As Pop Larkin would say, perfick!
Games wise, Jamie seems to have developed a taste for racing games, so I dug out my old Sidewinder Force Feedback steering wheel and set it up on his pc. He has been mostly playing Need For Speed : Porsche 2000 – a fantasticly detailed game covering the entire history of the Porsche range from the early 356 Cabriolets right up to the modern day 911 Turbos and GTis – and he’s doing pretty well. He’s got the hang of cornering with a good racing line and coping with the notorious Porsche rear wheel drive. Last night I dug out Midtown Madness 3 for a bit of retro action and we had some fantastic Mini races through the back streets of Paris – I think we’ll have to get a DVD of The Italian Job next.
I watched a fascinating and enlightening documentary about the Gunpowder Plot last night. The political machinations of the era were fascinating, with some striking parallels to the present day with young members of a persecuted religious minority planning acts of terrorism. After reading Mary Gentle’s 1610:A Sundial in a Grave it was interesting to learn more about the spy master Robert Cecil and his methods. The plot was always pretty much doomed to fail, given the length of time required to keep it secret, and it seems that there was very little appetite for a full scale Catholic uprising at the time. Still, the simulation of what might have happened if the gunpowder had exploded was pretty dramatic, and the possibility of the simultaneous eradication of the heads of the state, government and most of the nobility in one act is a striking one. It would have been a pivotal moment in the history of England, if not the whole of Europe. Spare a thought for poor old Guido tonight …
Thursday, November 03, 2005
This time of year always leaves me feeling drained. The combined effects of the clocks going back, the weather being gloomy, being stupidly busy with a new business critical system at work (two journeys to brum this week, and another two next week) and feeling generally run down have all taken their toll. I know that I am likely to be snappy and irritable, at least until I can see some daylight at the weekend.
Every item on my to do list today (apart from my work items) has started with the letter F. What is this – am I living in a Sesame Street parallel universe?
- Freezer – defrost
- Fix cat Flap
- Flea drops for pets
- Floors – hoover and clean
- Fetch Jamie from school
Call of Cthulhu continues to be excellent. After a couple of hours exploring the town of Innsmouth (a bit like Royston Vasey by the sea) and gradually piecing together some of the history of the place, the whole game stepped up a gear with a frantic, nerve pounding escape from some murderous locals, exploring a sewer that is evidently home to something that disolves the skin off people and finally being holed up in a desecrated church with only the crucified corpse of the local vicar for company. Lovely.