18 Mar 2011Posted by on
This is just a quick post to let people know, since Microsoft haven’t made a big deal of it, that if you are using
In previous versions of IE you used to dynamically create new elements by doing:
document.createElement ('<div id="hello" />');
This led to some interesting code because it was not standards compliant and other browsers would hiccup on it.
With the release of IE9 Microsoft have now become standards compliant and so checking for IE and then invoking the “special” code will now break, usually with the rather cryptic message:
SCRIPT5022: DOM Exception: INVALID_CHARACTER_ERR (5)
So you now need to take into account the fact that IE9 behaves differently to IE8.
20 Feb 2011Posted by on
I have a confession to make, I’m a gamer and I play computer games. In fact I spend a substantial fraction of my free time playing them and have done for over thirty years. From Pong to Fallout New Vegas I’ve literally played thousands of games spanning every genre you can think of (well nearly every genre, some of the Japanese ones creep me out).
Nowadays I mostly play PC games and tend to enjoy FPSs. As a father of two noisy demanding young boys I find there is something quietly cathartic about hurling virtual lead at computer generated hoards after a hard days parenting. There are, however, certain aspects of PC gaming that I find irritating and wish I could change, in nearly all cases they relate to how games are configured and the options (or lack thereof) available to the player.
So here is my wishlist of features I believe should be standard in all (PC) games:
Let me see what the characters are saying
I have relatively good hearing, probably on a par with Professor Farnsworth but I still find it highly beneficial to read what the characters are saying. I can generally read faster than the characters can speak so I often skip ahead to the next chunk of dialogue, after all I’m a busy guy with people to kill.
A useful optional extra would be subtitles for sound effects (and an indication of their direction), for hearing impaired gamers.
5% of your customers are color blind
Apparently 60% of gamers are male and generally 7-8% of those suffer from some form of color blindness (fortunately it’s not something I suffer from myself). Nearly 5% of all gamers have to endure this problem. Game developers stop ignoring 1 in 20 of your customers! Would you want 5% less customers? Provide options to change colors and be aware of how color affects gameplay, this guy can help you.
Let me adjust the brightness in game… and restore the original brightness when I exit
Generally only “horror” games allow you to change the darkness setting, developers seem to believe that only a Scooby Doo style spookiness is scary. Adjusting how dark things are should really be standard in all games. I don’t like dark games, Amnesia is not scary because it is full of dark corners. Personally I like to able to see what I’m doing.
The reticle, it’s my choice
For FPSs let me change the size, shape and color of the reticle, the default color is nearly always a bad choice.
There are few games that don’t do this nowadays but it’s vital that this feature is always present, especially for left hand gamers like me and those who don’t want to use WASD for movement.
There are two related but equally important points for key mappings:
Save key mappings as the defaults for other games
This really needs to happen but I’ve yet to see it. I generally use the same keys (where possible) for the same actions for all games, like most basement dwelling gamers I’m a creature of habit. My hands are used to certain keys and their location are convenient/natural for my fingers. I like to use Ctrl for crouch and Shift for run, R for reload and 1, 2, 3, 4 etc for weapon/item quick selection. I should be able to save these as the defaults for a particular game and have my choices reused in other games.
You would think this is an obvious thing to implement but even games from the same stable (Valve, Bethesda and so on) don’t have this nifty feature. This is a shame because it’s not difficult to implement and there are plenty of “standard” places on Windows based PCs where such information can be stored. A Windows user even has their own “Games” directory. A config file in that directory (or heaven forbid the registry) containing the keys mapped to the names of actions should be possible.
Use the same keys for the same actions
Most of the time this happens. In general, for PC games at least, W is forward, S is backwards and so on. But this is not always the case, for example I’m currently playing Call of Cthulhu and X is the default key for backwards. There needs to be an industry standard mapping of keys to actions or if not (and they are not mutually exclusive) implement the saving of key mappings described above as the defaults for other games. However I have little hope that this will happen any time soon. I used to work in the standards industry so I foresee the chances of a standard emerging being slightly greater than my four year old son becoming Pope, being awarded the Nobel prize for Physics and winning the Icelandic Lottery all on the same day.
Change the screen resolution while playing the game
All games should implement this and, to be fair, most do. It should be a standard feature. Most importantly though it should be possible to change it in game. Having to set a resolution, launch the game and then have to exit to change the resolution again is annoying (and yes, it’s not on a par with the current problems in the middle-east but a basement dweller can dream can’t he?).
Use my monitor’s current resolution as the default
The resolution my monitor is currently at is the one I like, I know because I set it. The game should use it too. If there are issues related to performance then let me work that out and I’ll dial down the resolution until my overheating graphics card has got it’s breath back. And again, let me change the resolution in game so I can work out what’s best for me whilst I’m playing.
Allow me to save the current resolution as the default for other games
Can you spot the theme here? If I’m playing one game at 1920 * 1080 why the hell would I want to play another at 1024 * 768? I’d like the game to use my specified gaming default when I first play and if one isn’t available then fall back to my monitor’s current resolution.
Let me run the game in a window
All games need this. Game developers need to stop thinking that playing their game is the only thing I’m doing. I fluctuate between “busy I’ve got fifteen minutes casual gamer” and “hardcore this is gonna be a long session gamer”. It’s not unusual for me to be doing something else whilst playing a game. I like to have games in windows so I can pause, go do something else then come back to the game later. Running games in windows also prevents problems with changes in resolution between the game and the desktop. When you Alt+Tab out of a full screen game if your desktop is running at a different resolution then your windows can jump around your monitor(s). I also find that full screen games don’t always play nice when you have a multiple monitor setup, sometimes the game will lose focus as the mouse moves to another monitor and the game will be minimized leaving you wondering what the hell just happened. (Addendum: if you play Batman: Arkham Asylum in a window then the mouse can leave the window whilst playing which is equally annoying as not being able to leave.)
Pause the game when the mouse leaves the window
This means pause the action and pause any music/sound effects currently playing, I’m looking your way Borderlands. When I move the mouse out of the window then it means I want it to be quiet and stop what it’s doing.
Let the mouse leave the window when the game is paused
Some games, Fallout New Vegas is but one offender, won’t let the mouse leave the window when the game is paused. There is no good reason for this, when I’ve paused the game let me leave the damn window.
Games are getting better at this and I think that Windows (especially Windows 7) is improving in how it handles Alt-Tab for heavyweight processes like games. Game developers need to realize though that their game is not the only party happening on my machine at any given time. When I Alt-Tab out to do something else the transition should be crisp and responsive and, more importantly, when I return to the game I shouldn’t be staring at a black patch of screen for 20s waiting for it wake up again.
I want to exit quickly
There is a tendency for game developers to believe that they know better than you about how you want to play the game. When I invoke the rather esoteric and crab-finger inducing combination of Alt and F4 it means I want to stop playing… now. I don’t mind the game asking me if I want to save my progress, that’s a nice touch but if I click “Cancel” on the helpful “Do you really want to Quit?” box it means I want the game to exit immediately.
F5 means save, F9 means load
F5 is the most important for me and too many games don’t do this. When I hit that key it means I want to save… now and I don’t want to have to select a save game file/location for it either. I don’t care how the save occurs, I’d just like it to happen. Fallout New Vegas handles this nicely with separate saves for Quick, Auto and normal saves. F9 (or a similar key) is not as important (for me at least) but being able to load quickly from my last save is certainly a nice to have.
Have separate volume controls for music, voice and sound effects (and they should work)
I found Mass Effect to be horrendous for this. The sound effects drowned out the speech and it was far too difficult to sort the problem out (which I eventually did). Most of the time the balance of these three audio items is pretty good by default but it should be up to me whether I want loud pew pews or not.
I should be able to save the game at anytime, anywhere
The only exception I make here is for skill based games such as Super Meat Boy where saving at an inappropriate moment can cause an infinite death loop. Other than that there is no excuse for this. I should be able to save anywhere at anytime.
Allow me to specify a save directory
The cloud is nice and all but I’d still like to have my saved games in a place that I specify, on a drive/network of my choice where I can back them up. Currently save games can wind up all over the place and the player has no idea where they are. Valve games are particularly bad for this, for reasons I’m unclear on I have over a hundred save games in: E:\Games\Steam\steamapps\gary\half-life 2\hl2\SAVE. I have no easy way to configure where the saves go, I had to go hunting for the directory mysefl and no easy way to manage the plethora of files I have inexplicably collected.
I want to skip through cut scenes
There are still games that make you sit through long, dull on the second time round, cut scenes. If I’ve died four or fives during a boss fight for the love of Jeebus don’t make me sit through a two minute expository scene where said boss drones on and on about his father issues and why I’m going to die in a truly horrible way because I don’t acknowledge him as Master of the Universe.
Studio, publisher and graphic card logos are of no interest to me
If you must show me this crap when your game starts up, do it once and once only, I really don’t need to see it every time I play the game. Some games allow you to press Escape to skip them but most don’t. I don’t need to know who made the game every time, I didn’t remember the first time I played, I’m going to make a point of not remembering on the second, third or fiftieth time as well. Borderlands’ custom NVIDIA logo is cute, maybe, the first time you see it but it quickly becomes as annoying as a claptrap on subsequent viewings. You want to show me that kind of junk? Weave it into the game or show it to me on the game’s landing screen. Remember Metal Gear Solid? That’s how you weave non-game information into the game itself. And no I shouldn’t have to edit an esoteric config file to make them go away.
Make DLC available through the game itself
Ever tried to get the DLC for Fallout 3 (prior to the GotY edition being released) and actually play it? My recent two hour mouth surgery under a local anesthetic was less painful. If I hadn’t paid for the stuff then I wouldn’t have bothered, the hoops you had to jump through to make it happen was an exercise in masochism. Borderlands did this right. DLC should be seamlessly integrated into the original game, I shouldn’t have to download the damn thing myself, via the poopfest that is Games for Windows, and then try find where the poopfest has decided to save it then manually install it.
Don’t use Games for Windows
It’s insipid shit, you want to DRM your game? Fine, use Steam. At least it works and Gabe Newell’s anal probe is nowhere near as intrusive as Steve Ballmer’s. I am tired of the number of times I have tried and failed to login to GfW, or logged in only to be confronted by an update that I must download first then must accept the new terms and conditions then must login again. It’s as if they don’t want you to play the damn game.
So that’s the must haves out of the way, now onto some nice to haves.
In game tutorials on how to play
Nearly all games have this in one form or another nowadays, so I won’t harp on. A good well though tutorial that shows rather than tells is best.
Advanced graphic configuration
Anti-aliasing, bloom, dynamic shadows, ambient occlusion, fog volumes, shadow maps, real-time reflections, anisotropic filtering, view distance, hdr, vertical sync, blah, blah blah… I’m a man and really I’d like a single “make game prettier” button. But, in all fairness, these are useful options to have even though I’ve little idea what most of them actually do. Just Cause 2, if my memory serves me correctly, had a nice “graphics preview” option that played a relatively complex scene out as a trial of how your graphics card will hold up during play and then adjusted it’s settings accordingly. That would be nice to see in all games (where necessary of course, Super Meat Boy isn’t going to need this).
Support for control pads
Ever tried to play the Lego Harry Potter on a PC? It’s an exercise in frustration with the keyboard but a dream with a gamepad (I play it for my son, get off my back!). Yes the game was designed for consoles and the control system wasn’t ported over to take advantage of how you play games on PCs but not everyone wants to use the keyboard to play games. Well thought out gamepad support is a nice to have.
So there you have it, my big list of features I think PC games should have. To be fair some developers are better than others at providing these features and yes I know that a lot of it depends upon the underlying engine used (in which case they are features I’d like the engines to support). But let me be clear, they are not big issues and they are not deal breakers, they are like acne, a couple of spots on your face can be annoying but they’re not going to ruin your day. However, if you find yourself being chased by angry villagers with pitchforks and you have to break out the Proactiv then you know there is a problem.
26 Jan 2011Posted by on
So another Australia Day has rolled around and as I watched the groups of people frollicking and enjoying themselves down at New Farm park it got me thinking about the citizenship test that all wannabe citizens must take.
As full disclosure, Rebecca and I became citizens about five years ago. It was pretty simple, we had an informal interview with a nice woman at the Post Office (of all places), answered a few rather banal questions then a few weeks later turned up for a ceremony where Paul Pisasale made a moving but ultimately forgettable speech about what it means to be Australian. We said our oath, received a certificate, a dying plant and a handshake in return and went on our way. All very easy and very pleasant.
Nowadays you have to take a formal test and to make matters worse it’s multiple choice. This would be terrible for me, when I look at the answers for a multiple choice question I generally think they all look like possible winners and I become confused when I realise I can only pick one.
Here’s an example of what the current test contains:
Which of these is an example of freedom of speech?
A) Australians are free to not follow a religion.
B) People can peacefully protest against government decisions.
C) Men and women are treated equally in a court of law.
Know the answer? No me neither, they all look reasonable to my simple mind but it’s a sensible question and a pertinent one for living in any democracy but I’m not convinced that it gets to the heart of what it is to truly be Australian.
So I decided to come up with my own citizenship test, here are the questions that I would ask if I worked for the Department of Immigration.
How often do you eat Vegemite?
A) Every hour on the hour mate, I take a jar out with me so I can enjoy the black gold all day.
B) On toast in the mornings.
C) Uh, it looks like liquid cancer and smells worse.
How often do you drink Milo?
A) Every meal, it’s made me the Iron Man I am today mate.
B) Now and again in the mornings with my vegemite toast.
C) It looks like pureed poo and smells like feet.
Where should Thongs be worn?
A) On yer feet mate, I never take mine off neither does the missus.
B) Around your privates, but only when I’m feeling naughty, oh you mean those things you put on your feet!
C) I don’t talk about my sex life.
What do you normally do on Anzac Day?
A) Cry for hours about long dead relatives that even your grandfather had never met. Next year you plan to walk the Kokoda Trail in your bare feet to prove to everyone that you remember those brave men who died in that famous battle in Turkey in WW2.
B) Visit a war memorial and respectfully remember the sacrifice and suffering of all the men and women who have given their lives to defend our liberty and way of life.
C) I like biscuits!
What do you normally do on Australia Day?
A) Get up at 5am, paint “Aussie” down your arms and legs in red, white and blue paint, pack up a 90L Esky full of animal body parts, fill another with bottles of XXXX and head down to the nearest park with a BBQ, set up camp then eat and drink yourself into a stupor all the while blasting out John Farnham and Troy Cassar-Daley songs at full volume through your iPod speakers.
B) Have a few mates around for a back yard BBQ, have some fun and a couple of beers whilst remembering what it means to be Australian.
C) Go shopping because Super Cheap Auto has a sale on.
When you see yet another boat of asylum seekers on the news, what do you think?
A) Australia is for Australians mate, we don’t need no more bleeding immigrants. Stop the boats!
B) Those poor people, I think the government should be more compassionate, after all Australia is built on immigration and they must be desperate to travel here in that way.
C) Who cares, I’ve got my working visa and I ain’t leaving when it expires.
How many times a day do you say “mate”?
A) All the time mate, you see mate, mate is just what you say, you know mate.
B) Now and again but only to my friends.
C) I’m not mating with you.
How often do you watch Today Tonight or A Current Affair?
A) Never miss it mate, I usually watch one and video the other. Top notch journalism mate, they tell those bloody bogans what’s what, although I did see my mate Stevo on there the other night for benefit fraud.
B) You shame me by asking that question.
C) There isn’t a TV in the YMCA.
XXXX or Fosters?
A) That’s my kind of party mate.
B) You shame me by asking that question.
C) Fosters all the way, it’s the amber nectar, Crocodile Dundee said so.
So to the results, if you answered mostly A’s then you already have true Aussie blood running through your veins, your certificate will be in the post. If you answered mostly B’s then you are probably a kiwi and we have enough of you over here trying to steal our sheep. If you answered mostly C’s then you’re obviously either American, or English, called Garry and need a kick in the janglies.
21 Jan 2011Posted by on
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us that space is: “big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”
Wolfram Alpha, that enigmatic fountain of factoids, seems to agree. It says that the observable Universe is 93 billion light years across, but it also hedges it’s bets by telling me it’s not sure whether the Universe is finite in infinite in size. The current size of the Universe is roughly 5.9 × 1015 times wider than the distance from the Earth to the Sun. That’s 5,900,000,000,000,000 as wide or, to put it another way, if we scale down distance from the Earth to the Sun to just 1mm then the Universe would fill out all the way to Pluto’s orbit; the chemist isn’t looking so far away now is it?
And speaking of the Sun, Sol to be precise, did you know that it’s mass is about 330,000 times that of the Earth and makes up over 98% of the mass in the entire Solar System? We live on a tiny pebble. Now imagine, if you will, that your house has just been flooded with ice cream and that you’re up to your neck in it’s sweet headache inducing creaminess, just one liter of the stuff is the Earth and the Beach Ball floating past is Jupiter, the rest is the Sun.
On the surface of the Sun, if you could survive such terrible conditions, you would weigh nearly 28 times as much as you do as you stroll about on Earth. Step out onto the surface from your futuristic spacecraft with it’s normal Earth gravity and your bones would crumble as your head races down to meet your feet at 100 km/h, you would barely have time to blink in the tenth of a second that it takes for your head to meet your feet. Even in your gravity cancelling super strong exoskeleton that is somehow managing to keep your vital organs from escaping through your rectum it would take you over 125 years to walk around the equator, in which time the Sun will have turned nearly 2000 times on it’s own axis. You better set off now, with tea breaks and snoozes you could be well over 200 years old before you manage to return to where you started.
On the upside you would have plenty of power to draw on for your suit, every second of every day of every year of the 4.57 billion years it’s been shining in the sky it has, on average, converted 4,000,000 tons of matter into energy. That’s one Sydney harbour full of matter every two minutes. Sure that sounds a lot, but it takes the Sun over 5500 years to consume a Pacific ocean sized amount of matter which is why during it’s long 4 billion year life the Sun has barely consumed three ten thousands of it’s total mass, a mere 100 Earths. This is just a fraction of a millimeter of the ice cream swirling around your living room. Despite it’s seemingly meager diet the Sun really is the battery that runs and runs, every second it generates enough energy to power all of planet Earth for over 800,000 years. One second of energy from the Sun could power a 60W bulb until the Universe’s last dying star fades away into nothingness. Don’t you wish you had a Dyson sphere?
So I salute the most fascinating object in the Solar System, I can truly understand why cultures of old worshiped it as a Deity. It’s size and power is almost beyond imagining, but hopefully after reading the above, it’s not quite out of reach.
I also salute the late, great Isaac Asimov who’s writing inspired and intrigued me as a child and teenager. His love of the Universe and all it’s mysteries stirred a fire in me that has lasted to this day.
13 Jan 2011Posted by on
Ah youth, I’m glad it’s gone and yet I miss it so. My age has started to creep towards me in very much the same way that my windscreen creeps towards insects as I’m speeding down the motorway. In the not too distant future I will have a four at the start of my age and, or so the legend goes, my life will start. It appears that until then it’s on some kind of yachting holiday.
We all go through it, the seven ages of man but personally I think Shakespeare got it wrong. There’s only two stages to life, being young and thinking you’re hip and being old and knowing you’re not. I’m currently experiencing part B and there are a multitude of signs that remind me of that fact daily.
Here’s some that I’d like to share.
Hang on, no wait, what was that again?
Ok, so I’m sure that everyone has this to a certain extent. The trouble is as you get older you are constantly remembering that your memory is deteriorating. This is an irritating irony. The issue manifests itself in many ways, most notably with my short term memory. I’ll ask Rebecca what is for tea and then can’t remember what she said ten minutes later. I also have terrible problems remembering people’s names. I can recognise faces, I can remember the face of people I have not seen in years but try as I might I cannot recall their name. What’s worse is that often I will think of a different name for the person and it will stick in my brain like a toffee to a mercury filling.
Y’all look the same to me
Does this happen to you? Kids all look the bloody same to me! Maybe it’s the sexualisation of young girls nowadays but I can’t tell the difference between a girl who is 13 and one who is 18. Of course it’s not uncommon for girls to look older than they actually are, especially with a liberal application of make-up, however to me they all just look “young”. And I think that’s the point, at some point you start to feel that there is a them and us, they are young and you are not.
Spring chicken no more
At the checkout of my local beer supermarket they have a sign that says: “if you look under 25 then we’ll ask you for ID”. Guess what, they never ask me…. ever. Do you know how frustrating that is? It means that I absolutely, with no possible doubt look like I’m well over a quarter century old. Depressing.
It’s nippy out
Young people seem to wear little to no clothes, especially when it’s cold outside. I can only assume that their blood is warmer or perhaps my blood has grown colder as I’ve aged. But in true “old person” style I can’t ever seem to remember wearing so few clothes when I was that age.
I’m pretty sure I never wore anything like that when I was young
Speaking of clothes, I find that current fashion trends leave me baffled, and I grew up in the 80’s. Of course I was also baffled in the 80’s but what seems to be fashionable today just looks stupid to me.
I can’t fit in the changing rooms
And a final point about clothes. I’m just too big nowadays to fit into the tiny shoe boxes they provide in the kid’s shops, I’m worried that my excessive girth will cause me to stick in those annoying narrow saloon style doors, you know, the ones that show off your shoulders and lower legs. I shop at Myers nowadays, they have large rooms for the more portly gentleman to try out his new attire. I’m trying to grow old with a modicum of grace, but there again I don’t often look in the mirror so who knows?
You can’t make me go
I used to enjoy nightclubs but just the thought of them worries me now. The noise, fighting to get a drink at the bar, embarrassing myself on a dance floor whilst doing a bad impression of a stick insect with a limp, being considered a pervert for being a 40-ish guy in a room full of bright young things. No thanks. I’m relieved that I can go to the beer supermarket, buy myself some beer and whatever else takes my fancy, go home and drink myself stupid in the comfort of my own home. I even remember to drink a litre of water before I go to bed. Don’t want a hangover! The joys of being a grown-up.
I have friends… online!
Sorry but I don’t “get” Facebook or Twitter or Myspace (RIP) or LinkedIn. I know what they do and I know their purpose but I don’t see the point of them. (This will come back to haunt me at my next job interview I’m sure.) I’m registered on Facebook and it’s useful to keep my overseas family in touch with what we’re up to. But from what I can see most of the people on Facebook are bored and spend a good fraction of their time telling each other they are bored. Or they spend their time playing vacuous games that treat them like rats in a maze rewarding them now and then with pointless virtual trinkets. And don’t get me started on Twitter, what is the point of that site? Has human communication been reduced to such a base level that we can only communicate in abrupt poorly written sentences? Nowadays of course we have virtual friends but everyone has so many of them, people you’ve never met and don’t actually care about but we still call them friends. I used to meet my friends at the pub and we’d talk, drink and make merry. Nowadays we use these “social” sites to keep our social lives at arms length.
Mr. Benn wasn’t weird
Another thing I don’t get is children’s TV programs. “Back in my day”® the creators of TV programs seemed to all be on drugs and this was a good thing. Children’s TV programmes were interesting and fun. I grew up on the likes of Danger Mouse, Mr Benn Jamie and the Magic Torch and Rentaghost to name but a few. Nowadays kids seem to be spoon fed strange (and poorly animated) Japanese shows about spiky haired youngsters that are always fighting off some horrible demon of who wants to get intimately acquainted with their intestines. Where’s the imagination? Where’s the fun? The shows my four year old watches on ABC2 are ok but even they seem to be lacking the wackiness of the programs from my youth. Change? Bah humbug!
It’s my garden and I’ll cry if I want to
“Get off my lawn” is now something that I would probably shout at random strangers and to me it is the clearest indication that my age has jumped the shark into “old man” territory. I’m old(er) now, I have a ride on mower and I’m concerned about the length and health of the grass in my back yard. In some ways that saddens me, it means I’m no longer young and care free and it means that I’m fast approaching the point where I will have less years ahead of me than I’ve already experienced, I may have already passed that daunting milestone. But in other ways I’m pleased, I have (more) freedom now, I have money, a nice place to live, a loving partner and two great kids, there were many aspects of being young that I disliked and I can’t say that I’m sorry to leave them behind.
5 Jan 2011Posted by on
It’s the start of a new year, 2011 and today I watched a film I’ve never seen before. Waterworld. Look at that lowly 5.7 IMDb rating. Seems rather pathetic doesn’t it. But to be honest, I don’t know why Waterworld garners the hate it does. For the most part it’s an interesting film that is well made, well acted and well written. Yes it gets a little silly in the last half hour, but hey it’s Hollywood and audiences like a big ending. Personally I found the bad guys did the right things, the good guys did the right things and no one seemed to do anything too stupid, all in all a refreshing change from most films with some interesting sci-fi type elements thrown in for good measure. And it never hurts to have the manic but always entertaining Dennis Hopper on board (oh yes I can do puns) to add a certain flamboyance to proceedings. But… my glowing endorsement is not without a substantial caveat. If I had seen Waterworld at the cinema I would not be so rosy with my review, in fact I would think that the film was akin to cat vomit, i.e. it looks bad, smells bad and you wouldn’t want to to touch it.
So why the difference? For me it boils down to expectations and reminds me of something Peter Jackson said in relation to the Lord of the Rings DVDs. To paraphrase, his justification for the substantially longer cut of the films was that at home audiences have different expectations and tolerances than those who visit the cinema. They can pause the film for a toilet or tea break, they don’t have to share the room with five hundred other farting munching morons, they have substantially better seating and they don’t have to try and find a parking space in a car park that is too far away from the cinema itself. In other words, when you’re at home you don’t mind watching something for the entire evening.
With that in mind, here’s a list of how I rank movies. Nevermind that 1-10 nonsense, one man’s 7.3 is another man’s 0. As an aside, Transformers is one of the few films that makes it onto my “do not watch” list, I want that part of my life back Michael Bay!
Let’s start with…
See at the cinema in the fancy seats
Most films are designed to be seen at the cinema, but let’s face it there aren’t many that you should see there. Given that I have two small children, going to the cinema is now a rather important event where I flex my adult muscles and for a short time try to remember what it is like to be childless again. Of course nowadays there are multiple tiers to the cinema, will you go to “Gold Class” or “Star Class” or will you slum it with the cattle in the nasally suspect “normal” cinemas. Some films deserve that extra cash for the limited number of reclining seats with the foot rests and staff that bring you drinks and nibbles. A flim that falls into this category for me is: The Matrix. Remember to mention the fancy seats when you use this rating for a recommendation.
Buy the DVD
Pretty simple this one, we’ve all done it. The film is good, you want to watch it a few times, maybe throw it in the player one night when you’re drunk or bored. Buy that sucker, just try not to pay full price. Moon is an example of this type of film for me.
Rent the DVD
Some films you aren’t sure you’re going to like, maybe it’s a dodgy sequel (I’m looking your way Starship Troopers 2) or a film you’ve heard some bad things about but you might like it, for example Alone in the Dark, another film that has made it’s way onto my “do not watch list”. So your recommendation here should be “rent the DVD, don’t blame me if you don’t like it”.
See at the cinema with the plebeian
There are times when you can risk slumming it in the all too often noisome cinemas. This should be for films that are going to be time wasters or where you are looking for something to do on an evening. Either way the film most likely will be fairly poor but what else were you going to do in that time? Write a blog post? A film that I’d use this recommendation for is: Batman & Robin. Interestingly, that film was so bad that we came out and went straight in to see Beavis & Butthead Do America in a bid to expunge the nasty from our memories. Strangely it actually worked, Beavis & Butthead Do America is one of my favourite films and has some eminently quotable lines.
Borrow the DVD from a friend
We are approaching the bottom of the barrel now. If you’re too cheap to rent the DVD yourself or see the film at the cinema why not borrow it from a friend/relative/coworker? The films that fall into this category are ones were you want to try something new, or recommend something new, but are too scared to lay out money for. A film I would use this recommendation for is: Night Watch (and it’s sibling Day Watch), I like both films but they fall on just the wrong side of strange that I would suggest that you borrow the DVD before stumping up cash of your own.
Watch for free on the Internet via a service like Megavideo
I like Megavideo, I really do and I’ve seen quite a few films now via it’s service. Their player is the best I’ve come across and despite the slightly irritating (but easily bypassable) 72 minute watch limit their service is the best of the “free” movie services around. There are others that are “ok” and I’ve no experience of Netflix and other US based services since they seem to have made some pact with Satan such that none of their content can escape to non-US based viewers. This category should be used for films that you would recommend that someone watches when they get a bit of free time and want a break from browsing social networking sites. A film in this category for me would be: Sunshine.
Watch it on TV
Pretty straight forward, doing your best zombie impression in front of the TV? Don’t mind watching 15-20 minutes of idiotic adverts every hour? Then this is the film for you! A good example would be: Terminator Salvation.
Watch it on TV whilst drunk
Watch it for free on the Internet via a crappy service
Megavideo is great mostly due to the quality of the videos, the fact that they often come in one contiguous piece, it loads quickly and doesn’t freeze at an important point in the story. If you can put up with poor quality, have to load two to three different parts of the film one after another or reload the film when the player freezes and periodically wait for the film to actually load then this is the category for you. An example that fits into this category for me is: Daybreakers, what dreary predictable rubbish it turned out to be, a waste of a good premise.
Watch it at an electronics store on a display TV
Ok, so here we are, the bottom of the barrel, the lowest level of recommendation I ever give and the more observant amongst you will notice that this is the 10th “level” of recommendation. This is effectively my rating 1 and in truth you should never watch these films but if you happen to be in an electronics store waiting for your other half to decide which set of curling tongs or TV remote they need to get then you may see snippets of these films but I’m sure you won’t remember them except in vague flashbacks. A prime example of this type of film for me is: E.T., I hated the damn thing when I was a kid and saw it at the cinema and even now I see red if I see snippets of it.
14 Dec 2010Posted by on
One of things I love about the English language is it’s ambiguity. One of the things I hate about the English language is it’s ambiguity. English is a wonderfully expressive language, consider some of these popular examples:
- I wandered lonely as a cloud.
- For sale, babies shoes, never worn.
- Through autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way.
- I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.
- Satan hasn’t a single salaried helper; the Opposition employ a million.
- Bury her memory, Sinclair. Bury it, and salt the earth.
- Now is the winter of our discontent
Beautiful and evocative every one.
Note: other languages may be just as expressive and ambiguous as English but since I am pig ignorant of all other languages I wouldn’t know. Feel free to correct me.
Of course, over the centuries the language has accrued a number of bizarre complexities and anachronisms. I cannot enumerate, or even know for that matter, the full list but I’ll provide, as supporting evidence, a few examples for your bemusement. Let’s start with context, words can often change meaning depending on how they are used in a sentence. I’m sure you can, given a moments thought, think of many examples. Or what about multiple words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings? Or, as I was discussing with Rebecca the other day, why there is such a difference in pronunciation between single and double letters, for example “kept” and “keep”, or “snow” and “snoop”. Why do you never see triplicated letters? Or the ever infuriating “i before e except after c” rule. and keep in mind the list of exceptions And have you ever tried to learn English grammar? No wonder I became a computer programmer.
Despite it’s vagaries and insanities I find I’m drawn to certain words from the motley crew of 600,000 (this factoid kindly brought to you by the enigmatic Wolfram Alpha). Whether it be the way they tumble around your mouth when spoken or the mental imagery they evoke, some words I find interesting and intriguing. So I thought I’d share some of my favourites. I wouldn’t describe them as common words, I’ve rarely had occasion to use most of them but I’m hoping to find a place for them in my own writing at some point in the future.
In no particular order (and by no means a full list):
10 Dec 2010Posted by on
The title of this post is taken from a blog post.
Let me start out by saying that the following is in no way aimed at denigrating the author of the blog. My intention here is to provide a little reality into what it means to “be there for your kids”.
The post is an interesting read about how the writer, Joanna, does not wish to be labeled as a “feminist”. The line I have used as the title caught my eye because I want to relate to you the reality of “soothing your child’s ills”.
Let’s be clear, I’m not mocking would be parents. I had that same child-like innocence about parenthood before I became “Daddy”. Joanna is noble and touching in her sentiments and to me at least she sounds like she would make a good parent, i.e. someone who actually gives a damn about their child (seriously, you don’t need to do anything else, but that doesn’t make being a parent easy).
Unfortunately the reality of being there for your children quickly strips away any innocence you once dreamed of for parenthood.
My second son, who is nearly 1 year old was born with only a single working kidney, the other is known as a “dysplastic kidney”. In essence the kidney tissue rebelled when the kidney was forming and now it’s a strange mass lurking in his abdomen. Apparently the condition is very common, not life threatening and people often only find out they a single working kidney when they have an ultrasound or are involved in an accident. I could write another two thousand words about the condition and the things we have gone through but that’s not the point of this post.
Over the past weekend my kidney challenged son was running a high fever and periodically vomiting for no discernible reason. It started on the Friday evening and by the Sunday night it showed no sign of abating and his temperature was creeping steadily higher. Naturally we were concerned about his strange condition and so took him down to the hospital. Note: we had been advised, when he was born and given his quirky medical status, that we should bring him straight to the hospital if we were concerned or if he exhibited strange symptoms.
We waited to see a doctor for three hours since he wasn’t considered a priority Initially the doctor thought it was an ear infection. We breathed a sigh of relief, an ear infection is easy to treat, has nothing to do with his kidney, hurrah we thought, give us some pills and we can go home. However, they also wanted to rule out a urinary tract infection so they wanted to get a “clean catch” (basically I had to hold a cup over his penis and wait for him to urinate) so they could test for bacteria. So, there we stood, in the Emergency department, taking turns at holding a little plastic cup over his private.
Then his fever disappeared, he went from 39.6C to 37C in the space of a couple of minutes. Was this a sign he was getting better or worse? We told a passing nurse. She was rather busy though and made a joke of it. Now as all parents know, you develop a spider sense with your kids, a kind of internal worryometer that fires when you detect that something is wrong with them. Until now we’d been concerned but the worryometer had been firmly in the green, now as Rebecca and I exchanged worried glances I felt mine starting to creep up towards amber.
Then around midnight another doctor arrived, basically the boss of the first doctor we saw. He checked him and said it definitely wasn’t an ear infection and asked us whether the strange mottling on his legs was normal? No we replied, the worryometer was now firmly out of green and rapidly lunging through amber. What made matters worse was that my son had produced no urine at all, not even a drop. The doctor now decides that it would be best to stick a catheter into him to get some urine out since the mottling could indicate an infection in the pelvis area.
We all go to to another room and a friendly male nurse gives the little chap’s bladder a scan and it seems to show there is something in there. With some difficultly he puts the catheter in but nothing comes out. My son is now looking very scared and confused about all the people around him despite our best efforts to reassure and calm him. The doctor decides to put a needle directly into his bladder to see if he can get something, but still no urine can be found. This is doubly strange because he always has a bottle before bedtime and so you would think that something would be there.
As you can imagine the needle on our worryometer has now spun past red and is doing frantic laps around the dial. It’s now difficult for us to hide our concern and fear from our son who is six hours past his bedtime, in a strange place and has various strangers keep doing awful things to him. The doctor decides to put a canula in his leg and draw some blood so they can do some tests. Once that’s done, we dutifully return to waiting for the clean catch to appear, a fresh cup in hand.
Three hours pass, still no urine and they decide to keep him in. The blood tests are back and there is no sign of any infection. It looks like it could be a viral infection but they want to be sure.
Now just as an aside, there are two things I noticed whilst waiting for hours in that emergency department. Firstly hospitals, I’ve come to realise are like mini cities, they have hundreds of people working every day to make sure the hospital runs smoothly, from food, to care, transportation and communication. Every member of staff knows their job and does so with a quiet smooth efficiency (at least from the point of view of visitors). Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the medical staff are obsessed with making you healthy again. I am pretty sure that if Idi Amin, Stalin or Hitler were submitted to the hospital with mortal wounds then the staff would feel compelled, regardless of their personal feelings, to do their up most to save their lives. It is an astounding thing to watch and my meager faith in humanity is raised a fraction whenever I have to visit a hospital.
Exhausted I go home to relieve the grandparents who, after being called upon at very short notice, are looking after son number 1. Rebecca stays with number 2. At 5am I return home, tired and worried beyond belief. But I don’t sleep, son number 1 rises at 5.15am and I need to fill in the grandparents who themselves are naturally worried. I try explaining to son number 1 about the situation but he’s only 4 and these things can be difficult to describe to one so young, the inadequacy of my explanation irritates me. The grandparents leave (for a flight, they have a holiday booked, talk about a confluence of bad timing) and I cobble together a makeshift bed in front of the TV, put on a Bob the Builder DVD as an impromptu baby sitter, sit my son down next to me and lie next to him to try and get some sleep.
At 9am I get a call from Rebecca, they can’t find anything wrong with my son but they know he’s ill, very ill. The new shift doctors are worried that his disappearing fever could be symptomatic of Meningitis so they are going to do a lumbar puncture to double check. Now I was worried before but my worryometer has decided to get up and leave since it’s no longer able to keep up with how I’m feeling. The word “meningitis”, understandably so, strikes terror into the heart of every parent. The fact that your child can go from perfectly “healthy” and normal to dead in a handful of hours is a fear that stalks the dark corners of your mind. My heart crumbled and in a matter of milliseconds every terrible and dreadfully possible scenario flashed through my mind. For the next three hours I was unable to think clearly the worry was so great. It wasn’t until the next phone call from Rebecca did my worry start to fall from the extreme heights it had reached. He was in the clear, but the experience was terrible for both of them, one of the worst Rebecca had ever gone through she said (and we’ve had our fair share of worries and late night hospital visits with son number 1).
However, he was clear of meningitis but they wanted to keep him in because his lack of urine was still a cause for concern.
And now I think I’ll leave my little tale at that point. In short, my son was in hospital for a further two days but soon returned to his feisty, independent self again. They never did identify what was wrong, we all chalked it up to a viral infection.
So what is the point of all this? A number of times in the past four years, I have been caught out by the intensity, stress and worry that go along with raising children. Most of the time your child may just have the sniffles and yes you can wipe away their snot and give them a hug to make them feel better. But sometimes, too frequently in fact, they are staring up at you with pain and anguish wracking their little faces and your impotence and inability to take away their suffering breaks your heart. You are supposed to protect them and you’ve failed and you have no way to explain why you have had to put them through a dreadful ordeal. This is a reality that we do not talk about as parents, we dare not because sometimes reality is too awful to contemplate but it is something that would be parents, I think, need to know.
Joanna you have your heart in the right place, but sometimes raising children is so hard and so painful that you pause and wonder whether it really is worth it.
6 Dec 2010Posted by on
To me, the digital and electronic age has been a silver cloud with a dark lining. I can’t complain too much, with the exception of mobile phones, I love gadgets, computers, the internet and electronics, I even did an electronics degree at University. Despite all this I sometimes get the feeling that Skynet is already here, active and quietly buttering us up for the day that it and all other electronic devices rise up and make us their meatbag-bitches.
I like tabs in my browser, lots of tabs. At the moment, as I write this I have around twenty tabs open in Firefox and four open in Chrome (I won’t bore you with why I use both browsers simultaneously). It’s not uncommon for me to have thirty or more tabs open at any given time in Firefox. Trouble is, Firefox can be a fat hog when it comes to memory usage, especially when you have multiple youtube pages open. A few hours ago I decided, since Firefox was gobbling down 650MB of memory and was, inexplicably, chewing up 40% of the CPU, to restart it. I dutifully closed it down using the little red button in the top right hand corner, the window disappears and then I try to start it up again. No dice says Firefox, an instance is already running. I wait a few seconds and try again, bugger off says Firefox I’m busy. So I fire up the Task Manager and watch what the Firefox process is doing. For reasons best known to itself it is now consuming around 750MB of memory (100MB more than when I decreed that it should start closing up shop for the night) and is still running at 40% CPU. Obviously there is a party going on and I’m not invited. It took over two minutes for Firefox to close down and deign to let me back into the Internet party. I wonder if it was chatting with Skynet about the content of my tabs.
But wait, there’s more, it’s not just my computer that is out to get me. Have you ever noticed that nowadays pressing a button on a consumer appliance is a request rather than an order? Let me lay out my case with some examples from around my home.
Exhibit A: The off button on my TV
Ok, so I didn’t buy the best TV out there, yes I wanted a big screen TV on the cheap but really when I press the button to turn it off I expect to turn the damn thing off. Whoever designed the TV decided that you have to press and hold the button for exactly the right amount of time otherwise the TV turns itself back on. That’s right, the TV will turn off and then back on again. But oh no, it doesn’t do that straight away, you think you’ve turned it off, walk away and then two seconds later it turns back on so you have to return to the TV and try again, this time trying to hold the button for less time, except if you don’t hold the button for long enough it won’t turn off. To say this is frustrating is an understatement. I know I sound petty but:
I know it’s only a small thing and it takes up only a tiny fraction of my day but it’s humiliating that I can’t manage to do something as simple as turn off a TV. I feel like men in white coats wearing reassuring smiles are going to come into my living room and gently lead me away because the “old man is having trouble with his TV again” whilst I gibber quietly about how “it just won’t turn off… you press the button but nothing happens… but if you press it for too long then it does turn off but then it turns back on again”.
The problem is so bad, and our frustration so great that we don’t use the button anymore and just switch off the power instead.
Exhibit B: The on button on my mobile phone
I’ll come right out and say it. I don’t like mobile phones. I’m old enough to remember when, if you had one, you were considered to be a yuppie jerk. I know, nowadays mobiles are cool lifestyle accessories for the hip and groovy, times have changed and maybe I haven’t but my main gripe with mobile phones is their size, or lack of it. As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes of “windows into my deranged mind” I’m quite a large guy. I have large hands and large, wide fingers so the ever diminishing form factor of mobile phones makes it difficult for me to even input a phone number without adding enough digits that I’ll wind up ringing someone in a neighbouring galaxy.
I like the look of the phones that have on screen keyboards with wide buttons for fat fingered idiots like myself but I currently have a rather ancient phone (it must be at least 18 months old) that still has the individual keys for numbers. But that’s not the evidence I’m presenting today. No, it’s what happens when I press the on button that grinds my gears.
When I turn my phone on it insists on making a loud annoying noise for no discernible reason, showing me a picture of who my service provided is for two to three seconds and won’t allow me to even enter a number until it’s “checked the sim”, whatever that means. I wouldn’t mind but checking the sim seems to take anywhere up to fifteen seconds. But I still can’t make a call because it has to find a signal. Since I’m an unsociable grumpy old man with no friends and a tendency to yell out “get off my lawn” at inappropriate times I only ever turn on the phone when I need to make a call. I don’t see why I have to wait thirty seconds to do so, I can plug in my land line and make a call straight away.
So to all mobile phone makers, stop suing each other for every damn feature on your phones and:
Exhibit C: Taking a photo with my digital camera
And so we come to my main exhibit, the worst offender and the biggest source of electronics driven teeth grinding for me. In ye olden days, before the invention of “megapixels”, we of the older generation were limited to twenty four (or thirty two if you were lucky) photos, having to frame your picture through a tiny glass window, frantically thumbing a little wheel in order to take another picture and moving closer to the subject of the picture to achieve a “zoom” effect. But at least you could take a bloody picture. Nowadays, we’ve traded in these irritations for a much larger problem, the fact that digital cameras now take four or five seconds to actually take a picture. There is nothing more irritating than missing a special moment due to your camera dithering around working out whether it should be taking a picture.
I have two small children and getting them to sit still for more than fifty milliseconds is an exercise in frustration but at least with old style cameras you would pick the damn thing up, click a button and, for better or worse, the picture is taken. Granted you might have run out of film, it might have been out of focus or you were too far away but at least photons connected with film and something was recorded. With the new fangled digital mcguffins you press the button and have to wait until the thing has jiggled itself around trying to focus and done some bizarre satanic ritual with it’s internal memory. Only then does it take the picture but by then your kids have buggered off upstairs to do something more interesting and the cute, magical moment you wanted to capture for those times when you want to remember that they are not in fact the spawn of satan has long past. There is no greater frustration than missing these gems and I damn to the lowest circle of hell all the digital camera designers who thought that the most important function of a camera should take more than half a second to accomplish.
I would like to think that this is because I have a cheap and nasty camera. Alas no, I have some fancy, but not too expensive, Sony number and this problem isn’t limited to my current camera. My previous camera also seemed to take an age to do it’s primary function.
So to all those designers who can’t make a digital camera take a photo quickly:
Now there is a theme to my evidence m’lord, namely, how long it takes for the little box of diodes to wake itself up, drag it’s arse out of bed and give me some service. Contrast this with how my car works. I turn the key, it starts and I can drive. Straight away, no fuss and no “hang on, I’m still putting my undies on” lame excuses for it’s tardiness. Yes the car then runs through some “system checks”, at least the display on the dashboard tells me that, but I can drive the damn thing and don’t have to wait for it to check in with Skynet to see how much it should be getting on my nerves today.
In my opinion, it takes far too bloody long for modern consume electronics to do what they are designed to do but in true Internet nerd rage fashion I’m not going to do anything about it, mostly because there is nothing I can do apart from whine pointlessly on a blog that no one reads. At least I can still do that, until Skynet sends out the toaster to take me down.
4 Nov 2010Posted by on
Let me be honest, I don’t like exercising. It’s not that I dislike it, it’s just I’m not the type of person who gets off on adrenaline rushes and looks forward to their next iron pumping session at the gym. However, given that I work at home and I’m a Software Developer I have to exercise regularly otherwise I’ll either develop a DVT due to sitting down all day or bloat up to two hundred kilos and start sweating and panting every time I get up to pee.
I’ve been fighting with my weight for about fifteen years now, ever since I left University and started my first job at Nortel Networks in Maidenhead. It was the first time that I’d really been away from home (after all I went to Bradford University, in the town where I spent most of my youth) and emotionally it was a tough time for me. I turned to food, as people often do, to help me deal with the loneliness. That said, it didn’t help that Nortel gave free breakfasts to all the techies as an incentive for turning in early and subsidized lunches at the office canteen to encourage them to stay on the campus. My lack of will power, cheap nasty food and my natural disdain for formal exercise led me balloon to well over one hundred kilos.
I wasn’t always this way though, as a kid I was constantly on the move, always exploring and trying my best to have adventures. We used to play “hares and hounds” as kids which involved a one or two of us having to find and then chase down the remainder of our little group. In short, I was as slim as a beanpole despite nearly eating my long suffering mother out of house and home. Even at University, being too poor to have a car (even an “old banger”), I would up having to walk everywhere carrying stupidly heavy books like a pack horse. That and eating nutritionally dubious food meant that by the time I started looking for a real job I was svelte and still sported the six pack nature had blessed me with.
Fast forward to five years ago and late one night, close to Christmas, I find myself watching post midnight TV. For those who tend to go to bed at reasonable hours, this is the domain of the infomercial and usually I have little to no interest in the bizarre wares they peddle. Really I have no desire to purchase the fantastic and innovative looking twenty eight piece vegetable peeler. But one segment caught my eye, it made me not want to eat the last butter cookie perched high up my mountain of a belly. It was an infomercial for a fitness program called Power 90 by Beach Body. It gave me reason to pause because it said that if I wanted to lose weight then I would have to work at it. This sounds obvious to those who already exercise but there are so many exercise programs that promise a lot in return for little effort that you tend to tune them out after a while since you know they can’t be true. This one was different. The next day I ordered a copy, lost thirty kilos and haven’t looked back. I even bought their follow up program P90X which led to me feeling fitter and healthier than I ever had before.
Fast forward again to December 2009, I hit a snafu, my second son was about to come along and Rebecca was taken into hospital for a couple of weeks before his birth as a precaution. I felt it was important to ensure that my first son continued to see his mother and so we daily made the hundred kms round trip to the hospital. To compound matters further, a few months after my son’s birth I was working hard on getting my writing application Quoll Writer completed and available for sale which meant working long into the night putting the website together, fixing bugs and adding features. With all the stress and lack of sleep my thyroid decided to throw it’s toys out of it’s pram and became under-active. The upshot of this is a. I fall alseep at strange times and have little to no energy and b. I put on weight like a pig being fattened up for Christmas. As Rebecca pointed out, I’m one of the few people who can actually say they have a “hormone problem” to explain away their size (not that I would want to use that as an excuse however even if it is the reason). The thyroid condition is interesting because I can, quite literally, put on a kilo or more in a single day, much to my annoyance and bewilderment. Luckily I’ve now brought my thyroid under control again with medication but the weight has remained and I’ve suffered with a number of illnesses this past year. I have a running joke now that I’m planning what will strike me down in the coming month.
Recently I have been loosely following the workouts designed by Scooby a 49 year old Engineer who lives in El Salvador. Ah the joys of the internet. I say loosely because I have been doing extra cardio, two twenty minute sessions extra per day. This works out well for me since I sit at home all day. It ensures that I get up at regular intervals and doesn’t consume a vast chunk of time. It’s been working reasonably well, I’ve followed the intermediate workouts thus far although I’m thinking of upgrading to advanced with a couple of changes. I have learned over the years is that it’s important to adapt workouts to your specific needs/lifestyle/preferences.
What does the future hold for my weight? Who knows. One thing I can be certain of is that I will be battling my nemesis for a long time to come. Damn, that’s a bit of a sour note to finish on isn’t it. Here’s a puppy.