Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour Thingy (again)...

Yep folks, it's that time of year again.

As with last year, major cities around the world are turning their lights off (a little later this year) at 20:30 local time, which here is in just over five hours.

The idea behind the stunt, if such it may be called, is to save electricity, and to encourage people to act on climate change.

Now "climate change" has always been a phrase that makes me shiver. Not because I'm scared of destroying the planet, but because I'm ashamed to belong to a race that arrogantly believes that it alone is responsible for killing a four billion year old ecosystem.

That said, I've always generally been in favour of being environmentally friendly, as long as it doesn't inconvenience me too much, and since Earth Hour is not really an inconvenience at all, I see no reason not to join in.

So hey, 20:30GMT, all the lights go out :).

In other news, I've been struggling to pull money together for my lenses, let's see how that goes. The old lenses go up to auction tomorrow so hopefully I'll be able to replace them fairly quick-smart.

Have fun. My week off work ends in about 40 minutes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Awesome Dads... (Emo post)

I'm one kid - one of a minority according to the internet, where everyone is an escaped war child, or failed asylum seeker, one kid who was born before the Internets became a big thing, before it invented paypal or internet scams...
I was a kid who was young enough to equate a popular TV show, with real life.

This video
stuck in my mind. I dunno. Having been released in 1987, (I was born in '85) I was lucky enough to witness what was perhaps one of the first music videos ever. And I saw it and my young mind recorded it verbatim! My young mind saw the video on TV, saw the explosions, and I told myself: This is what my dad does at work!!!!

I saw it when I was a kid, and I knew my dad "went out" to work. He was gone for hours, almost half a day at a time. He went out before mum and got back after mum. He always said he'd gone to work "in town".
And like a kid, I naturally figured that he made a living driving speedboats, dodging bullets, and surviving explosions.

So here, in a somewhat emotional fashion, is to my youth, when my dad was the biggest superhero of all. When I thought he could leap off a sinking speedboat into a harbour, still fight all the baddies, and recover the cash, all while managing to smoke a cigar to a stub while having a Bell Jetranger hovering above his head. When his mechanical pencil was extra special, and not to be fucked with, cos it's "Dad's pencil". When his rulers or pens or BBC Computer, or solid oak desk was not to be fucked with, cos "it's Dad's Stuff".

I was lucky enough to be born to an awesome dad.

Through my adolescence, even my early adulthood, my dad has never become less awesome...

I love you dad :).

I miss being a kid :).


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kites, Cameras and Kids

Please note: I was happily writing my blog and I decided to reward myself for my hard day's work by going to the shops and buying some cider. Now the British are quite fond of Binge Drinking, so I figured I'd engage in a national pasttime. Consequently, this entry may make less sense as we go on, but hey. Let's crack on.

"Spam up, for an anniversary"

Yeah right, get real. Even the poorest of the poor wouldn't celebrate an anniversary with Spam.
It's nice, but not that nice. Even the poor fools who were paid to record the jingle know that - the singer must have been inwardly cringing as he sang the words.

And that woman, she's the most unconvincing actor ever, with her prim and proper "spam up" blithely ignoring the fact that no one who is remotely choosy about what they eat (which conveniently doesn't include me) would eat spam. For an anniversary? "Yes, darling, here is your lovely spam salad. And here is an anniversary eternity ring. I won it from a grabber machine".



I don't know who the local authority is that's responsible for the parks. Whether it's the local council, or some private company.
Whever it is though, I'd like to thank them.
Someone's been ploughing money into one of the local parks, resulting in (what looks like) a new kid's play area, complete with slide, climbing frame and a little climbing wall. I'd show you on google satellite view, but they haven't updated the image yet.

Not only that, but behind the metal barriers, all that heavy machinery clanking away has been doing something. And when the barriers came down, a brand spanking shiny new BMX track, complete with corners, mounds, slopes and everything.

I took the opportunity to take my ickle nephew down to the "new" park, and when we got there what I saw was incredible.

This park had suffered from years of vandalism and as a result was frequented only by runners, dog walkers and the occasional joyrider wanting to burn out "his" ride. Ever since I was a kit, the place felt abandoned and uncared for. All the park attracted was graffiti, broken glass and dog crap*.
Today was different though.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, there wasn't a cloud to spoil the view etc etc. The birds were singing (actually the birds were mostly our friend, Corvus Corone and his mates, sitting around making their usual "Grawrr Grawrrr" noises, which translated loosely into "Rawr I hope someone drops some KFC)."

the little kid's play area was full of kids and parents. Looking ahead to the new track, there were easily 40 maybe 50 yoofs of varying ages, all screaming round it on their mountain bikes, BMXs, anything with two wheels. At one point a lad turned up on his motorcross bike, but despite the encouragement of the crowd, wisely thought better of it. Lucky for him, as a few minutes later a police car turned onto the road, going slowly past the track.

My nephew spent ages in the kiddies play area, while I took advantage of the light to moderate wind, and (while keeping an eye on him) put my stunt kite together for its first flight.

In retrospect, I should have read about how to fly one, instead of assuming it was some kind of intuitive process. I did however, become adept at flying the kite in aggressive and violent figures-of-eight, the wings roaring loudly as it sailed through the air, though not adept enough to stop it from nosediving into the ground hard enough to bounce back into the air.
I wasn't helped by the fact that my nephew thought it was very funny to wait until the kite was unattended on the ground (usually while I was chilling out on a bench or something), and grab hold of one of the line reels, running around in circles unreeling a hundred meters of line around the climbing frame, slides and swings. The little sod.

But for well over two hours, we just had a totally fantastic time at the park. The weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, the grass was green, and the place was packed with people all enjoying themselves. Dogs were walked, horses were rode/ridden/whatever, loads of ice cream was sold, and for the first time in (my) living memory, this park was actually being used, by people, to enjoy themselves. It was brilliant, and put me in a fantastic mood for the rest of the day :).


A few days later (this would be Monday, March 23rd), I went out shooting again to Manchester with my mate Nick. Even as we were on the way there, the weather worsened, the clouds got darker, and the wind went from "strong" to "violent". It was difficult to keep the car heading in the right direction, it was that bad.

We pulled up outside the Airport Hotel (a privately run pub near (near?! if it was any nearer it'd be on the f***ing runway!) the airport), famous for being a fantastic place to photo aircraft. It deserves this fame for several reasons:

1. It is right at the end of the runway. (like, RIGHT - if a 747 taxis past the airport, its wingtip will pass directly over the beer garden. Have I seen this happen? No. But Nick says so and I am not inclined to disbelieve him.)

2. It is right at the perimeter of the airport.

3. Parking costs £1, stay for 5 hours.

4. They do the most awesome sausage/bacon sandwiches in the world ever.

No sooner had we got into the beer garden of the pub/hotel than on the horizon, I see VROY on her way in, powering towards us at a high rate of knots.

Now as regular readers will know, I've got a special non-sexual relationship with VROY (officially G-VROY) in the same manner that entitles men today to continue to love cars they lusted after as kids. Officially, she's a fairly new but rather unremarkable Boeing 747-400, flying for Virgin Atlantic. Unofficially, she's the first 747 I've ever seen with my own eyes (I've seen them before with some eyes I borrowed from the optician's), and the first time I saw her, she was roaring over my head at not-a-high-altitude at a high rate of knots.

For a male, the combination of huge size, loud noise and awesome speed tends to stick with you, she was the first "real airplane" I've seen so I kinda developed a kind of whimsical** affection for her.

Anyway, We'd not unpacked yet, I'd only just dropped my pack onto the floor, and she's getting closer and closer.
I thought "oh no, It's my favourite plane and I'm gonna miss the opportunity to get some photos of her.
What I actually said was "F**k me!!" rather loudly, as I yanked my camera out of the bag, threw the lens cap somewhere in the general direction of away, and turning the thing on, thrust the camera in the direction of the plane. I fired off five shots. Two were crap, two were passable.

Even in the beer garden, with the benefit of the marquee and the windbreaks and the perimeter fence and suchlike, we were getting our stuff blown all over the place. I lost my cap one time, and at one point had the unpleasant experience of getting blown off a three foot wall. Which would have been fine and probably funny, had I not had over £1200 of heavy camera swinging from my neck.

My day took a major major turn for the better (that doesn't really compute does it?) when Nick was kind enough to loan me an awesome awesome piece of kit.
See, Nick was awesome enough to give me some lenses with the camera he originally gave me. They're good quality and cover (almost) every focal length I'd ever need. From 35mm to 800mm (with teleconverter)

Now nick has been really awesome, he's given me four seperate lenses just because he thought it'd help me out, and they have. I've taken thousands of photos through them.

But a while ago (I can't be bothered to look up the date) Nikon introduced something called "Vibration Reduction". You can read the article if you're interested, but the general synopsis is that human hands will naturally shake, it's impossible to hold any camera perfectly still. This is why people use tripods, and it's why the chief characteristic of a "bad" photo is accidental blur.

So, in an attempt to make $$$ by having better technology than everyone else (or at least solid answers to its rivals' innovations***), Nikon have (well, copied an idea that Canon introduced (I fight for Nikon against the evil forces of Canon, but let's be honest here)) introduced a technology called "Vibration Reduction" to their lenses. It's amazing, it eliminates the blur caused by a failure to hold the camera steady, and results in so many images being absolutely perfect.

Anyway, Nick in his own words "doesn't buy shit", he spends rarely, he spends once, he spends permenantly. He buys gear because he knows it will do a good job, he buys it because it is what he wants.

So he bought a couple of VR lenses. One of which, (to give it it's full name (to give me a smug feeling of superiority over those of you who don't know what it means (give me a break, I'm joking, I just want to have a laugh and stuff))) is the "Nikkor 70-300 F4.5-5.6 VR".

He was good enough to loan me the lens for the duration of the shoot. And my god, it is absolutely incredible! He paid £400 for it and it is worth every damn penny. I'd pay for this thing in loose change, happily counting out every single coin!

I appreciate that the majority of my readers are not photographers**** so I'll stick with saying that this new lens turned my camera from a mule into a racehorse. It was incredible, and I got absolutely incredible photos by using it.


I vaguely remember a chapter three, if not, it's the thought that counts.

I was smitten. I loved this lens. It was an absolutely awesome piece of kit that made my camera ten damn times better than it was. FINALLY I was using my camera for its intended purpose - to take awesome photos.

And awesome they were too. The weather at manchester was insane, crosswinds were mad, blowing at what I guess was maybe 45 degrees to the angle of the runway, not only enough to slow the approach of the incoming aircraft, but enough to throw them significantly off bearing too.

Nowadays, modern aircraft are all computers and autopilot. Not so much gigantic metal birds, as mobile computer platforms. And yet, as Chesley Sullenberger has recently demonstrated, there's still a human element to flying, and there's still the awesome responsibility of safeguarding the lives of your passengers (anything from two in a light aircraft, to a staggering Eight-Hundred and Fifty + (the number was too big to spell in plain numerics - eight hundred is a LOT of people!!!) in an A380).

And I had the honour on monday of watching these crew fight awesome crosswinds to bring hundreds of tons of aircraft to the ground, safely and smoothly. Every single plane I saw on approach was banked at an alarming angle to the runway, some facing well off the heading they were looking for. A half dozen aborted their landings and went around for a second attempt, but every single aircraft, despite absolutely insane crosswinds, landed successfully.Even a mahoosive 747 cargo freighter, managed to make it to the ground in one piece, despite fierce crosswinds

When I unlocked the lens from the camera and handed it back to Nick after the shoot, I might as well have been unscrewing my own damn genitals, having lost them in a bet, and was handing them to someone else.
Okay, even I didn't like that one, but you get the idea. Even as the pins unlocked and the contacts seperated, even before I pulled the lens off the camera, I thought "I am neutering my camera. Back to the daily grind".

Now I've amassed a small fortune (hahahaha a small fortune, it's equivalent to about four weeks' pay (i.e. "f*ck all, since work won't give me more than 11 or 12 hours a week). It's enough to make a healthy dint in the cost of the lens, and my regular paycheck might just be enough to tip the scales in my favour, and result in me coming home with such a beautiful lens.
But I've got to do it before april 1st, because in an effort to stimulate sales, Nikon are said to be raising the price of their lens WEF that date.
In a perverse kind of way, it makes sense. Every idiot, me included, will beg, borrow, steal money to afford the lens before the price goes from £390 to £460.

So I've been chatting to nick about what an awesome lens the 70-300 is and how I'm on about getting one. I've talked to him bout the price rise and stuff, how I reckon I figure I can afford it if I go overdrawn (PAST my overdraw limit) for a couple of weeks and stuff.
Out of the blue, Nick says:

"Sell those lenses I gave you."

Now this dude LOANED me those lenses. I've given him one back when I replaced it with a new one. But now he's basically telling me to sell his stuff and keep the money.
Whoa what an awesome guy.
Seriousuly though, Nick and I are very close friends, and this generosity on his part is typical of who he is. He's a big guy with a big heart.

So I'm gonna be selling four lenses and a teleconverter - that's at least £300. Damn, he's throwing his money away.

After making sure he was completely serious, I thought "fair enough, I WANT that lens!"

So hey, my trusty trusty lenses go up for sale tomorrow, soon to be replaced with rip roaring awesome modern Nikon optics. I guess I'll be sad to see them go - we've been through some good times together.

But hey, sometimes the past isn't always that hard to forget.

So let's hope they go for a good price, and let's hope that I can get the kit I'm after sometime soon :).

Here are some randomly selected pics. Look at TOYI - she was flying past us at a high rate of knots, and yet as far as the photo's concerned, she may as well be stood still.
VR is that awesome.

FOOTNOTES (footnotes generally don't have a chapter to themselves, should I call it something else? :P)

*This f*cking infuriates me. My attitude is summed up neatly in a little gem of wisdom I came up with: "If a dog sh*ts on the carpet, you rub the dog's nose in it. If the dog sh*ts in a public place, you rub the owner's face in it. What is wrong with people?! You wouldn't take your baby to the park for a sh*t, so don't take your fcuking disease-spreading dog. My family have a dog and two cats, but we clean their f*cking mess. My health and the health of my friends and family takes precedence over your lazy irresponsible and selfish unwillingness to clean up after your animal. You PRICKS.

**Whimsical is not the wordI'm looking for. I spent ages trying to figure out what the word was, even asking a couple of people to help me out. I'll let you know when I remember!

***I'm just being cruel to Nikon. Nikon is an awesome company and is responsible for as many innovations as Canon, its chief competitor. I've only ever owned Nikon SLR's and I don't plan on changing anytime soon. They might have dropped a bollock with the $8000 price of the D3X but hey, every company screws up from time to time.

****Please please please, I'm not trying to be patronising. I'm just trying to crack on and get this finished so I can concentrate on getting pissed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The first day of spring...

"If I hear the phrase 'spring has sprung' once more, I'm gonna scream. People think they're being witty, funny and original, when they're not." - Me, about two minutes ago.

What a beautiful day it is too. It must be 14 or 15 C outside, there's a cool breeze blowing, and the sun is beaming down on everything, as suns traditionally do.
Which is odd because if you look at a map of the solar system, you'll find the sun is actually beaming across on everything.
Though I suppose if you viewed the earth from the galactic plane rather than the equatorial plane (The galaxy's "horizon" versus our "horizon") it's actually beaming sort of slanty diagonally up on everything. Probably. See, our view of the universe is officially twisted!


RANT ONE: Counterfeit Goods

First order of the day was to go down to the sorting office, to pick up my new headphones.
I had a bit of a bad week last week, technology wise, and my sennheiser CX-300's actually stopped working during a nice long run I was having, one day to the hour before my Ipaq terminally stopped working. In their defence, I had had them a few years, and even a ferrari breaks down from time to time.
Ebay to the rescue - once I'd managed to find a guy selling ones that were at least "not very likely" to be fakes.

Yes, for some reason, China not only has the distinction of being a manufacturing giant, it is also the Earth's (and at this early stage in our knowledge of the skies, possibly the Universe's) central nexus of copied, ripped-off, "almost-as-good-as", "works-like", fake, and genuinely suspect goods.
If something's worth copying, (as demonstrated by the Popstation or Neo Double Games), it's probably been copied in china. Everywhere in china, companies with names like "Chintendo", "KenSingTon" and "Joy More" are turning out products with striking non-coincidental similarities to well established and loved devices (amusingly enough many of the genuine devices are also made in China), turning out horrifically bad products that in many cases might look identical to more expensive devices, yet bear no functional similarity whatsoever.
These companies manufacture thousands upon thousands of these cheap knockoffs with cheap parts, shonky labour and minimal quality checking, flooding the world market with suspect goods in the hopes that they can trick enough people to make a profit.

Ipods, games consoles, handheld devices, motorcycles, scooters, from things as small and innocuous as earphones, to things as alarming as combat aircraft and missiles, the Chinese industry seems to have a reputation - deserved or not, I can't say, for putting minimal effort into design, and maximum effort into copying the designs of others. Yes I suppose it is efficient and quicker, but it's also a bit. Well. Poor really.

Still to paraphrase one Chinese politician, we should keep our noses out of Chinese affairs.
Which is fair enough, except that it stopped being a solely Chinese affair once their companies started exporting shiploads and shiploads of this crap to our shores.
Now in China's defence, they also export shiploads and shiploads of not-crap - the stuff might even be on the same boats - imagine that, a cargo container of Popstations nestled in the hold of some ship, right next to a container of Sony PSPs (apparently limited edition PSPs are made in China, not Japan like the others).

With a breathtaking display of arrogance, I'm going to bring this back to me, which is where it started out. I personally have benefitted from cheap Chinese knockoffs - they make incredibly useful things like power adaptors, docking stations, computer mice, which companies here feel within their rights to charge you a fecking bucketload for. Things like this docking station, the "real thing", are an amazing FIFTEEN times the price of this one here, which I currently have sitting on my desk. The functional difference? Absolutely none what-so-fricking-ever!

It's thanks to many of those Chinese companies that I seem to have spent time criticising, that I'm able to buy things like docking cradle/station/whatevers for less than an hour's wages, when a UK company would happily charge a week's wages for the same thing.
But the fundamental difference between the two situations I've described is that many of these companies are trying to pass their own products off as their rival's, wanting to not only generate a sale for their own bank accounts, but deprive their rivals of the opportunity to sell the customer the product they actually want.
Some of these companies actually try to disguise their products as something else, which is the line at which, once crossed, "aftermarket" becomes counterfeit.

There seem to be a lot of counterfeit CX-300 headphones doing the rounds, a great many indeed. The real thing are fantastic with great sound quality and deep bass. The cheap counterfeits, as you can imagine, are said to be nowhere near as good. Yet, the company that makes the counterfeits, goes to great lengths, to copy the visual style, the product design, the packaging design, even putting the Sennheiser logo on the packaging and product, to try and deceive people into lining their pockets.
It's officially criminal in the west, and apparently the world trade organisation are trying to pressure China into meeting its commitments to prevent counterfeiting within its own borders. China, more through lax legislation rather than through lax enforcement, has historically done little to combat counterfeiting, though in their defence, they are said to be working hard to improve.

Anyway yadda yada yada.

Conclusion of Rant:

Getting deceived into buying counterfeit goods = BAD
Saving a fortune by knowingly buying "aftermarket" goods from an "alternate supplier" = GOOD

The distinction is whether a company tries to pass off a fake as the real thing. And that's what gets me.

A+ come and get your sticker and cookie - Mr Teacher

Where this long rant was leading, is basically that while I'd purchased my earphones, I wasn't sure whether or not they were fakes.
I'm still not sure. They look convincing enough and the sound quality is good enough, though the build quality is very slightly below par.
A fault in the sennheiser factory? Or are the counterfeiters getting better?
We may never know, or care.

Everything Else

More importantly, in the past couple of days, my new Ipaq, and its screen protector, dock, and case have arrived. Yay. It's a cool little gadget. I'm not going to go into any more detail here, because I make myself sound like a prepubescent schoolkid during a little video review of it that I did here.

All this means that I've spent the past couple of days in a particularly good mood, and today's lovely weather, the nice cool (not as cold as "cold" but much more welcome and "refreshing") breeze is fantastic, and through the window, the sound of lawnmowers and barking dogs is heard, as the country begins to emerge from what has been a surprisingly varied but very cold winter.

They say the weather isn't going to stay like this in the short term, but in the long term, it is getting better. So I'm gonna stay cheerful about that.


Remember the old "numa numa" videos doing the rounds a couple of years back?
If not, they looked like this, and this. It started out as a little thing and spread round the internet. Before we knew what was happening, a 90 second vid became famous worldwide.

Well, in 1979, a bunch of people got together and recorded what (in 40 years time) would be seen as an incredibly cheesy but incredibly addictive tune.
A music video full of campy colour coded suits, merry german lyrics, happy russian dancing interspersed with incredibly dated disco dancing, and a very catchy tune later, and it seems to have done a similar thing to the Numa vid, i.e. becoming known worldwide, before dying down.

I made the mistake of drunkenly following a link my mate sent me, and despite my best efforts, I've listened to practically nothing since. It is THAT irritatingly addictive.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want to spread the word, get the rest of the world hooked on the tune so that when me and my mates release the first (what we hope will inspire a thousand imitators from all over the world) video based on it (see here), we will be hailed as champions, given book and record deals, and go and buy ferraris, helicopters, and bottles of Cherry Coke.

Here's the video (English lyrics optional), here's proof of how annoyingly addictive the tune is.

I'll leave you to it. I'm off to enjoy the lovely sunny weather outside, while you lot sit and struggle to keep your minds free from that tune :P.

Have fun, good luck!

Friday, March 13, 2009


I am, at this moment, absolutely apopleptic with rage.
Seriously, I've got a headache and my hands are shaking with anger.

It all started when I went to sync my iPaq with my computer, to transfer the files from my PDA to my computer.
The plug went in. Nothing. No beep, no activesync.
I tried several more times, giving it the Eddie Izzard style "Cannot detect device? [holding ipaq up to the monitor] IT'S HERE!!!"

I uninstalled activesync, reinstalled it, restarted my computer several times, did several hard resets of the ipaq, losing all my data in the process, and still it wouldn't detect it.
This went on for an hour at which point the stylus got stuck inside the ipaq, and wouldn't budge.
After ten minutes of trying to free it, I lost my patience and launched the ipaq across the room into the wall (I have a habit of doing that).

I picked up the device and the now-free stylus, and turned it back on.
No touch screen. The touchscreen had stopped working.

I disassembled and reassembled the device several times, each time hearing the stupidly deafeningly loud beep as it reset itself. I lost patience with it and dropped the defunct pile of circuit boards at my feet, as I started searching ebay for a replacement.

Ipaq, spares repairs, needs new screen £0.99, 3 minutes to go.
I searched for a new screen - £5.99.

Fantastic, brand new PDA for £6, awesome way to go.

I counted down, and prepared to pounce, placing a bid of £10 on the ipaq.
with about 20 seconds to go, the screen went blank, and then went to the "please log in" screen.
I was halfway through my loudest "AAAAGGGHHHHH" to date, when I realised that the stupid thing wasn't even autofilling my log in details, so I had to type them in myself.

I finally managed to get back to the item, to find "Item won for 99p".
By someone else.

I went downstairs to say hi to my mum and enlighten her about the afternoon's events. I turned on the ipaq to demonstrate how it was no longer working, and even as I was jabbing the screen saying "Look, it doesn't work!!!" the happy little crosshairs on the screen were following my touches, saying "calibrating screen".

I feel like crying now, not out of sadness or anything, just out of sheer angry frustration. I've got an ipaq that does work, doesn't work, well it officially doesn't work yet it does.
And it still won't sync.
And it's eaten my stylus again.

Aaagh :(.

EDIT: And now a picture of a large parrot has appeared on the screen of my ipaq.
What. The. Hell.
I'm officially so angry I'm hallucinating, what the hell is a picture of a parrot doing on my ipaq?!


(A cross between an update, an epilogue, and a soliloquy)
I am now feeling quite considerably more calm. A fairly laid back four hour shift served to calm ny nerves - the opposite effect to the one it usually has - and I now feel quite a lot better (despite the fact that I left my bag containing all my tips at work - arrgh!). I brought my stricken ipaq back, and took it to bits again, and I've finally figured out what the problem is. Without going into detail, one of the "Flexible-Flat Cables" that connects the touchscreen to the motherboard has split, so the screen is effectively unplugged from the main board. This is not something I can fix, so my trusty Ipaq is I'm sad to say, defunct. It was a very useful gadget, I took it everywhere with me, and my frequent insistence that every little job I had to do was noted down on there, every appointment, reference number and birthday/anniversary, meant that it basically turned me from a disorganised loony into an organised loony, joined at the hip, dexter's lab style, with some sparkly shiny technological gizmo. So I've ordered another one. A nice sparkly modern one. It doesn't have the sleek curves of "my" Ipaq, and the screen is (slightly!) smaller, but it is more sparkly, more modern, AND you can upgrade the memory on it which for me is a big plus. So let's bid a teary goodbye to old Ipaq, and welcome the new one :-).


Apparently the Parrot I saw was not a hallucination (in my furious state of mind, it wouldn't have surprised me if it was!). It is in fact something coded into the software, to entertain and calm the user, during what is actually a hardware memory problem. It's basically there to distract you from the fact that something has gone horribly badly wrong.
A very attractive creature it was, red and green and blue, very nice :-).

Here are some pictures - my old iPaq, and my new Ipaq.
Sorry about the huge image size - for some reason I can't figure out how to make linked images small like you can with uploaded ones.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Why do I write this blog?

A question which I've occasionally been asked, one that I have to admit to not really pondering that much.

The "Blogsphere" as it is known, is inhabited by many thousands of individuals, each with their own little online kingdom, their own agendas, each blog with its own purpose.

There are as many different examples as there are different bloggers, as everyone will want to keep his/her own blog for a personal and officially unique reason.
Amongst the blogs that I've visited recently, some want to write about politics, using their blogs as long in-depth political commentaries. Others want to recommend exotic places to eat, and review the food they sell. Some are nothing more than page after page of "I went to the shop/swimming pool/bowling alley today, it was fun".

And as with anything else that contains a degree of variety, people uninvolved in blogging will pick and choose things about blogging that they don't like, and latch onto them like a jack russell latches onto your leg.

"On the street, the mad loonies can shout out their beliefs, and they'll generally get laughed at. On the internet, they will find people to listen".

"She spouts the pointless minutae of her life, hoping to generate some surrogate sense of self worth, by using the internet to convince herself that people care what colour bedspread she just bought".

I suppose both statements are broadly true, if a little cruel. Bloggers - myself included - have all been guilty at one time or another, of posting crap. I refer you to some of my more drunken posts if you're not already convinced.

But the statements above are symptomatic of what happens when any normal opinionated human being, sees something that doesn't fit in with his/her world view. The little gears in their minds turning, with the words "if they wrote this for my benefit, they didn't do a very good job" flashing through their subconcious. A little natural self indulgence on the part of every reader, in the time honoured lolcat style, "this is/is not relevant to my interests". Rarely does it seem to occur to anyone however, whether the blog they're criticising is actually written for their benefit, or not.

Before anyone accuses me of sounding defensive, I haven't as far as I'm aware, had my own personal blog criticised or attacked. So why am I writing this?

Perhaps I am feeling a little defensive, and I want to cover my back.
Or perhaps I am angry at the treatment of bloggers elsewhere, and want to speak up on their behalf... Perhaps not.
Maybe I just want to explain, as if explanation was needed, why this blog is here, so I could maybe indemnify myself against future criticism, weilding this entry as a longwinded "don't like it, don't read it" caveat.

I suppose on reflection, it's likely to be a combination of the former and the latter. Not so much my second reason at all - at the risk of sounding cruel, there really are blogs out there that don't serve their intended purpose, because they actually are being misused by people who really do want the world to comment on their new soap is, and last night's choice of dinner.

But I suspect those blogs are fewer in number than people make out.

I write this blog for a variety of reasons.
Most importantly, I write it for the same reason I take photographs, for the same reason I buy souvenirs, or for the same reason that at Christmas/Birthday, I go everywhere with a video camera.

90% of my reason for writing this blog, is purely selfish. I write it because I want to keep a record of the years as they pass, because with the ability to include photos and videos, this blog is far superior to any paper diary.

It acts as a kind of moderate safety net I suppose. Should I become unhappy or worried for whatever reason, if I'm so inclined, I can read back through my life to other similar occasions, and read forward from there so I can see week by week how things improve and return to normal.

As a two-way safeguard, when I am upset, I can read about happier times and cheer myself up. Conversley, when I am happy, I can make myself even happier by reading back and seeing just how far I've come.

Preserved as words on a page, are feelings;

  • The warm rosy excitement on Christmas eve.
  • The happiness at the family celebration meal we had at my brother's birthday.
  • The fear and nervousness before my trip to have my tooth out.
  • The excitement at our trip to Twin Lake's amusement park.
  • The sense of victory, and accomplishment, as I passed the assessments during Army selection.

Like jewels in a display case, all those days, with their memories, their feelings, their fears and their hopes, are there arrayed for me to look at, to re-experience in my mind, how I felt on every single one.
All at once can I remember where I was going, what I was doing, who I was with. The music, the sound, the sights and smells of every single one of those days, and I can sit here, and relive each and every one of those days, and feel, for a time, just how I felt at the time.

I have photos, many photos, and videos too. I can see exactly what I did, from the viewpoint of myself doing it at the time. I suppose for me, the past isn't past at all. It's merely stored away, in its own little entry, with a few paragraphs and some pictures. Just waiting for me to dust off the box, open it and look inside again.

Happiness is only a box away.
I think I'll carry on opening them from time to time

And I suppose, that in a rather worrying kind of way, this blog serves as a safety net. To paraphrase Spike Milligan (again - I've used this quite elsewhere) "What is it about the past that is so compelling? Is it that with the present so dismal, and the future uncertain, the past welcomes us with open arms, to happier times?".

I'm not an unhappy person by any means, far from it. I have a lot to look forward to. And maybe I can record that, for posterity, for my future self, at the time.
But only after I've taken care to enjoy each day, for the reality of what it is, right here, right now, to be recorded, but never to happen again.

I make it sound like I live for the past, but that, is a mistake which I am careful never to make, because the present is the desk on which the pages of the past are written.

The better you live your days, the better your future.
But almost as important, The happier your memories.

May you all have a good day, and many such days to come. And may you all record them to share with others, as I do. Because feelings and memories make you who you are.

And I rather like who I am.

I leave you with a picture.
Have fun.

Fly away, be free!

You bloody stupid RC Helicopter.

On Tuesday, I went to the town center to go and do my BARB test again.
I got there, in true me fashion, just in time, and having got into the deserted office just in time, ended up sitting for the next 20 minutes, while various sergeants came in, asked our names and went out again.

If I haven't already explained, I finally went to the army carreers office to tell them I now felt ready to do the final stage of selection. Of course, since like an idiot, I'd not been in touch with them for a while, they cancelled my application.

So I started a new one - the BARB being the second part of said application. The first consisting of reams of paperwork wanting to know everything from how often I exercised, to whether I thought pepsi was better than coca cola. Well, mostly.

Anyways, we got taken down to the testing room, and signed in for the tests.
"Please tick this box to say you have read and understood the introduction and sample questions booklet".

"Uhm, I haven't been given one".

Bugger I remembered being given one last time. I explained that no I'd not been given a booklet, yes I have seen one before (back in 2007 I think). Yes I was okay to do the test, and if my results were lower as a result of not having revised, then so be it.

So I started the test. And despite the semi broken touchscreen that only let you press one of the answers if you touched it in the right exact place every time, the incredibly uncomfortable headphones that seemed to give me a headache, and the fact that every once in a while, my finger would go and tap the answer to a question even as my mind was saying "no that's the wrong answer", I think it went okay.

Eventually, the tests finished, and we sat and waited.
I had a little interview with the sergeant afterwards, and it turned out my BARB score this time round, was 76. It was 87 last year. Bleh.
But hey, I've just found out the average score is around the mid forties, and the sergeant himself told me that I had a "very high score" so hey, I rock!

We went through the list of jobs I was eligible to do, which was most of them. I still put Tank crew as my first choice, but my second and third seem to be a punch up between Armourer, Air Dispatcher, and Vehicle Mechanic. One of them is going to have to go.

After leaving the AFCO with more forms to fill out, I went to the local store to trade in my little remote control UFO (the one I got for christmas, that stopped working) for a new one. They didn't have another UFO so I paid extra and got a little RC helicopter instead. Only a tiny little one.

Anyway, wednesday morning, I went out to take it for a test flight. No breeze, and it was nice and quiet, so off we went.
The helicopter lifted off slowly, then started leaning to the side as a slight tiny breeze picked up. The helicopter climbed further, at which point I realised - half with a laugh and half in horror - that it was disobeying my commands. It climbed even further, the little rotors whirring away, until it was too high to land in the garden, then too high to land in the gutter, then too high to land on the roof.
Up it went, over the roof, and I lost sight of it as it disappeared :(.
After an hour of searching six gardens, I didn't find it :(.

So meh, that's no good. I'm now helicopterless.

Still, I managed to sell my horrible little 8500 graphics card for the princely sum of £19. plus £6 postage.

Maybe I can use the money to buy this.

Have fun.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Birthdays, Beer and Heat Sinks...

I've had a cool week, my nephew's been up to see me a lot, so we've spent a lot of time together.
His latest thing which he likes doing, is playing "That train game". Yep, he gets dressed in his finest "Train driver's Gear" (wrapping himself in blankets) and we fire up TRS2006 (Screenshot from my system, here).
Why did I buy that game? Am I a train spotter? No way! However, there's no way I'm gonna look at a machine like the Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive, with its 6,290 Horsepower designed to pull over 3300 tons (over 600 of which are the locomotive and tender!), at speeds of up to 80mph, and not be impressed.
My nephew loves the game - whether at the controls of Big Boy (which we still haven't learned how to do "Hill Starts" in yet) or at the controls of an ICE train, my nephew is determined to (in his own words) "Set the world record!", but also stop the passengers from "getting angry". It's incredibly cute.

It's thanks to my awesomely incredible new graphics card that I've been able to reinstall graphics intensive games like this (okay, so trainz's graphics aren't that incredible - it's a 3 year old game though). From the games I've played so far, the card is incredible, and will easily take anything that the games industry can throw at it.

Like Crysis for example. (Game trailer here)

Crysis was released all the way back in 2007, to widespread criticism. It wasn't a bad game, far from it. But it was one of the first games designed for DirectX 10, if memory serves, and at the time, none but the very latest - and most expensive - graphics cards, would run it well. Gamers complained that their systems weren't up to the task. Only a monster computer could play it.

Lucky for me that I've got an 8800GTS.

Crysis, without a word of exaggeration, is a breathtakingly beautiful, absolutely incredible beast of a game. It makes games like Doom 3 and Prey look outdated and ugly (not surprising - both games share the same engine).
The game looks absolutely incredible. Plants wave in the breeze, water ripples gently, flocks of seabirds make their slow way across the beach, leaving only footprints. Even when the weather turns bad, the game is still beautiful, as tornados tear buildings to pieces, flinging wreckage through the air.

Spot an enemy soldier, and he opens fire. Return fire, and he'll take cover behind a tree. Not a problem, as the tree will splinter and collapse as you empty more and more ammo into it. If you're lucky, you can even catch him underneath it, as it collapses.
His friends come to aid him, screaming towards you in a pickup truck. No problem. Shoot out one or two tyres, and watch as the vehicle loses control, cartwheeling off the road and through the air, before hitting the ground and bursting into flames.

Out of ammo but still feeling destructive? Pick up anything and everything, from laptop computers, to watermelons to beer bottles, and throw them through the air, watching as they smash against the wall. Who needs to crowbar a crate open when you can smash it against the ground?
Pick up a chickens, even a couple of chickens, for crying out loud, and they will carry on clucking and looking around, while you walk about holding the damn things.

Fight the enemy with rifles, grenades, even with vehicle mounted machine guns, or tanks. Run across a picture perfect tropical beach, over the deck of an aircraft carrier, or through a dead and frozen wilderness. Fly through zero gravity alien environments, fighting all manner of enemies, both human, and alien, from the size of a soldier, to the size of a warship!

This game is incredible, incredible, incredible. I cannot overstate that enough. If you have what you consider to be a modern powerful system, put it to the test - for crysis' sake, go out and buy this game!

Another game I've bought is Sins of a Solar Empire, this time a 4X RTS game.
Pick an empire, and lead it to dominance, through a beautifully realised 3d universe, filled with planets, black holes, stars, wormholes, asteroids and plasma storms.
It didn't make as big an impression on me as Crysis, because it's not as beautiful.
But, it's still a pretty damn good game. Field dozens of ships, from small fighters, to immense battlecruisers as you take over the galaxy.
Put simply, the game is kinda a cross between C&C, Homeworld 2 and Master of Orion 3.

Back to my nephew - this week has featured the lil guy's 5th birthday. Yep, he's getting old now.
My sis and I took the opportunity to decorate his bedroom with a new sparkly shiny ceiling covered in glow in the dark stars. The family visited, my nephew went through his presents, and all was well and nice :).
Today was the day of his party. We rented the local church hall - a surprisingly modern building despite the medieval mindset that gave it its original purpose, and decorated the place with balloons and suchlike.
My sis spent a ton of money she didn't have on food, and also on hiring an entertainer.
Billy Bodkins, a local children's entertainer, turned up and got set up, and the kids started arriving.
And everyone had an awesome time. Billy did a fantastic job of keeping the kids entertained, even some of the adults (no, not me, hehehe) got involved, and my nephew seemed thoroughly happy with his party. He got even more cool gifts, and he got to hang out with his friends.

Even I had a pretty good time, what with the nice food and everyone having a nice time. Despite my batteries playing silly buggers, leading to me juggling a dozen batteries between my little camera and my flashgun, I managed to get a nice record of the events too.

So yeah, it's been a pretty good week. For everyone.

I'm now off to get pissed and play Prostreet. Have fun folks!

And here is a rather sparkly picture of my awesome computeryness, complete with new graphics card.