Loft swimming horses

Si loves clowns.

Published in: on 19/04/2011 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Frivolous/Arduous

Tuesday December 28th : Whilst trying to get my digital copy of Inception onto my PSP I realised something. I had an old PSP (1001). It’s not a ground shaking development nor something that would change my outlook on life, but I just hadn’t realised it. A short bout of research later, and feeling somewhat spurred on by a mixture of post-Xmas blues, no holiday between Xmas and New Year, and the knowledge that I was in for an unseasonably excessive workload, I decided to give myself an expensive treat.

Wednesday December 29th : I popped into Croydon in my lunch break hoping to pick up my new toy. Game was a total bust, the sales and upcoming VAT hike meant that the queue literally went out of the door. I almost had success in HMV, but the only one they had in stock was a returned, broken one. I decide to just order it online. “If order it from Game I can get myself some reward points and with free express delivery have it by the New Year”, I thought. A few moments on their website and the deed was done. All I had to do now was sit back and wait…

Thursday/Friday December 30th/31st : I knew I was being a little optimistic. I figured that they were still recovering from the Xmas rush of online ordering, besides it was between Xmas and New Year, and like where I worked, a lot of people were either on holiday or off sick.

New Year : HURRAY! Everyone drank and was merry. No need for treats or stuff like that, I was having fun and people weren’t working. We all need a break sometimes.

Tuesday January 4th : After a hard day at work I was hopeful that I might have a package waiting for me. I phoned Michelle before I left and did ask, but there was nothing waiting for me. Not even a “we tried to deliver your package when you were out” slip.

When I got in, I went online to check my orders status. “Oh it’s been shipped” I initially cooed. “It was being shipped today” I said a bit more puzzled. A few clicks more and I was on the Parcelforce website checking my delivery’s status. It was dispatched today. It had also, according to their website, been successfully delivered.

And signed for.

BY ME.

OK. Maybe a little bit of a mistake, it can happen. But their website helpfully has a way of looking at the signature of the signee. Maybe I was starting to get a little annoyed by now, but did that signature look like someone had tried to just write my name?

I went door to door with all the nearest neighbours. No-one had taken any deliveries. Everyone wished me “good luck in finding out what had happened to it”. When no-one had taken delivery of it, I went from puzzled to full-on rage. I went on both Parcelforce’s and Game’s websites and made complaints, noting down a few useful phone numbers to give a few angry phone calls to.

(OK, at this point I started writing things down. Names of people – replaced with initials in this post to protect the “innocent” and to prevent any potential for legal gubbins – and dates and times and what was said. I’ll try to keep it brief.)

Wednesday January 5th : Wasted some time navigating around the confusing Parcelforce automated menus and then 15 minutes listening to a loop of Coldplay. Eventually I spoke to a nice woman (didn’t get her name!) who was helpful and apologetic. She gave me the phone number for the depot my parcel had shipped from.

I then spoke to W. W wasn’t rude, just disinterested. He told me that he would phone the driver to find out what had happened. This was 10:10. At 14:40 I phoned back. Was cut off once, but eventually got W again. He told me that the manager was dealing with it and would be speaking to the driver the next morning and that he, W, would give me a call.

“Good, the manager’s involved, this might shake things up.” I thought. I was wrong.

Thursday January 6th : Didn’t hear anything all morning so called W back at 11:50. He tells me he needs to get some paper work from the manager and would call me back in 5 minutes. At 12:30, N (the manager) calls me back but directly from his mobile. He was very nice but had failed to speak to the driver that morning. The driver was apparently ignoring his mobile and any texts so he was unable to find anything more out. N asked me exactly what I had lost and I tell him. He tells me that they will either find out where the item is, or just tell Game it’s lost and I can get a redelivery or a refund. N promises to speak to the driver the following morning.

Friday January 7th : Again no call back, so at 12:30 I call N myself.

“Oh I was just about to call you”, N tells me. 😡

N tells me that the driver “swears blind” he did deliver the package but must have just not updated the console properly. N then tells me that the driver would be in the area of my home again at about 13:00 and was going to try to jog his memory about what had happened. (?) Michelle was in, so I tell the manager this, thinking that it might help.

At 14:25 I get a voicemail from N. He hasn’t heard anything from the driver. I end up managing to get to speak to N again at 16:40. N tells me that he doubts he will be hearing back from the driver that day. I say, “OK, I’ll call Game”. N says, “I’m sure they will send you another one.”

Saturday January 8th : Speak to Game. S tells me that one of her colleagues (A) had sent Parcelforce an email that morning in response to my online complaint from the 4th. Unfortunately, as it was a Saturday, I would have to wait until then before any more could be done about it. She tells me that A would call me back on Monday. I confirm my mobile number with S.

Monday January 10th : 16:00 and no call from Game. I call them back. I speak to N who was very helpful. She actually phones up Parcelforce whilst I’m on hold to find out what’s been going on. After 5 minutes she’s back talking to me. Apparently Parcelforce were telling her that the driver said he knocked on the door, but there was no answer, as he was walking away someone came to the door and signed for it. The driver couldn’t remember what the person that signed for it looked like. Parcelforce then added that it was upto Game to decide what this meant. (?)

N then tells me that sounds like it’s lost to her. She says “we’ve been having a lot of trouble with Parcelforce” and we exchange ancedotes about the problems we’ve had. (At last a kindred spirit!) She offers redelivery or refund. I decide for redelivery, thinking it will be the least amount of effort for me, but ask if I can have it delivered to work instead. She says thats ok and asks me to confirm my work address over the phone. She tells me that she will organise a redelivery and call me back the next day with an order number.

Wednesday January 12th : I give them the benefit of the doubt again and let Tuesday slide, figuring that they are probably still a little snowed under. I call them back at 14:30 and speak to A2 who says she will ask N about what’s happening. She then comes back and tells me that their website order team is very short-staffed so it was a bit held up. She then tells me that she will send them an email to make my order a priority. She tells me that I should receive an email with the order number in it that evening. (I have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I should just give and get a refund now.)

When I get home I find I was sent this email at 15:50 and not only that but my order was now preparing for packing.

Thursday January 13th : It finally gets shipped again using a 24 hour business delivery. I then just check the delivery address. DISASTER. It’s being sent to my home address again! I fear the worst.

Friday January 14th : I spend the morning checking the Parcelforce delivery tracking service every 15 minutes or so. I stop doing this at 11:00. I then check again at 13:00 and find that it’s been delivered. The signee this time is what I think is a neighbour, although i didn’t really recognise the name.

That evening I got home. Again no failed delivery attempt note through the door, but I had guessed the neighbour right and hip hip hooray I finally got it. (It’s a very lovely PSP 3003, MUCH lighter, smaller, slick-looking, with a beautiful new display and faster loading times.)

If there was a moral, or a lesson to be learned, I cannot help but feel it’s this.

DON’T TRUST PARCELFORCE. Even when they did manage to get the package to near my house they left me to work out where it was!

Published in: on 15/01/2011 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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A nice quick one for you

Evening Blumenthals

In whipping up a quick and easy pasta dish with good old tomato sauce (proper sauce, not ketchup!) I hankered from some bread to accompany. Alas the sour dour loaf purchased from the excellent bread stall on Northcote road showed the signs of handmade bread and presented a somewhat dry status. Quick as a flash I poured a glug of olive oil into a pan and chucked in a couple of slices. Some fried bread didn’t quite appeal on its own so I went for a decent grating of parmesan on both sides. The result: an easy but toothsome concoction that I can heartily recommend to you all. Ta ta.

Adam

Published in: on 06/12/2010 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meedya

Christmas is fast approaching and with it comes the inevitable, and very practical, present that is the aunt’s favourite: the gift card. Now, these come in many different flavours and, as well as being excellent for removing ice from windscreens, can often be used to purchase books. I have a lot of these bad boys lying around – mainly because I pretty much entirely fail to use them when I go shopping. I therefore strategically place them around the flat to remind myself to use the flippin’ things when out on a giddying spending spree. This morning, the chest-of-drawers-based card caught by eye as I was slipping on the old shirt and gentleman’s half hose. This is a borders card, which probably shows how old it as as I think they went bankrupt, and on it is a moving inscription to big-up the world of books. It reads: “You can know a man by the books he reads.” Hmmm, I thought, what a load of pappy bollocks from some long-dead chump.

But indeed this is a sentiment shared by many (the books-are-great sentiment, not the pappy-bollards ones). I guess I can understand why. Books used to be pretty much the only medium by which you could learn new stuff off your own bat. Otherwise, you were obliged to learn skills from a master, or listen to tales from a giant cartoon rabbit with a speech impediment. Or whatever. Books allowed human people-folk to take their own intellectual destiny in their own hands and find a form of entertainment that catered to their own disgusting proclivities. Indeed, with this sole source of informatics, perhaps one could in all seriousness tell somethings of the person by whatever was contained in his slim, pocket-sized, vellum-bound, illuminated manuscript.

Yet times have changed. The single medium of type has become a many-headed hydra of media. And the media have allowed for several art-forms (for want of a better word) to stem from each basic building block. So we have feature films, short films, silent films, theatre, dance, youtube, youporn (yay!), facebook, twitter, email, graphic novels, written word, short stories, factual books, happy slapping, weekend supplements, free papers and a whole bunch more I cannot be bothered to research. No longer is it just the book (which, ok, does allow for many art-forms to be expressed) which gives us access to the frothing pleasure and weeping joy of art, but several other blinking and moving and still images with which to titillate. Each very much has its strengths and weaknesses. Harry Potter is incredible as a book, a little shonky as a movie. Something like Full Metal Jacket is a visual and visceral feast for eye and ear which would work less well as a novel. At times graphic novels can capture something that neither the written word or cinema can quite match – treading the tightrope between the two.

And with so many media out there. And so many forms expressed by each medium. Can we really continue to hold the book up as the window into the soul? The benchmark against which we can snootily look down on someone, or (much more rare) be dazzlingly impressed. No. Of course not. Not least because books are themselves flawed and limited. Reading 40 zillion books a day and not owning a TV is not something necessarily to be proud of. In fact, surely the person who absorbs all media and picks the best and worst from each has the richer soul.

I could ramble on all over the place on this and I’ve not thought it all through. Mainly because I watch too much telly and my brain has rotted. But I’d be interested to know what people think. If nothing else, what are your own examples of perfection captured from each medium? There are lots of movie, video game, book, graphic novel and theatre fiends amongst us. Perhaps a good suggestion will inspire us to try something new. In fact, perhaps we could set up a web-page to capture such heart-felt recommendations. Interesting thought. Or maybe I’ll write a book about it.

Stroydont Schama

Published in: on 29/11/2010 at 10:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Brief savings tip

I apologise that this post doesn’t fit into any of the normal categories but i felt the need to rant. No-one wanted to have lunch with me today so I was reading The Sun and, in particular, a story about the guy who won £56 million on the lottery. The story was about how his ex-wife, who left HIM 10 years ago for another man, sued him for £8 million. This was after he had generouslly offered her £1 million. The story really pissed me off but that’s not whay I am posting.

What has got my goat is that the article started by describing the man as “Lottery Dad…” Now, I have nothing against Dads and it may well be the most important role in their lives, but it doesn’t exactly define someone as far as a news story goes. I bet a lot of people who have won the lottery are Dads, this doesn’t narrow it down for us. You might as well start every news story about Rooney as “Footballing Dad Wayne Rooney…” And what do you do if someone isn’t a parent? “Acting Daughter Lindsay Lohan…”? “Driving human Jenson Button…”. “Twat-faced Carbon-based lifeform Simon Cowell…”? Do readers of The Sun feel like they need this sort of info at the start of every news story?

Right, rant over! I feel better now.

Posted by: Moustache Wearer Si.

Published in: on 22/11/2010 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What went….right?!

For her recent birthday our resident rock chicklet, Mrs Bull, was given a book about the Zomb-ocalypse: World War Z. Now putting aside the review of this tome (penned by the offspring of Mr Mel Brooks) until the birthday girl has read the thing, I thought I’d reflect on the canon of distopia which has peppered English literature throughout the last 100-odd years. In the guise of genuine classics like Brave New World, 1984, The Machine Stops, V for Vendetta, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we have been given terrifying glimpses into the not-too-distant. I’m certainly not complaining, but none of these visions has even come close to coming to pass. Not one hint of human fertility declining, absolutely zero suspicion of a secret fascisitic state growing in power, and (despite Daily Mail headlines) the Government is singularly failing to watch our every move and control our every thought.

For all the failings of this slightly disappointing world in which we live I suspect the sheer weight of numbers just won’t allow things to get that bad. Of course, slightly underhand things have gone on. Kings and dictators have risen and created havoc, but the people have always stuck back. So far, nothing has really threatened to end it all through our terrible decisions as human beings. I guess this is somewhat an anthropic argument, but for one it makes me rather pleased about the nature of human spirit. At heart we really don’t fancy ending it all as a species. But of course that doesn’t make for particularly interesting books.

Posted by: Adam

Published in: on 15/11/2010 at 10:39 pm  Comments (7)  

Break the mold, build the tension

Monday night is Spooks night for Michelle and myself. I was never interested in watching it, but Michelle had been a fan since the beginning and as is often the way with couples her interest became mine. I now really enjoy it, glad to have been influenced by Michelle’s TV choice, and I relish the tension of the cut-throat world of modern espionage and the incredible cliffhangers.

Last week’s was particularly tense, to the point I found myself holding my breath. One of the characters seemed in dire peril, and with so many series ending with a shock death, it seemed like they were for it. Glancing at the clock I could see that there was 5 minutes left, surely not enough time for them to be saved and a great way to end a series.

But it wasn’t the end of the series. Whilst watching it I didn’t know this. All I knew was that it would end after an hour, giving me a possible clue as to what may or may not happen.

I have a voracious appetite for TV programmes and if you look beyond the mass-produced drivel there are many gems to be found. They all, however, suffer from one problem, one that i honestly don’t know if it could ever be fixed. They all have to last for a pre-defined period of time. Be it an hour, 45 minutes, half hour, 22 minutes, whatever it is, you know when it will end. This, in my mind, takes power away from the narration. If you didn’t know when it would end, would you be more drawn in?

A little research into why TV programmes are the length they are – a waste of time it turns out, it’s all down to money and scheduling – did make something apparent that i hadn’t either realised or appreciated. The traditional notion of the episodic story all comes down to the story of “1001 nights”.

The story is of a woman who, to save her life each day, tells her captor a story. The story ends each night with a cliffhanger that keeps her alive until the next night when she tells the next part of the story. It’s the use of cliffhangers and narrative hooks that has been carried over into mass storytelling of all formats, not just tv. The problem is we expect it. You know when it’s coming, you knows it at the end, and you know when the end is. Doesn’t really help build the tension, does it?

Here’s my idea to fix this. Make a tv series where the number of episodes is unknown and the length of the episodes varies. It might be necessary to create a block of programmes grouped together. Say two or even three programmes sharing two hours between them. To start off, they’re all the same length, if nothing else but to allow the viewer to get used to the idea. If there’s three, then 30 minutes each, plenty of time for adverts if needed, and traditional enough to not scare most people away. Of course, you will have to end them all with cliffhangers and they would have to be of a common enough genre to make the target audience happy to sit through all of them.

The next week you change things. One of them gets 50 minutes, one 25, and the last one 15. Maybe change the position of the ad breaks around, something which no doubt will take some execs some convincing to allow, and make some of the breaks smaller and some of them slightly longer. The week after that, leave one of the shows out altogether, and again change the lengths of the programmes on offer. The key thing, is to not allow the audience to know when it’s all going to be over.

(Thinking about it though, isn’t this how a good story with a complicated plot works. Many threads all woven together, some go unresolved and hang in the air, others are the focus of entire episodes. Maybe the only way would be to actually not specify the length of the slot at all. Instead find other unrelated stories to fill the gaps. Something which I really don’t know would ever work. Or maybe it’s considered standard for most stories to either focus on one plot only, to avoid confusing the viewer, or to share time for different plots, to avoid potentially annoying the viewer!)

If the basic format of my grand idea is nothing but a description of a well written and complicated tv series, maybe the final piece could be different. Avoiding traditional series length’s. In the UK, make it five parts. For the US, maybe 17. Here I can see that less would definitely be more. Alternatively break it up into smaller pieces, 8 episodes but broken up over the course of a year so that you get a blocks of 3, 3, and 2. Don’t tell anyone that this is what’s planned. Maybe the 2 could be at Christmas but don’t announce until the end of the last 3.

Of course, something like this will require some pretty hardcore writing and would no doubt be a hard sell for any and everyone involved. Would an actor be happy to see his role slashed one week and then find himself overwhelmed the next? Maybe you could have the same cast act in each show, or make the three shows compliment each other in other ways. Different takes on the same events, crossing over of characters, stories set before, after and during some interesting event. (As I write this, the more I can see this only being something that would ever work in the realm of science fiction programmes where cross-over and spin-offs abound.)

It all feels like a pipe-dream to me. Wishful thinking. (Or nothing other than a dream of a multi-plot series with some really decent writers that avoid clichés.) For now I think all i can really do is hide the clocks, avoid reading tv schedules, and hope I forget how many episodes of my favourite series I have already seen.

DJMousefarm

Published in: on 06/11/2010 at 8:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Just add stock(s)

An uber-quick post here to gauge reaction. My recent hobby (there may actually be a pop-psychology post in the offing about my need for ongoing projects, but for another time…) is to get into a bit of stock market speculation and dabble in stocks, shares and all things world-market. Now, much like sharing one’s own dreams, I am aware that such a topic may lead readers to jab sharp pencils into their own eyes. So…post a comment if anyone is interested in my musings. Either stay silent or politely scoff if you are not. I shan’t  be offended!

(Shock breaking news: after a peak in price, fireworks shares are now plummeting badly. Sell! Sell! Sell!)

Dr Stroydont

Published in: on 06/11/2010 at 1:50 pm  Comments (3)  

Prototype Review

(This is quite late.  I’ve been sitting on this review waiting for the breathing space to actually upload since mid-August.  Better late than never though eh?  It’s probably available quite cheaply now as well.)

It’s no secret, but i quite like super-powered characters.  I’ve been a fairly avid comic book collector for many years now, and one of the key draws for me has been super-powered characters.  I think it’s the “what if…” that always rings most true to me.  What if someone could fly?  What if someone could control things with their mind?  What if someone became a lethal, sentient, super-disease?  And that’s really what you get to have a go at in Prototype.

From the same people – Radical Entertainment, who gave me one of my favourite Superhero gaming experiences to date in Incredible Hulk : Ultimate Destruction – comes a game with a very similarly powered character.  In fact, with several notable exceptions, you could practically play the game and pretend you were the Hulk.  You can throw cars around, deliver deadly shockwave-style attacks, even give yourself a pair Hulk fists. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if what they wanted was to just make a next-gen Hulk game, but lost out to some other developer.

You control Alex Mercer, and to start off with you are pretty powerful.  This is a flash-forward to what will be and gives you a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come.  Then it goes back to the beginning.  A city on the verge of an epidemic that would belittle even real world tabloids’ paroxysms of apocalyptic hyperbole.  With no memory and the interest of some zealous military types, you are on the run, in the big city.  Slowly piecing together the events that brought you to where you are.

Unlike most games the story is something you have to actively seek, this is done by absorbing specific characters and it is the absorbing that also provides you with some upgrades and new abilities.  I found absorbing to gain the story was interesting, but made the story a little piecemeal.  Possibly this was due to my not finding the people to absorb, but it did become a little hard to keep track of, especially as the story was basically made up of snippets of experiences taken from hundreds of people.

Whether it’s a Hulk wannabe or not, the game’s still got plenty of other gameplay mechanics to offer.  As mentioned before you can absorb people to gain memories and skills, the same mechanic also awards you with the appearance of whoever you last absorbed.  This means you can use it to help you evade capture and also to infiltrate bases.  When running parkour style about the city a leap of a building can be followed by a glide, you can take over tanks and helicopters and commandeer these, you can call in artillery strikes on targets, pick up guns and rocket launchers, and generally bring about as much havok as you feel comfortable.

For the most part it’s pretty good fun being the most destructive force around, only problem is to counteract your super-ness, the game just really stacks the odds against you.  In fact if ever there was a game that i’ve played this year that induced a lot of swearing it was definitely this one.  Swarms of enemies with lots of knockback attacks and explosions and unstoppable combos really can be a bit much, even if you’re in control of a supposed power house. 

But this isn’t my biggest gripe with the game.  Over the course of the “story”, Alex never really sits easy with any particular type of morality.  He’s not really either good or evil, which is fine, the grey area is a place that most game characters find themselves in.  It’s more that when you find out what actually happened, well it made Alex seem like, at the very best, a malicious idiot.  His moral standing, or lack thereof, was irrelevant.  I felt an odd shame of being in control of him the whole time. 

Still if you can get over this, then there’s a quite a lot to do, and it often looks and feels cool to be doing it.  If a dislike of the character you are controlling is still a problem, then you can just pretend you’re a slim-line Hulk in a hoodie.

Published in: on 22/10/2009 at 2:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Playing with randoms

I reckon my first ever online gaming experiences came playing MUD’s (Multi user dungeons) at university.  Way back in the glory days of 1993/4 the internet was something not many people had really heard about.  You could tell by the type of people who you found playing MUD’s back then.  Mostly helpful and keen to enjoy the shared experience, other players you met within would tend to be there for the game.  Yes, the odd noob would show up and just cluelessly ruin things for a while, but usually an admin would be nearby, and they would swiftly issue a kicking or banning. 

It was a short-lived experience.  I moved away from the gaming to making friends with random people across the globe in IRC, taking full advantage of the social experience offered to a typically shy guy by anonimity.  Then, as time went by at University, i became more likely to be in a pub or club than in the computer room, but that’s another story.  (Which some of you may well feel like you’ve lived through as well.) 😉

The next time i returned to the online experience was playing Socom 3 on my PS2.  Aside from the fact that i did myself no favours, by going in having just about scraped through the first level in single player, playing online was VERY different.  Gone were the helpful others.   Gone were admins regulating the gameplay and looking out for others.  What you got instead was inane chatter, swearing, verbal abuse, glitching and far too many pre-pubescent, self-proclaimed “experts”

I stuck with it and after a while i was rewarded for my perserverance.  It did take a long time.  It did take a lot of hate from fellow players.  Yet, i started to find that just by focusing on the game above all else, i could start to win or at least assume fairly commanding ranks in the games i played.  The strangest form of abuse i found was from people who just plain didn’t like my choice of weapons.  If i was playing a long range game (note : I hate sniping and snipers) i would change to heavy machine guns – hated for their rates of fire, strength of firepower, and large clips – and for the close, something light but with a high rate of fire. 

I knew what it was that drew so much ire.  They were the weapons that were believed to make playing the game easy.  What i didn’t understand was that these weapons were available to everyone.  If you wanted to get revenge, then you could use them yourself.  If you couldn’t beat them, then you just weren’t as good as you thought you were.  Did these people believe that in the proper warfare that was supposed to be simulated, soldiers would hurl abuse at each other if they had an unfair technological advantage?  No.  You just work out how to deal with it.

In the end I think one too many spawn-campers and glitchers made me give up on it, but i’m still glad to have had that particularly lawless right-of-passage to console gaming. 

I don’t tend to play with randoms that much any more.  With a group of fellow gamers to go online with, there’s usually someone else who has the same game who’ll be willing to play a friendly versus or co-op game.  Oddly, i do miss the days of struggling against the odds, fighting against those who just take the easiest route or are in it for the griefing or bragging.  The fact is, although the affectionately named “randoms” are often irritating and sometimes just plain offensive, i find struggling against the odds and eventually coming out on top is far more satisfying than any number of achievements.

Posted by Bob

Published in: on 21/05/2009 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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