Saturday, January 31, 2009

I’m honestly asking…

Has anyone out there in blogland ever attempted to do anything that's gone off without a hitch? Experienced a situation where everything has gone to plan?

Today, my stepson came over to install a radio in the new car. I have absolutely no clue how to install a car radio, so I was only there for moral support as Frank installed the thing. After about half an hour when we turned on the ignition to test the connections and saw the front of the radio light up, I suddenly realized that nothing had gone wrong. I mean, not even slightly. We hadn't even bought the wrong connectors or dropped a screw on the floor.

"This makes me really nervous." I said.

"Why?" Asked Frank.

"Because if nothing's gone wrong yet, something big is about to fuck up."

That's the way my mind works, but I'm not a pessimist, I'm just going on previous experience. However, everything appeared to have gone off without a hitch. Hell, we'd even discovered that the wiring in the dash was correctly

So everything worked, we slid it into the dash…

…and it didn't fit.

In the end we had to take most of the dashboard out to install the damn thing and once it was in the dash, we discovered there was just enough wiggle-room so that the whole radio vibrated like crazy when the engine was running, resulting in the world's loudest buzzing noise.

As of right now, to stop it vibrating, we have a couple of slips of folded up paper wedged in each side.

This is honestly how things always work for me. No matter what I try to do, something always goes slightly wrong. In this instance we get a much better car amazingly cheap, we get a really good stereo amazingly cheap…and it doesn't quite fit.

A couple weeks ago I got a really good deal on a GPS, but my PC will randomly fail to recognize it when I try to update it. I got some RAM amazingly cheap, and it turned out to be the wrong type. We spend a hundred dollars on a new car battery, and forget to take it out before our old car got hauled off to the scrap yard.

I'm not complaining exactly. I'm just wondering how normal this is.

So when you try to replace a washer in a faucet, change the oil in your car or do any job that should be really easy and only take a few minutes…how many people out there actually expect it to be quick and easy?

This probably won’t end well.

So I've just got back from my first US night-driving experience.

I hate driving at night. First of all I have very little depth-perception at the best of times and at night my depth perception drops down to almost zero. My lack of 3D vision, darkness and rural roads are just about the worst combination I can think of.

Oh, I just thought of something that can make the driving experience worse. Driving with a dirty, greasy windshield that suddenly decides to fog up at the wrong moment.

Just to get an idea of how bad my depth perception is, shortly after setting off I saw a red light ahead of me at the end of the road, so lifted off the gas so I could stop in time…and when I glanced down at the GPS, I saw that I'd lifted off the gas with a full quarter-mile left to go before the light.

If I'm on a well lit street I can tell where the light is. If I'm driving down an unlit road that doesn't even have reflectors in the middle, that traffic signal can be half a mile away or fifty yards away…I can't tell the difference.

At one point, Sunny was urgently telling me to stop trying to wipe the screen and concentrate on what I was doing because I was starting to drift out of my lane…when I wasn't veering because I wasn't concentrating…I was veering because I literally couldn't see a god…damn…thing. An oncoming car had turned my field of vision into nothing more than a high-beams and greasy-windshield starburst cocktail.

Seriously, I would have had better visibility if I was driving with a paper bag over my head.

The other problem is Sunny often forgets who she's actually driving with.

For example, earlier today we were approaching the end of the road and I suddenly had a choice. I could either turn right or keep left and merge with the main highway. Just to make me a little more relaxed, traffic was extremely heavy and this was my first 15 minutes in a car I've never driven before…which just so happened to also be twice the size of any car I've driven before (our new car is a mid-sized, I've only ever driven compact cars).

So, without daring to take my eyes of the road, I say to Sunny "Are we turning right or going straight?"

"Well…" Says Sunny, in the same relaxed tone of voice that someone might use when deciding whether to spend the afternoon at the beach or at the hotel bar. "If we go straight we…"

The corner is coming up really fast. I'm at the point where I have to do something because if I keep up my speed, I'll be going too fast to make the turn, but if I start to slow down, I'll be going too slow to merge with the traffic on the highway. In the meantime, Sunny's still talking…

"…the back way works, but it depends if you…"

"WHICH EFFING WAY?!?!!?!" I scream like a toddler on a roller-coaster. "STRAIGHT OR TURN?!?!"

At this point, I just about shit my pants and slow down to take the turn. I'm going slightly too fast for the turn and slightly too slow to merge, so I figure taking a corner too fast beats merging into the side of an 18 wheeler. Turn made, I glance to my right and see Sunny is pissed at me for shouting at her.

I don't blame her…she just keeps forgetting (or doesn't understand) who she's driving with.

You see, Sunny thinks I'm just another driver and she's a passenger. This is not true.

In reality I'm a terror-fueled bundle of nerves. I'm getting back into driving after an almost seven-year hiatus. I'm driving on roads I'm unfamiliar with to get to a place that I don't know the way to. Everything feels like it's backwards. Deeply ingrained driving habits from learning to drive in England will get me killed in a second on American roads, while perfectly safe maneuvers feel suicidal. I'm fighting the urge to look to the left for my mirror, habit is telling me that a left turn means I only have to look to the right to see if it's safe, many intersections over here make zero sense to me…and I keep reaching (to the left) for a non-existent gear-shift and trying to step on a clutch pedal that isn't there. I'll see a car coming towards me in the distance, and realize with horror that they're coming towards me on the left side of the road. My side.

Basically, when I ask Sunny if I go straight or turn left, she thinks I'm a normal person asking for her opinion on which way she thinks would be the best way to go. You know, no rush.

I say "Left or Right" and Sunny takes it to mean "Hmmm, traffic is pretty heavy at this time of day, d'you think we'd save some time if we went down (insert road here) instead? Which way would you suggest?"

The reality is a little different, I say "Left or Right?" and what I really mean is "ARRRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!! What the fuck am I doing at the controls of this Hell-wrought death-mobile?! Are you people crazy?!?! Oh FUCK! A corner! I have no FUCKING clue what I'm doing. Quick, tell me what to do! WHAT DO I DO??? OH GOD PLEASE!!!! WHAT DO I DO?!! LEFT OR RIGHT??? LEFT OR RIGHT??? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LEFT OR RIGHT?!?!?"


Yeah…nervous driver.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I’m rough, I’m tough…but I have to be home by seven.

I just can't figure our dog out.

I've written about some of the problems we've had with Buddy. Namely that he'll occasionally gets a little too aggressive and he tries to assert dominance over me or Sunny.

Basically, about 99.9% of the time, Buddy thinks he's Little Billy Bad-Ass. Just this afternoon another dog dared to walk past the property while Buddy was chained up outside and he strained his leash pulling and barking to chase the other dog off. When he's been off his leash and strange dogs have come onto the property, he's charged and chased off four dogs at once.

The other 0.01% of the time…well…

About an hour ago, Buddy was lying down in the middle of the floor when something moved underneath the house. (We live in the country and it's not unusual in the winter for a family of Possums or Racoons to take up residence under our house). It's a weird acoustics thing, but when something moves under the house it can occasionally sound like something moving in the room with you. One time, two possums started fighting and running all over the place, and it sounded like there were a couple of very small, invisible dogs chasing each other up and down the living room.

So what did Buddy do upon hearing this sound come from the floor beneath him? Did he jump up, bare his teeth and growl? Did he get between the noise and me and Sunny? Did he leap into action, go on the defensive and make sure no intruders were in his house?

Not exactly...

He jumped up, whined, stared at the floor until he heard another noise and trotted into his room with his tail firmly between his legs. Once in his room, he poked his head around the door looking back into the living room…and then ducked back inside when he heard the noise again.

I honestly believe he's embarrassed when he does stuff like this. For example, when he ran into his room, he went just slow enough so we might mistake his running away for him just going for a drink…but fast enough so the invisible floor monsters wouldn't get him.

Also, a couple of months ago, Buddy was asleep by my feet while I was reading on my couch. The power suddenly went out, causing the sub-woofer from our surround sound system to make a very loud 'thump' noise from the power surge. Just as I put my book down and started to wonder if we had any candles, the power came back on.

What did I see?

Buddy sitting bolt upright, eyes really wide…on the couch right next to me. The power had been out for 10 seconds max. That's right, the power went out, there was a loud 'thump' noise…and my 'guard dog's' first instinct was to jump up on the couch next to me like a sissy girl who's just seen a mouse.

Yup, I have an aggressive dog who's desperate to get alpha status in our little 'pack'…but is also scared of the dark, loud noises and the squeakers from squeak-toys.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Resident Evil 5

The Resident Evil 5 demo dropped on Xbox live this week, and as soon as I saw it, downloading and playing it became my number one priority.

I've loved the Resident Evil franchise ever since I played the first one on the PS1. In fact, one of my favorite memories since moving to the US was staying up all night with my Stepson Frank, playing Resident Evil 4 'relay-style', handing the controller back and forth. I knew I was playing something special when an on-fire zombie burst out of an industrial sized oven and the two of us managed to get a clear two feet into the air while still in the sitting position.

I was pleased to see that RE5 looked, felt and sounded like Resident Evil was supposed to. I was pleased to see that they've apparently done away with the tetris-style inventory management system (there was nothing like pausing an intense, adrenaline-fueled battle to rearrange your attaché case so you could fit in a couple more grenades)…but I was a little worried when I realized you'd be playing RE5 with an AI partner.

Of course, for huge portions of RE4 you had to escort Ashley around, but that was something RE4 did extremely well. Ashley stayed as close to you as possible, didn't wander off, didn't get in your way and made for some pretty intense sequences. For example, having to cover her from afar with your sniper rifle while also having to defend yourself sticks in my mind as a very tense few minutes of gameplay.

Now, RE5 will be an awesome experience if you have someone next to you with another controller in their hand or playing with you over Xbox Live. It's one of the things that really got me excited when I played the demo. RE4 was made twice as awesome through playing it with my stepson 'relay-style', the idea of playing split screen with two different character's sounded awesome. Co-op play could almost have been designed for Resident Evil, with one character attempting to open a door while the other covers…or going back to back in one of those high-tension, back-to-back defensive battles.

However, in my first time through the demo, I saw a lot of things I didn't like with the AI partner.

The first were the few occasions where she blocked a doorway or otherwise just got in the way. Secondly, on multiple locations I was lining up a shot only to have her get in the way…and finally, not only having to share my guns and ammo with her, but her not using those weapons intelligently depending on he situation. For example, I had a sniper-rifle, she had a machine gun. At one point she was happy to attack enemies at long range with the inaccurate machine gun…but switched to her pistol when we were cornered and the badguys were at close range.

In other words, you're in a situation that could be solved with a five second burst from the weapon she's carrying…instead, she chooses to let you get chomped on and shoot (slowly) with her peashooter of a pistol. You can tell her to switch weapons, but the game doesn't pause when you're accessing your inventory anymore, which means getting her to switch means leaving yourself defenseless while surrounded by bad guys.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of other times when she's a joy to have around. A one point, I was running low on ammo, when she suddenly stopped firing (causing me to swear), but then she ran a little way ahead (making me call her a stupid bitch for running into the bad guys)…but then she picked up some dropped ammo, ran back and gave it to me.

On numerous occasions, I got grabbed and she knocked the zombie off me with some well-timed kung-fu, and best of all, used healing sprays on me when I needed it.

I'll happily admit that she definitely does more good than harm…but the problem is poor AI can be a total game-breaker. At one point I was fighting a chainsaw-wielding boss-character, using the classic retreat-shoot-retreat tactic from the previous games…when suddenly, the game cut to my partner getting her head chainsawed off, and it was game over. That right there can flat-out destroy even the best game. I lost that time not because I wasn't quick enough or because my tactics were bad or because the enemy was better…I lost because a character I have no control over got too close to the bad-guy.

Basically, an AI character doesn't have to fuck up often to ruin a game. On my first playthrough she probably saved me five or six times…but what I remember the most is taking damage because she just wouldn't move out of my way, blocking my perfect headshot…and using up all the sniper-rifle ammo on the badguys that were in the same room as us, leaving us with a shotgun and pistols when we were trying to pick off bad guys at a distance from the roof.

I know this is just a demo, and things will probably get tightened up and improved, but I hope like hell that they straighten out the AI issues before release…or RE5 will be multiplayer only unless you enjoy frustration.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Result of Boredom

Did a bit of random websurfing and stumbled across a ton of Fable 2 concept art. The artwork made me want to draw something, so I did almost a direct copy of one of the pieces. I liked the sketch enough to give it a quick inking and color in photoshop. Unfortunately, my tablet is still broken, meaning the cursor jitters like crazy, so my line-work isn't nearly as smooth or clean as it should be.

Then I slapped a stock image background on it and figured I'd post it here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well, she ruined that…

Yesterday was my birthday. With Sunny working and all it was a very quiet day. I got up, watched the Doctor Who marathon on Sc-Fi, Sunny cooked me an awesome dinner, we ate some birthday cake (well, birthday chocolate éclairs), then she left for work and I spent the rest of the day playing Spore on the PC.

Back when I very first moved here, just for the sheer fun of it, I decided to give Marie, my daughter-in-law, a hard time because she forgot my birthday. Well, that's not exactly true. She didn't 'forget' my Brithday because she didn't actually know when it was because no-one had told her. That fact, of course, didn't stop me from putting on my full 'wounded parent' act…which is even more ridiculous because Marie is only around five years younger than me and I'd known her for less than a year at that point.

Well, the thing is, Marie is just a teeny bit scatter-brained meaning every year so far she's got the date wrong, meaning I get to give her a really hard time:

"I can't believe my own daughter-in-law completely forgot about me on my birthday! Not a card, a visit or even a simple phone call! Oh, I see how you are."

I look forward to this every year. It's like a birthday present.

Well, I got up this morning, safe in the knowledge I could bug the crap out of her when I see her…when I notice there's a message on the phone. I check it and it was from 8pm last night. With my headphones on, I must've missed it.

It was Marie, calling and giving me a hard time because she remembered to call and I didn't answer.

Doesn't she know how much I look forward to her forgetting?

Another Birthday ruined!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good Luck/Bad Luck

It is true that I turn 28 tomorrow. It is also true that today is payday. When these two events combine, along with a timely (and very thoughtful) birthday 'cash infusion' from my parents, we went to buy our groceries…and pick up the GPS I've had my eye on since last October.

I need to be absolutely clear on this. The GPS I wanted was put on sale at my local Aldi in October 2008. Directly after Christmas they dropped the price by a hundred dollars, then another fifty two weeks ago. Thinking the price was too good to be true, I researched it and every review I'd read raved about it. They all said the same thing: You get the features of a five hundred dollar unit for $250. Given that the clearance price was just $120 dollars…not only was my gadget-sense blaring like a car alarm, my bargain-sense was going off like a tom cat with his nuts caught in the cat-flap.

So we arrived at the grocery store and I went straight to the display case where this thing has sat for over four months.

It wasn't there.

It wasn't FREAKING THERE!!!!

According to the store manager, it had been 'returned to corporate' two days ago.

You can imagine how I was feeling. In fact, that's a lie…you can't, because I ended up laughing my ass off. I've gotten so used to having terrible luck that I'm sure that on some level I was expecting it not to be there.

However, my amazing missus, the one bit of good luck I can count on, suggested we pop across the road to the Walmart and see if they had any at a price we could afford.

I ended up leaving Walmart with a 'Tomtom ONE'. Walmart was actually having a sale and had recently reduced the price, so I got it for just ten dollars more than I was planning to spend on the other unit. Awesome, huh?

Well, I got it home, took it out of the packaging…and broke it almost immediately.

You see, what I attempted to do was connect it to the PC and update it. Just to shift a little of the blame, the instructions (I know, I read them…shameful) said this should be the absolute first thing you should do. So I plugged it in, the software built into the unit installed onto my PC, and it downloaded all kinds of updates. Everything from new maps to OS upgrades and all kinds of things that I really like and absolutely have to have, while not actually knowing what they are or what they do.

Then something terrible happened. I'd downloaded the updates, and halfway through installing them, my computer froze.

I restarted and tried to turn on the GPS, it started but all I could get was an error message.

I pulled out the instructions again, looking for the DVD that usually comes with these things…and discovered Tomtom don't supply one. Then I read in the tiny teeny-weeny semi-microscopic print, that the absolute first thing you should do is backup the unit.

So, in less than an hour of getting home I'd turned my whizz-bang GPS into a paperweight.

I won't bore you with the details, but a couple of hours of copying and manually placing files, I managed to fix it and get it working. I quickly discovered that as a stand-alone unit it really is awesome, but once you connect it to your computer it gets extremely flaky. Sometimes the PC will detect it, sometimes it won't. Sometimes it detects it, but detects it as a different device. Normally these problems can be fixed by rebooting, or unplugging and re-plugging the device…but it can get a little annoying.

Luckily, once it's set up, there's no real reason to connect it to your PC except to back up your address book occasionally or charge it through its USB connection (which means it doesn't matter if it gets detected or not), so I'm not holding it against it.

Anyway, my first experience at driving with it was absolutely fricking awesome. As well as the spoken directions, when you have absolutely no idea where you are (and around where I live there are a LOT of rural roads that all look exactly the same to me) it's nice to be able to glance down and see a 3D view that lets you know what to expect. I'll admit that I'm a nervous driver anyway, and there are a ton of turnings and blind curves where I live that you can't see until you're directly on top of them. Having a visual and audible warning in plenty of time just makes driving a hundred times less stressful for me.

It has some obvious drawbacks that are common to all GPS's simply because a computer is working out the route instead of a human brain. For example, it plans the route to Sunny's job going directly through the town center, because that's technically the shortest and fastest route. However, anyone who lives near a major population center will tell you that just because a road goes in the straightest line and has the highest speed limit doesn't mean it's the fastest.

It does everything else well, though. At one point I deliberately took a wrong turn and it recalculated the route in a matter of seconds. I honestly hadn't gone a hundred yards before it had me back on track. It does some other neat little things like adjust the volume of the spoken directions depending on how fast you're going so you can always hear it when you're blasting down the freeway but not get deafened by it when you're below 30mph. The sound is extremely clear and the screen is nice and visible even in bright sunlight. The only other real downside is the battery life, because with the screen set to always on, it'll run down in less than an hour and a half. Of course, this doesn't really matter much because it comes with a USB car charger, meaning you can just plug it in when you're driving.

One of the things I was really surprised and geek-happy to see was that you could download and install a ton of different voices to give you directions.

Want to know my new geek credentials?

Darth Vader, GlaDOS and a Dalek give me driving directions.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I don’t like it

I turned on my Xbox this week to see that the expansion pack for Fable 2 had been released. I checked out the screenshots, watched the developer videos…and with my birthday coming up this Friday, I was considering dropping a few hints about it for my Birthday.

Then something stopped me cold. For some reason there was something nagging at me about buying the downloadable content. Eventually, I worked it out.

It was a line in one of the developer videos where one of the programmers, talking about how hard he was having to work, mentioned that when Fable 2 originally went gold (IE: Ready for release) he didn't get a break because he went straight to work on the downloadable content.

Can you see where I'm going with this yet?

The thing is, if Fable 2 has a fault, it's that it's incredibly short. It's short for a regular game and ridiculously short for an RPG. You can burn through the main quest in about seven hours, and to be completely honest, there's not a lot of meat in the side-quests which consist of three or four repeatable missions.

So, with that in mind, I kinda resent spending a sixty bucks on an incredibly short game, and then be expected to spend another fifteen or twenty to extend that very short experience by a couple of hours…especially when the extra content was created at the same time as the original game.

The question is a very simple one. If the game is noticeably short and if the extra content was made at the same time as the original game…why wasn't that content included with the original game to begin with?

This is a disturbing trend that I'm noticing more and more.

You see, the way this is marketed to us is that we buy our games and then, if we want to, we can buy all this extra stuff. Unfortunately, it's not really a case of buying a game and then spending more money on optional extra content. Instead, what's actually happening is, we're buying cut-down, incomplete versions of games and then have to pay more to get the 'full' content.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Here’s the deal

Ok kids, here's the deal.

I realize that I'm just pissing in the wind when I ask you to not make crude references to my mother's sex life, and your role in it whenever I shoot you during an online game. I know that there's almost zero chance of getting you to quit the homophobic crap or getting you to understand that being racist isn't big, clever or funny.

However, can we come to a compromise on one point?

When I pick up my controller and fire up the Xbox, one thing I really don't need is to have a fifteen minute game narrated by you talking to yourself. You see, I spent three fifteen minute games today listening to one of babble on for every goddamned game. No-one was talking to you and you weren't talking to anyone else. However, you did shout 'bullshit' every time you died, blathered on about how 'cheap' the way people killed you was.

I mean, seriously…who the fuck are you talking to? You do realize that everything you say is being sent to every other player's house whether they want to or not?

Basically, kids, use the headsets to talk about the game. Use it to trash-talk if you must…but if you're just babbling away to yourself (or even worse, just talking about something random with someone in the room with you) just take off your headset. The truth is I honestly don't care that you think 'Jenny Matheson' is hot. I don't care that you think her boyfriend is a douchebag and I really don't care that you haven't even started the paper that's due on Monday.

Oh, and for the people who don't say a damn thing for the entire game, buy heavy-breath the whole way through it…this goes double.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who’s your Doctor?

I just found out that Matt Smith will be taking over from David Tennant as Doctor Who.

As I lifelong Doctor Who fan, I'm trying really hard to reserve judgment at this point. You see, before Doctor Who came back on TV, I wasn't all that interested in watching it because I thought Tom Baker was the best Doctor there ever was, and I was completely certain no one would ever play the part better. Basically, I was expecting the new seasons of Doctor Who to be like the new Knight Rider series. Based on something awesome, but ultimately a great big pile of shit.

However, Christopher Eccleston did a fairly good job as The Doctor, the writing was as great as it ever was, and they managed to keep enough of the low-budget 'cheesy' feel of the previous seasons while using some awesome big-budget special effects. Then, most surprisingly of all, David Tennant took on the role and he very quickly became my favorite Doctor.

Basically, I don't want to judge until I've seen Matt Smith on screen. For all I know he could turn out to be the best Doctor ever.

Unfortunately, there's no changing the fact that right now he looks like a manufactured emo nickelodeon-style boyband member. Seriously, it's like the Tardis is being put in the hands of one of the Jonas Brothers. After seeing the dude's picture, I was wondering if they'd also be casting Hannah Montana as his new companion.

But like I said, I'm reserving my real judgement until I see the guy act.

Dude…don't fuck this up. At this point, the series' survival is on your shoulders and you have some gigantic shoes (well, trainers) to fill.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Needs More Cowbell...

I was incredibly bored this morning, and looking for anything interesting on the internet, I stumbled across and downloaded the trial version of 'Mixcraft'. It's basically 'garageband' for Windows...a music sequencer basically.

Anyway, I messed around with it for a couple of hours and came up with the following...let me know what you think.

Click here for the song

If you're interested in the process at all, the song is made up from about fifty or sixty different 5-10 second loops. It's not exactly 'composing', more 'mixing'...but it's fun, I liked the result...and it's actually quite surprising how you can make so many distinctly different sounds with the same set of loops.

If you're interested in owning this song, it can be purchased directly from me for seventeen squillion dollars.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I learned something today.

I was back up on my bedroom roof today, laying down the roofing cement that I can't help but think of as 'roof-goop'.

Actually, thinking about it, the title of today's post is a little inaccurate in that I really learned two things.

The first thing I learned is that when you get the great idea to wear latex gloves to avoid a messy cleanup later, it's a really good idea to double glove, because roof-goop is extremely sticky and causes your glove to glue itself to your trowel handle, meaning that it's entirely possible to lose most of your glove and not notice until it's way too late.

Actually, make that three things I've learned.… the second being that latex gloves are pretty much useless as you're going to need a shower when you're done anyway. This is because roof-goop has a mind of its own and gets everywhere. No matter how careful you are you'll find it all over your body, clothes and in some cases, on relatives who live in other countries…hell, I found some on my feet and legs
this time, meaning the stuff got through my shoes, socks and jeans with no trouble whatsoever. Basically roof-goop an accursed substance, a substance fashioned from the lies and broken promises of dark and traitorous creatures, and as such is capable of blatantly demonic acts.

The last time I used it, Sunny got her work uniform out of the washing machine, only to find a small patch of it on her trousers. I never went near the washing machine, and the wash was put on before I opened the can of roof-goop.

Which brings me to the main thing I learned today:

You see, the whole point of roof-goop is that it's waterproof, which means it's almost impossible to get off your skin. It's basically synthetic tar that doesn't have to be heated. You may remember that being tarred and feathered used to be a form of torture. So, if you use roof-goop, stay the fuck away from feathers if you know what's good for you, because you're going to learn that just being 'tarred' isn't a very pleasant experience either. You can stand under the shower for days and it'll just laugh at you.

So, after gaining so much (unwanted) experience with the roof-goop, I discovered that WD-40 is pretty damn good at dissolving it. You see, while roof goop is made from the Lies and Broken Promises of Dark and Traitorous Creatures, WD-40, like duct tape, is made from condensed happiness.

Anyway, the WD-40 trick wasn't what I learned today. I learned that after my second trip up onto the roof.

No, what I learned today was that while it's absolutely fine to spray copious amounts of WD-40 on yourself in a relatively open area, such as, say, standing at a kitchen or bathroom sink…it's really not a good idea to spray half a contractor-sized can while standing in a relatively small area…such as a shower cubicle.

It's a little fun at first, when the unicorn-riding pixies turns up…but once the walls start melting and the bathtub starts breathing, it quickly goes downhill.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

They just don’t get it.

Fable 2 has a problem, and it's a problem is shares with its predecessor, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic and 99.9% of all the other games that claim to allow you choose between playing the Noble and Virtuous Hero™ and the Evil and Black-Hearted Villain™:

They have absolutely no idea how to handle the 'evil' side, leaving you the choice of playing the Noble and Virtuous Hero…or a bit of a douchebag.

The main point they always seem to miss is that no-one is evil just for evil's sake.

The easiest way to understand good and evil is this: Good is Selfless, Evil is selfish. A good person will do what's morally right even if it makes life harder for them. An evil person will do what's best for themselves no matter how many people they screw over.

Let me give you an example from the game:

At the very beginning of the game, one of the town guards (who your character apparently knows and likes) asks you to look for five arrest warrants that blew away in a sudden gust of wind. He offers you a gold piece if you find all of them. Then, when you find them and are on your way to give them to the guard, a criminal steps around a corner and asks you to give him the arrest warrants instead. He also offers you a gold piece.

Obviously, the 'good' path is to give the warrants to the guard and the 'evil' path is to give the warrants to the criminal. However, it doesn't really test the player's morals much. There are no outside factors to consider. You either do the right thing because it's the right thing to do…or do the wrong thing because it's the wrong thing to do.

Basically, it's not really 'good' to give the warrants to the guard, because there's no selflessness involved…it's also not really 'evil' to give them to the criminal…because you're gaining nothing from it, making it just more of a dick move on your part.

However, when you understand the 'evil mindset' a little more, it becomes easy to turn this situation in to a real moral question.

When the criminal guy steps around the corner, instead of matching the guards offer of a single gold piece, have him offer the player two gold pieces instead. Suddenly we have a bit of a moral dilemma. This time, doing the right thing actually costs you something and there's a reward for doing the wrong thing.

In the real world, when the police are tracking down criminals, one of the first things they look for is motive. That's what's missing from Fable 2. I constantly have the option of doing something evil, but I'm very rarely given the motivation…and that's what I want. When I come to a decision, I want to be faced with a real moral dilemma. To quote Yoda, the dark side should be 'Quicker, easier and more seductive.'

Basically, when I'm given the choice between returning the King's heir to the castle or killing him for the King's evil brother, the choice should be between doing the right thing… and a reward that makes it hurt to do the right thing. IE, the King has offered me payment of a thousand gold pieces, but the King's brother has offered me five thousand and a magic sword.

This way, it means
something to do the right thing. I'm making a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else…and if I choose to kill the King's heir, it's because I have definite, concrete motivation to do so.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of Fable 2, there's absolutely no motivation to do anything evil, and playing as an evil character doesn't leave you feeling like Sauron or Lex Luthor, it leaves you feeling like an asshole.

In real world terms, an 'evil' option would be finding pictures of your boss on a gay porn site and using them to blackmail him to get a promotion and a better parking space. With Fable 2 rules applied, it would be more like going to your boss and telling him a coworker came in twenty minutes late, just so you could watch your coworker get in trouble.

Basically, an evil character can be just as deep and interesting as the hero character. You could play an absolutely ruthless character who believes the ends justify the means, you could play a sociopathic character who always puts himself first. Instead, Fable 2 shoehorns you into one evil role…a gigantic douche who screws people over for no other reason than the 'evilness' of it.

In conclusion…Good=Selfless, Evil=Selfish and the evil option should be easier and more seductive.

Take note, Lionhead.

You Do Realize People Die Doing This, Right?

According to the reactions I've been getting, I get the feeling that the vast majority of you see me getting my learner's permit as something to celebrate. This, my friends, is where our opinions part ways.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad I've got it…but only because I need it. I'm happy about getting my permit in the same way I would be happy if someone gave me a spear to defend myself with in a lion-infested jungle. I'm glad I have it. I'd rather have it than not have it. However, I'd much prefer to be in a situation where I didn't need it.

You see, I absolutely despise driving and I think I know why:

Driving is so commonplace and such a necessity in our society that we approach it in a very matter-of-fact, blasé way. It's normal, we do it every day. Hell, it's comfortable. In fact, it's so comfortable that plenty of people feel perfectly relaxed doing 80mph down the freeway while talking on a cellphone with one hand and doing their makeup with the other.

It's understandable. It's for this same reason that you see those construction guys working up on the high steel, striding across a beam thirty stories up while showing all the fear of a guy strolling around his own garden.

I'm convinced that most human beings are born with a device in our heads that lets us shut out the reality of certain situations when that situation is adequately familiar. The average person would just freak the fuck out if they had to walk across a foot-wide beam a few hundred feet up, but the construction guys have got used to it and aren't scared. It's the same with driving.

I'm also convinced I was born without this device.

You see, whenever I get behind the wheel of a car, I'll be driving along quite happily when suddenly something in the back of my head goes:


Yup, no matter how hard I try, I can't 'forget' that one ass-hat pulling out of a side street without looking is the difference between arriving on time and arriving at the hospital with a complete set of shattered limbs.

However, the main reason I hate driving is the other drivers. I think I'd be perfectly happy to drive around all day on empty roads. The problem comes in with the aforementioned dickweeds who you see driving along with a cell-phone cradled against their ear while they're munching on a Big Mac and fiddling with their radio.

You see? That Big Mac muncher isn't thinking about how looking at his radio for an instant too long will leave him wrapped around a lamp-post.

Last but not least, I'm going to admit something that no male has ever admitted before: I'm just not a very good driver. I never feel like I'm 100% in control of my vehicle. 90% in control maybe…but still not 100%. Basically, I'll take my test because I have to, drive because I have to…but I don't think I'll ever be 100% completely in control.

Oddly enough…I actually feel more in control and far safer on a motorcycle.

Anyway, as far as I can see, there are only two definite upsides to getting my permit.

  1. I finally have a piece of commonplace state-issued ID…meaning I don't have to show my greencard and get looked at like I've just grown an extra head.
  2. With living out in the country where all the roads look exactly the same to me and almost zero geographical knowledge once you get more than five miles from my front door…getting a GPS isn't a luxury but a necessity…and gadgets are always cool.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ah, Bureaucracy!

Well I took the test and passed. It wasn't fun.

You know what was even less fun? Finding yourself in a really annoying and awkward position because of a stupid rule that doesn't make any sense.

In a nutshell I was told that I didn't have to get a learner's permit, take a knowledge test or do any of that stuff. Totally contradicting everything the DMV told me a year ago, to get my license all I had to do was take the road test…and I could take the road test right then and there. Instead of going through the hassle of the written test, getting my permit and waiting the six-month waiting period… I could take the test and have a full license today.

So what am I complaining about? That sounds awesome, right?

Well…not exactly.

The problem is that I haven't been behind the wheel of a car for almost seven years. I haven't driven since I moved to the US five years ago and I rode a motorcycle for almost two years before that back in England.

Long story short, I'm so out of practice that if I took the test today I'd have absolutely zero chance of passing. Seven years is a long time to be out of practice for anything…let alone going back to driving in a country where everything is pretty much opposite to the way you learned it originally.

I explained the situation to the DMV lady.

"There's no point me taking the test today." I said. "I'll just take the written test and go for the learner's permit."

Sounds sensible, right? That way I could take a few weeks to get back into the swing of things and take my test then. Well… what she said next damn near floored me.

"You understand that if you don't take your test today and get your permit, you have to hold it for six months before you can take your road test, right?" She said.

"Huh?" I replied. "Didn't you just say that I could take my road test today because I've got a British driver's license? What difference does it make if I take the test today or this time next month?"

"Because the rules say that once you're issued a learner's permit you have to hold it for six months before you can take your road test." She said, as if she was talking to a slow child.

"Yeah, but according to what you just said, my British license means I can take the test immediately." I read off the paperwork in front of me. "Applicants who have held an out-of-state or foreign drivers license for more than six months may immediately take their road test."

"But if you're issued a learners permit," she begain, pointing at another section of the paper, "you have to hold it for six months before you can take your road test."

I was dumbfounded. The argument was so paradoxical it would have made Gene Roddenberry proud. The DMV is a typical bureaucracy. You obey the rules because they're the rules…no matter how nonsensical or poorly suited to the situation they are.

It was no use. I was caught in a perfectly vicious circle that the DMV lady wouldn't let me break. Apparently the 'six month rule' trumps the 'foreign or out of state license' rule. It was like they'd let me fly their passenger jet, but not if I wanted to go to flight-school first.

"This makes no sense." I said. "What you're saying is I'm allowed to get in a car with one of your examiners today. But if I want some practice first I won't be allowed to take the test for six months???"

"But you can take it today." She replied…again talking like she was trying to explain rocket-science to a retarded chimp.

We talked in circles for what seemed like hours and it felt like I was talking to a brick wall. She was acting like she couldn't get me to understand that it was possible for me to take the test immediately…and I actually couldn't get her to understand that allowing me to take the test immediately, but making me wait 6 months if I got as permit makes absolutely no fucking sense.

In the end, I took the learner's permit. It was literally my only option.

Can anyone out there in blogland come up with a single logical reason for this? Something that even halfway makes sense? Because I'm totally fucking stumped.

I’m Effing Freezing

Shortly before Christmas the US government finally deigned to give me a Social Security Number. Now that I finally have that tiny bit of paper with those oh-so-important nine numbers on it, I can finally apply for a drivers license.

This means that in the morning I get to go take the written test to qualify for my learner's permit. I am not happy about this for a number of reasons...but it is only one of these reasons that I am writing about today:

I was sitting on the couch earlier, flipping through the SC driver's manual for a little last minute revision and to see what documentation I need to bring with me to the DMV when Sunny nonchalantly drops this little bombshell:

"Oh, and you will get your picture taken if you pass."

"Bollocks!" I say.

You see, it's the middle of winter. This is important for two reasons. In winter I do two things. I let my hair grow out and allow my usual goatee to evolve into a full beard.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but my hair is extremely thick and extremely curly. Once my hair gets past, say, an inch and a half long, the term "great big fucked-up afro" describes it pretty well. My beard grows in almost exactly the same way, so during the coldest winter months, my head looks a lot like a gigantic ball of hair with a face in the middle.

Why do I do this?

Warmth, basically. I might look like a reject from the muppets, but I'm sure as hell not freezing my ass off.

You see, my normal 'style' (if you can call it that) is a completely shaved head and a goatee (Which I grow to keep my head from looking too much like a testicle). This works perfectly in the summer months…but as any bald man will tell you, it's just plain amazing how much heat you lose from the top of your head.

So, as much as I enjoy being warm, and as unconcerned as I am about fashion, style or looks…I don't want the "hairball with a face in the middle" look on my permit picture. This is for two reasons. Firstly and less importantly, I consider myself about 500% better looking without the afro and ZZ-top going on…but more importantly, I don't feel like handing my permit to a state trooper in June when I'm back to the baldy look, having him hear my non-American accent and refuse to believe the permit belongs to me.

So, just to finish this post by putting a very bizarre (but true) image in everyone's head…I shaved my hair and my beard and regretted it almost instantly when I started shivering. Considering I don't own a hat, I only had one option. After Sunny went to bed I got the red throw from the couch and tied it around my head in the way women do with towels when they get out of the shower. That's right, I'm sitting here right now wearing an over-sized, bright-red, fleece turban.

Just like my hair when I let it grow long…I might look ridiculous…but I'm sure as hell warm enough.

Wait…it fell down as I was typing that last sentence, so I draped it over my head, hood-like. Now I just look like I'm wearing a gay Jedi's bathrobe.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rain, rain go away…

I mentioned briefly in my last post that our roof is still not back to 100% waterproof.

It's not nearly as big a problem as it was before. Before my last repair attempt the water was coming into the house in a torrent. This time the leak is just making the ceiling nice and damp. However, even though I'm not having to worry quite so much about getting rained on in my bed anymore, it still has to be dealt with.

As well as water damage and mold…small leaks have this annoying habit of turning into big leaks.

Anyway, after so much trial and error, I think I finally worked out what I was doing wrong and why the previous repairs weren't holding:

Firstly, I was climbing up onto the roof and having to soak up great big puddles of water so I could apply the leak-stopper goop. This means I was applying it to a very damp surface…and even though the leak-stopper I'm using says this is ok…obviously you're going to get better adhesion and waterproofing if the roof-patch has a nice dry surface to stick to.

Secondly, the rain never stayed off long enough to give the stuff time to cure and set up properly. The stuff's going onto a wet surface and then getting rained on within hours. Not exactly the most optimal conditions for it to work.

This time, I decided to play it smart.. I was going to check the weather forecast, and time the repair so I could get onto the roof, soak up the puddles, then have 48 hours for the roof to dry out completely, followed by a further 48 hours after the repair job for the leak-stopper to cure.

There is, however, a small snag in my plan.

Having checked the 15 day forecast numerous times over the past month or so, I've not seen a single occurrence where there's even a chance of the rain staying off for four days.

I mean, this is South Carolina and in the five years I've lived here I've never known it to rain so much at any time of year. In the first two years I lived here, if the roof leaked during a rainstorm I'd know I'd have anywhere from a week to a month before I could expect rain again….and that rain would probably be in the form of a light thirty-minute shower.

Instead, it's been raining almost solidly…and I don't mean a light rain, I mean really, really heavy rain. After raining for almost two whole days, it finally stopped at about two this afternoon. A few hours later, I stepped outside and saw the sky was clear, and the wind had really started to pick up.

Awesome. I thought. The high winds would be some serious help in drying out the roof.

I checked the forecast and realized I might actually be in with a shot. After the rain went off today, there was only 'slight possibilities of showers' forecast until Monday.

Instead, just three hours later at 5pm, the rain started again and it's been absolutely pissing down ever since.

Yup the forecast called for 'light showers possible' and instead we got 'seven straight hours of torrential rainfall'. Thank you, Accuweather shmucks!

When I was living in England I'd expect weather like this, so it wouldn't be such a big deal. However, considering I'm living in freaking SC, is a week…or even a couple of days…without rain really that much to ask?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nothing Ever Goes Right.

A couple weeks ago, after a bit of scrimping and saving, I had enough cash saved to finally give my PC a memory upgrade. As I only have 1 gig at the moment, to say it chugs a little would be a bit of an understatement.

I was absolutely ecstatic when I looked on Newegg and saw I could get 4 gigs of RAM for about forty bucks, including shipping. I was also pleased to see that the user reviews of this RAM was 100% positive.

Then today, for the first time ever, UPS managed to find my house without numerous delays and phonecalls. I got up today to find an envelope stamped with 'Newegg' waiting for me on my desk.

So, the first thing I did when I got up was try to install it. I could honestly taste the extra performance. No more chugging in Photoshop or Premiere. No more waiting five minutes for the machine to boot.

The only problem was, this RAM seemed extremely tight. I pressed it into the slot as hard as I dared but it just wouldn't click into place. I could get the right side to click, but not the left or vice-versa.

With a growing feeling of foreboding, I took one of the old DIMMS and put it on top of the new one…they didn't match.

Yup, I'd somehow managed to buy 240 pin DIMMS instead of the 184 pin that I need. So, not only is this memory absolutely useless to me…It's warranty is also 'replacement only'. I can send it back to newegg, but all I'll get in return is another set of 240 pin DIMMS.

Just to make the situation a little more awesome, I checked the price of 184 pin DIMMS on newegg. Firstly getting 4 gigs with only two memory slots is right out unless I feel like spending four hundred bucks…and the best I could find was 2 gigs for about ten bucks more than I spent on the memory I have not including shipping.

Not that it matters much anyway, considering it rained for the past two days and the leak in the roof is back. It's nowhere near as bad as it was, but it means that any spare money we were counting on this week and next week will be spent on roofing cement…and I get to spend another day up on the roof.

Anyone want to buy two 4gig 240 pin DIMMS?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Eat Fresh!

Sunny and I didn't feel like cooking today, so we jumped in the car and went to Subway.

Pretty soon we were sitting down, munching on our sandwiches, when I looked up and thought a rogue planet was crashing into the restaurant.

Ok, I know it's not PC to make fun of fat people, but this guy was gigantic. I don't mean normal fat, I mean Guinness Book of Records fat. He looked like a beach-ball with a hands and feet. Not the kind of fat you get from just eating too much. The kind of fat that takes years of honest commitment and dedication to not giving a fuck about your body to achieve.

He then proceeded to order a foot-long sandwich, which he got double-stacked (double the meat) got the thing absolutely covered in mayonnaise and didn't get a single veggie. As he walked…well, waddled…to his table, I saw he also had two packs of Lay's chips in his meaty fist. Apparently, the huge selection of wholegrain and baked chips weren't to his liking.

Then he sat down, plucked out his cell phone and stuck a Bluetooth headset in his ear. I was talking to Sunny when I overheard him say, and I shit you not:

"Yeah, I'm eating at Subway…I'm eating healthy from now on. New Year's resolution."

I damn near choked on my soda.

Ok, this is something that needs to be cleared up…because I think a lot of idiots…I mean, people…are making the same mistake:

Subway offer a lot of healthy choices. However, just because something has the Subway logo on it does not make it healthy.

Out of pure morbid curiosity I looked down at my napkin that had nutritional information on it for most of the stuff Subway sells. The guy's 'meal' was the equivalent of two Whopper meals from Burger King…and that's not counting the soda (he refilled four times while we were there).

Here's the deal, you can eat very healthily at Subway. If you eat one of their 'Fresh Fit' meals which consists of a six-inch sub (without cheese, mayo or any other fat-rich dressing), a portion of apple slices and a diet soda, you can tell someone you're eating healthy and mean it.

I honestly don't understand this. Are people honestly that stupid that they can believe bacon, cheese and mayo can be healthy because it comes in a Subway wrapper…or are these people just plain lying to themselves?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Fuck You, Billy Mays

I have a question. In fact I have two.

I saw a Billy Mays infomercial for a combination burger-press/frying pan thing. I actually thought that it was a reasonably cool gadget until it got to the part on the infomercial where they show someone making burgers the 'old fashioned way'…and they make it seem like frying a burger is the most difficult, complicated, time-consuming
chore ever.

Does anyone else find that a little insulting and off-putting? At first I was thinking "Hey, that's kinda cool"…but within a minute I was thinking "They're marketing this to people who can't work a spatula."

Why do they do that?

I mean, if you're cooking burgers with the heat so high they're turning to carbon, and don't have the necessary coordination to flip one without sending it flying across the room…or enough common sense to not try to flip fifteen burgers at once with a teaspoon…how do you even own a credit card? How do you even have the mental capacity to use a touch-tone telephone?

I mean, I saw one for a spaghetti pot with built in colander, and they showed some guy trying to drain his pasta by holding a plate in one hand at 45 degrees and just dumping the spaghetti on to it. Of course, it went everywhere.

"Draining pasta can be messy and the hot water can burn you!" The voice over said.

"But only if you're a gigantic retard who uses a dinner plate as a colander." I replied.

As a consumer, I am sometimes interested in these gadgets as a convenience or time-saving device. As a human being, I'm just appalled.

If you want to sell me something, don't insinuate it's a product for people who need to wear football helmets to bed. I might be interested in a combination burger-press/frying pan…but not because I don't know how to work a normal frying pan. It would be pretty nice to just be able to dump the pasta water straight out…but I don't need that gadget because I don't know the ultra-secret, complicated "leave a bit of a gap between the edge of the pan and the lid and the pour the water out slowly over the sink" trick.

My second question is a lot simpler:

Is Billy Mays even capable of speaking at a normal level? Does he think I'll be more likely to buy his crap if he shouts at the top of his voice the whole time?

I mean, imagine if every store was like that. You walk into Best Buy and instead of a sales associate walking over and saying "Can I help you sir?" someone runs up, punches you in the face and screams:


Ok…that would be awesome to watch…but it wouldn't sell many TV's

Thursday, January 01, 2009

It Can Hurt if You’re Not Used To It.

…I just realized how disgustingly pornographic that title sounds, but what the hell… I'm leaving it up anyway.

Sunny worked last night, meaning I spent New Years alone. I decided against getting depressed and decided I was going to make the most of it and I actually had quite a pleasant time.

Firstly I had a few podcasts saved up, so I put them on my iPod and listened to 'Friday Night Comedy' from BBC Radio 4, 'The Best of Chris Moyles' from BBC Radio 1 and finished it up with 'The Adam and Joe Show' from BBC 6 music. If you've noticed the theme there, let me just say thank fuck for the internet and podcasting…because in SC the radio reminds me of that scene from 'The Blues Brothers':

"What type of music do you usually have here?"

"Oh, we have both types. Country and Western."

I just don't understand how anyone can actually like country and western. I mean, Johnny Cash was quite good…but today, 99.9% of country songs sound exactly the same. Some guy half-yodels about why he's so depressed about some meaningless shit accompanied by a slide guitar.

Do not even get me started on "Honky-tonk bandonkadonk" or "She thinks my tractor's sexy". If she thinks your tractor's sexy, then she's probably retarded through all that inbreeding and has to wear a football helmet and boxing gloves to bed.

Anyway, I listened to my podcasts while playing a few rounds of Call of Duty on the 360. I must admit that I did feel a little pang of jealously when I checked my friends list and saw that Evan and family were playing 'Lips', the karaoke game. Then I remembered getting sick on Christmas day when the house was filled with hyperactive, over-excited, sugared-up kids and reminded myself that a little piece and quiet is not a bad thing.

After my podcasts finished, I decided to keep the 'British Theme' going by watching the Ricky Gervais stand-up show 'Fame'. Jesus Christ-bananas, that guy is hilarious.

While I'm on the subject of hilarity, let me take a small aside here to define the word 'Hilarious' for the denizens of the internets…because they apparently don't know what it means. You see, a little random websurfing shows that most internet sites think the word 'Hilarious' means 'mildly amusing but incredibly old content that I copied and pasted from somewhere else.'

Ricky Gervais is hilarious…a picture of a walrus looking for his 'buckit' is just slightly funny…but only the first time you see it, get it? Oh, and those jokes that have been around since people in offices used to fax them to each other? Those aren't hilarious, or even slightly funny. They're more accurately described as "A waste of disk space, bandwidth and a URL'

…sorry, went off on a bit of a tangent there.

When that was finished I was at a bit of a loose end, but then I spotted the guitar I got for Christmas standing in the corner and played that for about two hours. Have I mentioned how much I love my Mother-in-Law?

After getting "RE: Your Brains" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton down pat, it was about 3am so I got into bed…and instantly regretted playing my guitar for so long.

I'd forgotten a lesson I'd learned when fixing the roof: Any repetitive movement that your muscles aren't used to is going to strain them…no matter how gentle the movement is…like, say, twisting your wrist and arm to do that bar-chord.

Yeah, back during my guitar-playing prime I could play the guitar for six hours at a stretch without any ill effects. After playing for two hours last night, my left shoulder and upper arm is absolutely killing me. To the point where I couldn't sleep on my left hand side.

So that's my advice to you all for 2009.

Be careful…it can hurt if you're not used to it.