Sunday, December 27, 2009

Travels in London - Days 13-15: Heading vaguely towards London.

Christmas was lovely. We went to the morning service at Inverness catherdral, then came back to the hostel to open presents. I got a bar of crispy chocolate from some friends of Lexi's, and Lexi gave me a small kit of space origami designs, which was awesome, but paled in comparison to the fact that she also bought me a FREAKING ROBOT!!!!!!

It's about the size of my thumb and it can't do more than walk around avoiding obstacles and following things, but it's mine, it's a robot, and it's my robot. Therefore it is awesome.

I got Lexi a copy of Maus (amazing graphic novel about the holocaust) and Nation (the first non-discworld novel from Terry Pratchett in a very long time). She was happy, so yay.

That evening we decided to treat ourselves and went out to the Royal Highland Hotel restaurant for a fancy dinner. So fancy, in fact, that the garlic bread did not taste or resemble garlic bread in any way shape or form. Now that IS fancy. For dinner I had venison, which as Lexi kindly pointed out meant I was basically eating Rudolph, and thanks to an unfortunately placed cherry tomato, it looked like they had given me the nose as well.

The next day was rather exciting for me, as we were heading out for a tour of Loch Ness. Loch Ness was two things. Amazing, and cold. Fortunately the boat had a heated indoor area so after taking photos of the mist rolling across the waters and ruined castles, we hid inside for the remainder of the trip. After going crazy in the gift shop, we headed back to the hostel, where I spent an hour or so updating photos and carefully drawing the Loch Ness Monster on one of them using MS paint for that authentic look.

Today we left early and trudged away through a strengthening snow storm to the train station for our early train to Edinburgh. We pushed on and made it on the train just in time to be told that the train had been cancelled and that we had to get off.

Over a few cups of tea we found out that there had been problems with the Edinburgh line overnight and all trains direct to Edinburgh had been cancelled. Fortunately we discovered that our tickets were good for going the long way round to Aberdeen so at 12:30 we hopped on the train and headed off. On the whole it wasn't that bad that the train had been cancelled, as it was packed to the brim when we had got on, and the Aberdeen train by contract was dead quiet so got to luxuriate in our first class seats and enjoy the view, the leg room, and the complimentary coffee. Life is good.

Then I decided to update my blog, so I opened my laptop, connected to the internet, and started typing. After some typing I had finished my blog, so I decided to end it abru-

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Travels in London - Days 9-12: Still not in London

Our stay in Caernarfon started on slightly tenuous grounds when we couldn't find the bus. We eventually decided to take a taxi from Bangor (where the train got in) to Caernarfon, which set us back about 20 pounds, but had the major advantage of being a form of transport that was actually running.

We then ran into some further difficulty when the bus driver could not find the hostel. After driving us around the entire town twice (it's a small town), we eventually decided to get out and have a look ourselves, rather than tying up the taxi driver (and, indeed, his fare meter). After the help of a map and some locals, we tracked down the hostel on the other side of town.

Our difficulties were then somewhat magnified further when the owner of the Hostel couldn't find our booking, as it turned out he didn't get internet bookings for about 48 hours and we had only booked the day before. But it all worked out ok and he very kindly rearranged some visiting family so we could get a room on the 3rd floor. This would turn out to be the best place to stay yet. It was basically a very, very large house that the owners had converted into a hostel, and was run by Bob and his wife who were a charmingly friendly and eccentric couple.

Caernarfon was a wonderful place to stay, a seaside town that was quiet and had the added bonus of having a sodding great castle in it. We spent the first day taking it easy and taking various walks around town to try and find cafes that would do us an afternoon tea after the monstrously late hour of 3:00pm. We also took the opportunity to replenish some of our diminishing supplies.

The day after we went to visit the castle, which was simply magnificient. Built in the 1300s to crush those rebellious Welsh chaps, it was steeped in history and fallen masonry. Apparently Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales in that very castle. Makes you think, dunnit.

The castle, combined with the small town feel, combined with the fact that people were conversing in Welsh in the streets made Caernarfon feel greatly different to London and Birmingham, but also very relaxing and peaceful.

The train from Caernarfon to Inverness, or should I say the five trains from Caernarfon to Inverness were the complete opposite of relaxing and peaceful, and proved to be the first time in the whole holiday that I was to feel stressed and frustrated.

Train 1 was fine.

Train 2 was also fine.

Train 3 was 45 minutes late, had no spare seats or luggage space, and stopped for 45 minutes about 10 minutes from our destination.

Train 4 was a 15 minute walk from one station to the next, and was 30 minutes late.

Train 5 was full of spare seats and luggage space, comfortable and clean, quiet and speedy, and more importantly WAS WAITING FOR OUR LATE ARRIVAL. Scot Rail is amazing that way.

We finally trooped into Inverness Youth Hostel (through 3 inch snow, yay!) at 10:00pm, when they'd just about given up hope of us turning up at all.

After a (long) sleep, we were off into Inverness, merrily wading through the thick snow down to the shopping complex to eat breakfast and do some shopping, including most importantly a small grown your own crystal christmas tree (it being Christmas Eve) which we set up back at the hostel.

We visited a Christingle (Carols and oranges, yes I know it's as strange as it sounds) service at Inverness Catherdral, but heavy snowfall talked us out of visiting the midnight mass, as we weren't entirely convinced we would be able to get home again.

That brings us to now. I would like to wish everyone reading a Merry Christmas, I hope your day is wonderful. I will update again in a few days, the next could of days are going to be quiet so not much to report, though we should hopefully be going on a cruise of Loch Ness on boxing day.

Until then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Travels in London - Days 7-8: Not Actually in London

A lot of time and distance has passes since the last entry. When last I spoke, I was in Birmingham, having just arrived off the train. I am now in Caernarfon, a castle town on the coast of North West Wales, and am at the end of our second day here.

To step back in time, on our second day in Birmingham we decided to visit Cadbury World, at the Cadbury factory out in Bournville. For those of you who has visited the Cadbury factory in Tasmania, Australia, you might remember an factory tour involving hair nets and machinery. Oddly enough for the Bournville tour we spent surprisingly little time in the factory.

It began with the history of chocolate and a walk through the jungle to the ancient aztec city, where a tiny hologramatic Cortez explained the history of chocolate, managing to both acknowledge and at the same time gloss over the slaughter and destruction of the Aztec civilization, which I spose is actually rather a feat. From there we got to hear of the history of Cadbury, where some more holograms and projections talked about the factory and shop they set up in Birmingham. Then we went to a "motion experience ride" which explained the manufacture of chocolate while the seats did occasionally bizarre things like shake or blow steam for no readily apparent reason.

After that we went on the "Cadabra" ride, which reminds me of A Clockwork orange in it's sensory assault, in that small children ride in one end and come out glassy eyed repeating the mantra "I love Cadbury. I love Cadbury." It was full of dancing cocoa beans, songs, music, and a camera, which took a picture of us I now have on a fridge magnet. I feel fortunate to have escaped with my life.

Afterwards we went through a small hall showcasing many of the Cadbury advertisements that have appeared over the years, which largely were weird (except for the gorillia playing Phil Collins music on the drums. That was awesome. Then we were in the shop! A chocolate shop is an incredibly dangerous place to be, as it is full of chocolate that can be purchased, and later, eaten. I bought what I assumed was a hugely excessive amount of chocolate, but it only cost me six pounds ($12). Hmm.

Then dinner and awesome mexican food with some friends of Lexi's, and back to the hotel. In the morning we went to a service at the Birmingham Cathedral, before talking a walk around in the SNOW!!!!! that had fallen the night before. We went and visited the reservoir, and the tower that one of the Two Towers is based on, and Lexi's old apartment, before heading to the Train Station for our train to Wales.

It's time for dinner, so this post ends here. But days 9-10 will be uploaded after dinner.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Travels in London - Days 4-6: Puppets and Revolutions, Bealtes and Bowie, and Snow and Chinese Food.

Wednesday was a good day. An early start as we went off to see our friend Kate and have breakfast in an "Australian Cuisine" Cafe, a concept which I find a little amusing. The last time I had seen Kate was for her X-Factor party on Sunday night, but as I had been awake for some insanely long amount of time I hadn't exactly been the most participatory in the event, so it was good to see her when I was, you know, concious.

After that we popped ourselves onto a bus tour around London, and checked out the local landmarks and took various photographs. The plan was only to ride it for a few stops but given it was freakishly cold we (completely unrelatedly of course) decided to stay on the bus instead.

But this was ok, because IT SNOWED!!!!!

I realise that I may be getting ridiculously over-excited by this but I was and am incredibly excited by the snow. It is simply something you don't get in Melbourne, so it was rather a new experience. I spent literally an hour staring out the window and watching it fall. Amazing.

After the bus tour we had italian for lunch and then headed over to something I had been looking forward to ever since I had gotten to London, "Les Miserables."

I have loved Les Miserables ever since my friend played the song "Stars" for me, nearly 10 years ago, and I've been hooked ever since, listening to the complete symphonic recording so many times I could now sing most of the musical by heart. So you can understand I was a little excited.

Overall the production was quite solid, suffering from a couple of bizarre line changes and a few poor child actors, but it was impressive to see it staged out, and the amount of turntable work they used was very interesting. In particuliar the trek through the sewers was very well done, showing time passing in quite a unique way thanks to lighting and liberal turntable use.

After Les Miserables, we were still in a thoroughly musical mood, and so on a whim checked out the half price tickets and secured two rather good seats for Avenue Q. I had never seen Avenue Q before, being a little turned off by my brother's mention of "the puppet sex scene", but had also heard many, many good reports. On the whole I'm very glad I saw it, as it was genuinely hilarious for most of the show (the puppet sex was, indeed, a bit much).


Ahem. Sorry.

Thursday started with a trip to the natural history musuem, which sadly we didn't see very much of, as the museum had to be evacuated.


We took that as a sign that we weren't wanted, and so instead visited the Victorian and Albert, checking out some historical pieces before heading off to a pub lunch. On the whole one of the nice things about visiting Britian is I can be all exotic and try the local cuisine, because the local cuisine is sausages, pies, and other such things, meaning I thoroughly enjoy myself.

After lunch Lexi and I went our separate ways for an hour or so to do our christmas shopping for each other. I got her a present I hope she'll like, but she reads this blog so I'm not telling you what it was. Hi Alexis. Just keep walking.

Then we checked out the photo gallery where there was an exhibition of 1960's celebrity photography, includes the Beatles, David Bowie, and the like, before heading back to the Hostel for our final night in London. There was snow on top of the cars outside the Hostel. Yay!

We packed up and left the Hostel this morning and headed down to the train station to board our train to Birmingham. I must confess I love train travel, so was rather excited. London looked much the same out the train window, but the big surprise was to come when we left the outskirts of London and found the fields blanketed as far as the eye could see with snow. It was simply beautiful, and an amazing site to see. The snow didn't last too long before it returned to fields of green but I kept my camera out for as long as I could.

Birmingham is nice, like London but newer and smaller, so after checking in to our hotel we went to visit a friend of Lexi's for a drink, and then chinese food for dinner at one of those wonderful restaurants that you only know is there if you've been there before, so was free of tourists or crowds.

Anyway I'd best leave off here as Have I Got News For You is about to start. More blogging once more has happened.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Travels in London - Days 2-3: Now with added consciousness

Days 2-3 were really were the exploration of London town began in earnest, as this time I had slept enough to actually take in a lot of what was going on. I have been reliably informed that I was asleep "in three breaths" on the first night, so it appears that after not sleeping for 2 days I may have needed some sleep. Who would have thought?

After a late breakfast on Monday we headed out to Camden Town market, which also had the Camden Town Lock. Locks are pretty neat and are basically away of enabling boats to sail uphill and downhill safely. This one is more of a museum piece than an actual commercial use lock but it was pretty nifty. Nonetheless. The market itself was full of those odd tiny specialty shops, and was housed in an old stable. In it I found two important things. The first was a bowler hat which I am now the happy owner of, a style of hat that is sadly not seen much these days (Thompson and Thomson from Tintin wore them). The second was salt and pepper chicken and noodles.

On our way back to the station we had a cup of hot apple and cinnamon, which tasted almost exactly like drinking jam.

From there we headed down to the British Science museum. We only had about 20 minutes there before it shut, but managed to check out an exhibit on regency period inventions (King George III era), which were from a time when ornateness still had a place in design rather than pure functionality (nobody would think of putting figurines on a microscope today, for example.)

Then we walked home and got merrily lost on the way.

Day 3 started early with a walking tour to watch the changing of the Buckingham Palace guard, which was both interesting and served as a reminder that I was well and truly not in Melbourne anymore, Toto.

We have nothing that compares to the changing of the guard in Melbourne, nothing steeped in 300 years of history, or indeed ever have to say to ourselves "Now I must get to work before the changing of the guard, or the street will be closed and I'll be late." Trying to get to work before the grandfinal parade doesn't come close, sorry.

Then we hopped on a double decker bus (!) and had a merry tour around London, seeing the disturbingly huge Hyde Park, and the hustle and bustle of Oxford St, which made me very glad I was in a bus and not wading through it Then we got off the bus and again got merrily lost before we tracked down a pub that Lexi was quite fond of and had cider and pub sandwiches for lunch. (Bloody Mary tomato sauce is amazing, as is mustard and ham)

The evening was a comedy of errors of sorts as Lexi went off to find some internet friends at a Starbucks at Kings Cross Station, while I went back to the hostel to do a bit of writing and then head out to meet her. Our plans were largely hampered by the fact that there isn't a Starbucks at King's Cross. So Lexi wandered around trying to find it before giving up and heading back to the Hostel. Meanwhile I left and went to King's Cross, wandered around trying to find Lexi, before giving up and heading back home as well. This may have gone better if either of us had remembered to charge our phones.

Off to dinner now, Angus Steak and Stilton pie for dinner, followed by syrup pastry pudding. It's a hard life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Travels in London - Day 1: Hey, look, I'm in London.

This blog was originally going to posted yesterday, however I decided to wait until this morning on account that yesterday I was too tired to actually finish my sentences coherently, or at least, more coherently than usual.

To explain why I was so very tired, let's jump back in time to where I last left off, boarding the plane from Bangkok to London.

My luck with seats did not play out so well this time, and instead of an empty row to myself with loads of legroom and a personal tv, I instead had a crowded row with absolutely no legroom and a group tv somewhere in the distance in front of me that they never bothered to turn on until the last hour and a half anyway. So this could probably be considered a step backwards. So, sadly, was Dinner 3 (yes, they just kept coming), which after the rather tasty first two dinners was sadly rather dry and tasteless (my grandmother would be proud, as this is how she would describe all of her cooking. Nothing could be further from the truth), though the omelette for Breakfast was a lot better, though by that stage I was just glad I could eat it without dropping it all.

My plan, you see, was to stay awake as long as possibly could on the first flight and some of the second (until about 6am Melbourne time), and then I would have no problem falling asleep and would awake pretty much perfectly after 10 hours sleep to a London morning, thus getting a good head start on the whole jetlag thing.

Things did not go as planned.

Instead of sleeping 10 hours, I slept a grand total of 0, largely unfortunately to my back and airport chairs disagreeing with each other. I had taken some ibuprofien for this purpose but sadly it appears stronger measures will be needed for the flight back. So I lay in my chair, listening to Bill Bryson and Les Miserables, making regular trips to the bathroom for glasses of water, not out of any desire of water per se but more that I felt weird just getting up and walking around for a bit and then returning to my seat. Ocasionally the stewards would wander by and offer water or juice to the poor saps still awake in a sea (or, a plane) of sleeping people, presumably because they also felt weird just walking around a bit.

So my flight got in 6 am London time (5pm Melbourne time) on the 13th. After navigating through immigration and customs I collected my bags and hopped onto a london undeground train (!!!!!) and headed out to the hostel.

Customs was suspsiciously easy so I am still not convinced that it wasn't a ploy to lull me into a false sense of security and that MI5 may at any moment leap through the window and arrest me for smuggling a chupa chup into the country. I even went through the "declare" door because I wanted to be safer than sorry and got asked the incredibly taxing question "Do you have any gifts?" I answered no. Alright! Customs over.

At this point, I still hadn't fully twigged that I was in another country, and in fact on the complete opposite side of the world. Bangkok airport was just that an airport, it could have been an Australian airport, so didn't feel like overseas. True, there was signs in Thai everywhere and the food court had this giant pagoda thingy, but maybe they were just feeling a bit international that day.

In Heathrow too, not a whole lot to indicate that I was in another continent, an airport is an airport. No my first real indication was when the train came out of a tunnel, and suddenly this blanket of fog and chimney tops greeted me.

Then the doors opened and a voice said "Mind the gap" and the implications of my travel hit me.

I was in London!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The train arrived after a 40 minute jaunt (and only 7 stations) in Earl's Court, and I hopped off the train and out the doors and into London proper for the first time. Because I as in London. My short walk to the hostel was compounded by two details. First, it was really hard to find the street signs. The area I was in did not employ the melbourne style "Bob St" signs that we all know, but rather large and floury plaques that state "the royal burrough of kensington and chelsea BOLTON GARDENS" which look more like it's inviting me to a party than telling me what the street is.

Secondly, surrounding Bolton gardens there are about 5 other streets that start in B and end in Gardens. To my credit though, I only went down one wrong st.

Arriving at the hostel was hindered by the fact that I coudln't remember if my friend Lexicon had booked the hostel under her name or mine, and when that became an issue I realised I couldn't remember her phone number either. Fortuantely they found the booking and I happily wandered through a literal maze of doors to find my room, It was a nice room, furnished with a bed, a desk, some cupboards and a sink. Most importantly, it also had a Lexicon in it.

Alexis and i hadn't seen each other in a year and a half, so we had loads to chat about, and at this point in the next morning we haven't really stopped, apart from that whole sleep thing. I didn't stay in the room for too long though, Lexi bundled us out the door straight away to head to the 11:15 service at Westminster abbey, a place that is just huge. Like, it's HUGE!!!!! And old. The oldest buildings an australia are a couple of hundred years, but Westminster was built in 960 AD. Eep. It really put the awe into the service we saw.

Later I saw a puppy, and that really put the awe in Awwwwww.

After the service we went for a walk down to the Thames, past Big Ben (!) and wandered down the river. Eventually decided that food was awesome and we should have one, we found the nearest train station and caught the tube (because I'm in London) back to Earls Court for tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches.

That evening we headed out to see my friends Kate and Tim (Hi Kate and Tim!) who I hadn't seen in about three years, and joined them for there X-Factor Christmas Party (X-Factor = Australian Idol). Unfortuantely by this point the 47 hours without sleep was starting to take its toll so I spent most of the time sitting quietly in the back and doing my humble best to stay awake, but it was still a really nice time. We only stayed a few hours before heading back to Earl's Court and having an early night (10pm our time, 9am yours), or in other words exactly 48 hours since I had last slept.

10 hours later, I awoke, must refreshed.

We're off shortly to do some sightseeing, I'll blog about it once it's happened, because while I could blog about it before seeing it, it would be a bit dishonest and lead to comments like "I didn't know London had Polar Bears" because I was never one for extensive fact checking.

Because I'm in London.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Everybody deserves a chance to Fly

As I write this I'm sitting in a a quaint little Thai cafe at Bangkok international airport (those who think Bangkok sounds a bit rude can go Phuket instead, but that's probably just as bad) eating authentic Thai cuisine, which in this case is chicken and chips. Those not already outraged at my culinary blasphemy should consider that before coming to this cafe I enjoyed a coffee at Starbucks.

The first leg of the journey to the UK is over, a paltry 9 hour flight (the final flight is a mere 13 hours. eep.), which wasn't too bad to manage as I used to fly to Darwin a lot back in the day, and so a 9 hour flight isn't a huge jump over a 7 hour flight. (It's 3am as far as my brain is concerned, though it's a balmy 11pm in Bangkok, so I apologise for stating the obvious more than usual).

Overall I rather enjoyed my flight. I had the front row in economy which did worry me simply because I thought I would have to share a TV which for my nonconfrontational self basically meant I would not be using the TV for the duration. As it happened though I had the entire row to myself (though somebody stole one of the seats later on) and in any case there were personal tv screens tucked under the seat anyway, so it ended up being pretty much the best seat I could get, cause I had loads of leg room (though the flight staff did keep tripping over my feet. Oops). The only drawback was that there was no seat in front of me to tuck my bag under, so my DS, my kindle and my ipod were all safely tucked away for the duration, leaving movies as my sole form of entertainment.

Movies I watched:

Ed Wood by Tim Burton. Rather amusing biopic of "the worst film maker of all time", meaning we spend most of our time cheering on a bumbling fool, but that's nothing new (I cheer myself on all the time). Worth it for seeing Johnny Depp not play a pirate.

Moon by... someone. Strange horror film that keeps threatening to rip off 2001 but always escaping at the last moment. Sam Rockwell actually acts well for one. Isolationist horror drama with two people in space. Sam Rockwell plays both of them. And Kevin Spacey plays an emoticon (I am not kidding). Best movie of the 3 that I watched.

Public Enemies by... someone else. Johnny Depp is a gangster. He robs banks. Yet another noble gangster movie about the harshness of life and the strong arm of the law, but the cast was good. Not sure what I thought about the ending, mainly because I didn't see the ending.

Also, the food on international flights? Actually pretty damn good. Dinner 1 (we had 2 dinners, leaving me feeling rather like a hobbit) was seafood pasta, and Dinner 2 was chicken and noodles. Both were great, and cheesecake for dessert.

Also, on the map of australia on the tv screen, all the big town were shown as we fly near them. Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Geelong, Moe... wait, what?

There is a small town south east of Melbourne called Moe. I've never heard of it before but evidently it's important enough to have on a map. So whenever I looked at the map, it kindly let me know how far away I was from Moe.

Landed in one piece, and here we are!

Anyway, must be off and go be parnaoid and get to boarding early. Another blog once I get to the UK.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Boycotting: A Game anyone can play, or: Why I'm still not a true fan of anyting.

The word boycott seems to be appearing a lot in my life lately, at least in regards to gaming. Two games that were recently released have come under 'controversy' that have led certain groups to boycott these games. I am speaking of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, and Left 4 Dead 2.

It's worth pointing out that games (or indeed other media) that are boycotted are in fact nothing new. Media is boycotted on a daily basis. The remake of the film Lolita was boycotted by audiences concerned with the underage romance therein. Leisure Suit Larry: Manga Cum Laude was boycotted for graphic nudity and sexual content.

I would hold that the above two products should be boycotted because they're awful, but there you enter into a debate of quality and opinion, which is a debate nobody can ever win, as you are always entitled to your own opinion, so long as it's theirs.

Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ has the dubious honour of being boycotted both by religious groups (for the portrayal of the Jewish leaders) and non-religious groups (because it's about religion and they don't like that sort of thing).

I'm trying to point out that people calling for a boycott of products is nothing new.

What makes these two games and their boycott interesting is a) They're both good games (again, in my opinion, though I really don't think I need to clarify this. Obviously this is my opinion, for I am saying it), and b) their reason for boycotting is (in my opinion), nothing short of bizarre.

I'm going to stop pointing out that this is all my opinion now. Everything in this blog is my opinion. The End.

No, wait, come back! That wasn't the end of the blog, that was just... oh never mind.

Anyway, the boycotts. It's worth pointing out that simply deciding not to buy a game is not enough to boycott, it must be a decision to encourage others to also not buy these games.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is a near future war first person shooter. For non gamers this means you shoot stuff with guns.

It has been boycotted by members of the PC community because 'Dedicated Servers' have been removed. I won't get into the technical details but without a dedicated server the quality of the playback of the game can vary depending on how far you are from the person who started the game. It also prevents the ability for players to create custom content for the game. This is a similiar experience to what you would find on an Xbox 360 or a PS3.

PC gamers are unhappy that what they have considered a given of PC gaming has been removed, and concerns have been raised that the developer of the game is abandoning the PC market (where the series started) in favour of the console markets.

Left 4 Dead 2 (which surprisingly, is the sequel to Left 4 Dead 1) is a current day first person horror  survival shooter. For non gamers this means you shoot stuff with guns, but this time the stuff is zombies.

Announced shortly after the release of the first game, many gamers felt angry that a sequel was being developed so soon after the first game came out, as it was felt by some that this meant the first game would not be supported. It is worth pointing out that Valve has a long history of supporting their games after they  have been released with updates and additional content.

The key point in both of the complaints above is that the gamers feel they are entitled to dedicated servers or ongoing free content. These are long term fans of both companies, who have bought their games for years, and know them well. They feel that these companies owe them.

I've got news for you. These companies don't owe you anything.

When you buy a game (or a dvd, or a magazine, or a book), unless the cover or the EULA specifically states that by purchasing this game you are also purchasing ongoing additional content, you are not automatically entitled to ongoing content. I recently bought a kindle (a topic worthy of its own post) and I am entitled to ongoing updates and features, because the terms and conditions says as much.

Where I'm going with this (and this is really a continuation of my last entry) is this:

I think fans are the worst thing that can happen to a product.

Fans are misguided, fans are selfish, fans have delusions of grandeur. We've bought your product, the fan says. Now you owe me. Give me my dedicated servers. I expect my ongoing free content. No, Dumbledore can't be gay, that messes up my fanfic. Anakin would never say that, you need to change that line. That's it, I'm boycotting your products. Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Fans are indeed responsibly for the success of a product. If they do not buy the product, the product fails. However, I would argue that if there is no product, there is nothing for them to be fans OF. Ergo, the product and the creator of that product is immeasurably more critical to the success of the product than the people who's only contribution is to put money on a counter.

If I make a game and you buy it, thank you very much, I hope you enjoy it. If you think my game is lacking a critical feature, I understand and you are perfectly within your bounds not to buy my game.

But if you feel my game is lacking a critical feature and I should put it in there because you bought my last five games and I owe it to you for that feature to be in there, then you, dear sir, are wrong. The previous five games were stand alone sales, and I may indeed have set a precedent of expectation. But I am under no moral or legal obligation to provide the features you expect. I am glad you enjoyed my games and I hope you enjoy the games I make in the future. But I do not owe you anything.

In my opinion.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why I'm Not a True Fan of Anything

A friend of mine is a huge fan of Doctor Who. He's watched every single episode ever made that still exists (and, since he's rather determined when he's enthusiastic, so have I), and has produced extensive lists and reviews of every story, along with a series of summary clips and videos to take people through the 40 year history of the show.

He is however, not a true fan of Doctor Who, though, by his own admission, this is not something he wants to be.

Why is he not a true fan?

Because he's perfectly willing to admit that a lot of Doctor Who stories are a little bit shit, being firmly of the opinion that Doctor Who is a show that started great, really great (Hello William Hartnell) and then started to slowly decline, rose up again to near it's former glory (Hello Tom Baker), but then, inevitably, began to sink once again into the turgid, volatile swamp that was 80s television, until only a pale, embarrassing shadow remained (Hello Sylvester McCoy).

A true Doctor Who fan, he has explained to me with an air of exasperation, loves Doctor Who. But not just that, they love each and every frame of every show that has ever been made. It can't be bad, they say, because it's Doctor Who. The reverence they hold for the show as a whole overcomes many things. Obvious plot flaws, painful and frustrating intercutting, bad design decisions, poor special effects, and, worryingly, a general sense of logic and common sense.

No, he is not a true Doctor Who fan.

By the same token, I am not a true Beatles fan.

I bring this up, as I have just finished listening to their collected albums, a set I purchased roughly a week ago. The Beatles is something that I missed a little. Yes Sam, you patiently explain. This is because the Beatles broke up 15 years before you were born. Fair point, I respond. But that's not what I meant. So shut up.

When I say I missed the Beatles, it was not for lack of opportunities. I did hear a few songs over the years, my dad had a cd of some of their singles, and a friend of mine was absolutely mad about the Beatles, so I heard some more through him, though I never really got into them. (Some more things my friend was absolutely mad about that I failed to get into: Bike Riding, Socialism, Carbohydrates, Yoghurt Making, and Getting Mugged.)

In all honesty, as a child and teenager I thought the beatles were rather dull. Some nice songs to be sure, but nothing amazing, you know. (This is before I knew what harmony was, and that harmony was awesome.)

I also knew that The Beatles, to put it mildly, got a little weird after a while. I was (and am) a very big fan of songs that had clear melody you could hum along to, and some of the psychedelic era songs I had heard were very hard to hum along to (if you don't believe, me try humming along to the crescendo at the end of A Day in the Life. See I told you so), and just sounded like "a lot of noise."

But over the years my knowledge and understanding of music began to expand, and as I heard more of their music, I began to realise just how accomplished and proficient musicians they were (a love of George Harrison's solo career certainly helped), and decided that I really should give them another shot, and so saved up and lashed out on the newly spiffy and remastered collected set.

In some ways I was pleasantly surprised.

In other ways I wasn't unpleasantly not surprised in the least.

One of the biggest surprises is how much I enjoyed their early work. It's very different from their later years, and is comprised almost entirely of simple, uncomplicated poppy rock tracks, generally about a girl, or a guy who's got a girl, or a guy who hasn't got a girl, or paperback writers and other typical stuff like that. (wait...)

But it's a refreshing kind of simplicity, full of wonderful harmonies and no aspirations of greatness. There's no "we're bigger than Jesus" here, there's just a love of music and desire to play for people.

Around the time that the Beatles stopped touring (no small conicidence), their music changed dramatically. There was a lot more experimenting, a lot more trying new things, a lot more trying to be original. And, as many, many artists have discovered over the years, when you try something new and different, it could turn out to be not very good.

Don't get me wrong they wrote some excellent tunes during their studio years, but on every album their were always some rather dull tracks as well. For every Hello Goodbye or Back in the USSR, there's generally a Within You/Without You or Wild Honey Pie hiding in the tracklist somewhere. This started with Sgt Pepper, continued into Magical Mystery Tour, and peaked with The White Album.

Oh yes, the White Album.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this album, for while it has some of my favourite tracks out of all the Beatles compositions (USSR, Prudence, Guitar Gently Weeps, Birthday) it also has more tracks that I'd prefer to skip than any other Beatles album. It also has the somewhat dubious honour of having the only Beatles track that I really, genuinely, and truly hate.

I am, of course, referring to Revolution 9, a track that takes my earlier "a lot of noise" comment and lives it out in it's full literal horror.

I will not refer to it as my least favourite Beatles song, as that would be an insult to music in general. For those of you who have not heard this track, it is 8 minutes and 22 seconds of random sentences, looped snippets of music, backwards recordings, and general cacophony and screaming.

In short, it has nothing in it that could even be generously be referred to as 'a song'.

At this point I would like to dramatically proclaim that this was it, the point of no return, the one step to far, the proverbial straw that hit the proverbial camel with a crowbar (proverbial or otherwise), and that the Beatles never recovered from the depths to which they had sunk.

The only problem with that is that their next two albums are actually quite good, in fact, Abbey Road is probably the best of the lot, and Let it Be isn't far behind. They hark back to the earlier melodies and simplicity of their early years, while maintaining the technical proficiency and skill they had developed, as well as the improvements in studio tools that they had been using in their studio years as well. It is, in short, the best of both worlds.

So while I am definately a Beatles fan, and consider them one of the greatest, if not the greatest bands of last century. But I'm perfectly willing to admit that some of their songs are a little bit shit.

You'll notice that in my musings on the Beatles I haven't mentioned their recreational drug use, the friction between the band members, and the eventual breaking down that drove the members apart and into their solo careers.

This is because I do not care.

What has their friction, their arguments, and studio politics, or indeed what they ate for breakfast got do with their music? Some would say everything, I would say nothing. Surely, the only thing that matters when you're listening to a Beatles song (or indeed watching a film, or reading a book) is: Is it good to listen to? Am I satisfied, and entertained?

For this reason, I am not a true Beatles fan.

But, on the whole, I'm rather glad I'm not.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Have you tried turning it off and on again?

The crumpet I'm currently eating (see previous post in regard to being most productive when all senses are engaged) advertises itself as "99% Fat Free" on the packet. This sounds all well good, and a jolly healthy snack to be having, until you consider that crumpets are dry and brittle and can only be rendered tasty if drowned in butter. So while factually true, it's a bit functionally misleading, rather like having a rifle with a special tag saying "100% Bullet Free!". Still, it's not as baffling as the sign on a packet of airplane peanuts that warns me that it "may contain traces of nuts." One would hope so.

To get back on point (or rather, to get on point, since I arguably haven't been on it in the first place), I have a reputation with computers at the office. Some people have a reputation where any piece of technology they pass will mysteriously break down. Mine works a little differently. Any piece of technology I walk past seems to mysteriously start working.

A common conversation at the office:

Agent: Sam, my login isn't working.
Sam: Ok, show me what you typed.
*agent does so*
Sam: Ok, let me try.
*Sam types in identical login. Computer loads perfectly.*
Sam: It seems to be working now.
Agent: I hate you.

This happens frequently enough to satisfy most criteria for scientific testing, and is a little unsettling but mostly amusing to me, but a little frustrating to the agents, particularly because I find it a little unsettling but mostly amusing.

When my mysterious powers fail me, or I'm too busy to be able to walk past their computer and have it spring back in to life, for most problems I offer the reliable but incredibly annoying advice: "Try restarting it, and see if it happens again."

Try restarting it, and see if it happens again.

This is by far the most baffling advice you could give for almost anything, and we seem to accept it for computers, when really we shouldn't. It doesn't apply to almost anything else. The book is missing a page? Close it, and open again and see if it's still missing. Your leg has broken? Lie down for a bit, then stand up and see if it's still broken. The milk gone sour? Put the cap back on, then take the cap off and see if it's still sour.

These are of course extremely ludicrous. The book will still be missing pages. Your leg will still be broken (unless the 'lie down for a bit' was six weeks). The milk will still be sour. Try them and you will feel silly, in pain, and sick, respectively. So why do we accept it for computers?

Because, damn it, it works!

It makes no logical sense, but it does. My more tech savvy older brother assures that there is indeed a logical reason for this, and goes into a detailed description of heating issues, airflow, and memory access and allocation, until I politely ask him to stop.

My less tech savvy younger brother hits the TV when it's not working. Unfortunately this, also, bafflingly, works. At least when he does it. It doesn't when I do, and I secretly think this is because I don't hit the TV hard enough.

Me even less tech savvy younger younger brother just wants to know when the tv will be working so he can watch my star wars DVDs again, and will tell us this multiple times, just to make sure we fully understand the gravity of the situation.

My friend uses this as an opportunity to point out why PCs are terrible, and why his Mac is ever so much better. This plan has slightly backfired as recently he's been screaming at iMovie and iWeb for not doing what he wants them too, and because the new OS update broke his brightness settings.

I just find the whole situation amusing, and decide to write up a blog entry about it and go and make another cup of tea.

Unfortunately the kettle doesn't always work properly, so sometime I have to turn it off and on again before it will boil.

Go figure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Centrelink and Advertising have in common.

It was a payroll Monday today, which generally means I take a late lunch and treat myself to some takeaway (Generally McDonalds because a) It's about the only close takeaway and b) Subway doesn't count as takeaway because it's actually vaguely healthy).

Half-way through my first bite of my Mighty "totally not Mc" Angus Burger I remembered I'd have beef for lunch and so really should have ordered chicken but half-way through that I was distracted yet again by the advertising slogan for what I was eating (just in case I'd forgotten and had needed to look at the box to remind myself): "A little bit fancy."

It struck me as a very odd slogan in most respects, and rather lacking in commitment. It seemed to be telling that the burger I had ordered was special, nicer than the usual common fare one might find in a take away franchise of this calibre. But not too much. Just a little bit. Cause, you know, some people don't like fancy food (potentially quite likely if you're eating in a McDonalds), and we wouldn't want to alienate them. So it's a little bit fancy, possibly, if that's ok.

Sometimes I kind of wish that advertising would shed it's pretence of sophistication and just get down to the actual message, so instead of slogans like "A Little Bit Fancy", we would have "Everyone should buy this right now," or possibly more interestingly "Buy it or I'll break your kneecaps."

It was about this point that I nearly choked on the half bite of burger that my flight of whimsy had prevented me from swallowing, and drew a very odd look from the lady sitting next to me. I considered telling her I had been philosophising, and asking her if she liked food that was a little bit fancy, but I doubt it would have improved matters.

After I got my breath back I remembered an ad I had spotted a couple of weeks earlier that had struck me in a similar nature. It was for a bank, and had the catchy but incomprehensible slogan "Savings - It's the new spending."

No, no it's not.

Saving is the new spending is about the same as saying that Aardvarks are the new Potatoes, and makes about as much sense, although the thought occurs that I found a bank that had the slogan "Aardvarks are the new Potatoes" I would probably sign up based on the novelty alone. I did a brief google search to see if there was a bank named Tatervarks, but for now it looks like I'll need to stay with my current Financial storage facility. I would also sign up for a bank if it had the slogan "Bank with us - Or We'll Break Your Kneecaps" but fortunately I haven't found one of those either.

On my way back from my fine dining establishment my mind decided to bring up the oft-told but still amusing tale of the first (and for obvious reasons, only) time I applied for youth allowance from the government. I can't find much of a connection between advertising and youth allowance except a) they're both mired in bureaucracy, and b) they're both just plain weird.

Anyway, I was 18 at the time, freshly graduation from high school, and had decided to take a year off before going to university to get a job and living a little. I did this by not finding a job and sitting at home being bored. May arrived, the job hadn't, and I decided in the meantime I should head down to my local Centrelink and get myself some spending money. I looked around on their website but couldn't find any form of online application, so decided to head down and apply in person.

I walked in the front door and said I'd like to apply for youth allowance of some kind. "Certainly" replied the receptionist, "have you considered Newstart Allowance? It's a youth allowance of some kind."

Perfect, I thought, so we started the application.

"Are you over 18? Because if you're over 18 you can get Newstart Allowance, look, it says so on this pamphlet!" she said, and handed me one. It did indeed say that if I were over 18, then Newstart was the Allowance for youth like me. Perfect, I again thought. "Excellent!" said the receptionist, really getting into it now. "Then all you need to do is ring Centrelink's call centre and apply over the phone. I'll get you set up with a phone."

Behind the receptionist, Centrelink's call centre buzzed with activity.

I looked quizzically backed at the receptionist, but she didn't seem to see any problem with phoning a call centre a mere 5 metres away, and they were offering me free money, so I didn't complaint. Maybe that's how things were done. She set up with a phone and I dialled the call centre number and waited.

"Hello, welcome to Centrelink," came the voice on the line. I didn't have the heart to tell them I was already at Centrelink, and in all possibility we were in the same room, and merely requested to sign up for Newstart Allowance.

"No worries, I'll just open up our website and fill out an online application for you."

So there I was. Inside Centrelink. Phoning Centrelink. Who were opening up Centrelink's website for me.

It was at this point that alarm bells were starting to ring, but I figured it was just someone breaking into a shop next door and pushed on with the application.

"Are you over 18?" I checked the pamphlet again.

I replied that indeed I was, and that I'd heard that Newstart allowance was for youth like me.

"Oh it is," they confirmed.

I finished off the application, and was told they'd be in contact to arrange an interview. All well and good.

About two days before the actual interview my mother rang Centrelink on an unrelated matter, and mentioned in passing that her son was applying for Newstart Allowance.

"Oh so he's over 21, is he?" came the reply.

My mother very calmly said goodbye and came and found me. That's not right, I thought, and went and checked the pamphlet.

I found out two important facts. First, that Newstart Allowance was valid for anyone over 18. Second, that the pamphlet was valid for anyone reading it before April 1998.

It's worth pointing out that at this stage it was June 2002.

I went into the centre to tell them that I wouldn't be attending the interview.

"Why not?" asked the receptionist, surprised and slightly angered. I politely explained that Centrelink had offered me a cover that I wouldn't be eligible to get for another three years.

"No, I can't cancel the interview, it's too short notice," she explained. "You'll have to go to the interview and tell them you're not going."


I considered asking if I could borrow a phone so I could ring Centrelink and ask them to cancel online for me, but decided I really had lost the energy to be flippant, so merely told her "No," and left.

Doing some research online later, it turns out that my parents earned too much money for me to be eligible for any kind of youth allowance anyway.

Get a job kids, so you don't have to talk to Centrelink

Or they'll break your kneecaps.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I Learned how to Love Music from Video Games and Automobiles.

Music is not my life. I am not a musician, have no plans to become a musician, and if I were to learn to play a musical instrument/sing better (something I have vaguely considered), it would not be to become "a musician" but rather something to amuse myself in the quiet hours, or potentially to serenade women, but given that if I were to learn anything it would be the piano, and given that it's rather hard to drag a piano down the street to someone's window without alerting them and the police to my presence, the prospect seems pretty unlikely, unless it was that they were living next door, or indeed in the same house that I lived in.

So: my task appears to be, find a girl I like, convince them to move in with me on purely platonic terms, buy a piano, learn to play aforementioned piano, and then finally serenade aforementioned girl with aforementioned piano, finding out that they're really more of a violin girl, decide I didn't really like her anyway, and finish this sentence.

However, while music is not my life, it is definitely a large part of my life. I listen to music pretty much when I'm not doing anything else that requires my ears (or when the thing that does requires my ears is particularly dull). This is partially because I seem to need to keep most of my sense busy to be most productive (at this present moment in addition to typing on the keepboard and looking at the screen, I am listening to the Beatles and eating ice cream with fudge. Smell is the least behaved of senses and so gets no special treatment from me), but mostly because I've always loved listening to music, and how, more than a lot of other mediums, it can take up your whole world while you're listening to it.

I'd like to say that ever since I was born I was surrounded by lots of music and that this has somehow ingrained music upon my way of being, but frankly that would be a load of nonsense. I have no idea what I was doing when I was born (apart from the obvious). No, my first memories of music came five or six years later. They were of loud music and fast cars.

Ok, that sounds much more exciting than it probably was. My parents weren't, like, rock stars or anything. My dad is a computer programmer (though a pretty rockin' computer programmer), but he had an extremely large influence on my musical tastes.

My dad originally hails from up north, so when we were younger we made frequent car trips up north to visit various relatives. And by car trip I mean nine hours in a car. You can make stops along the way, take in various sights, make frequent requests to go to the toilet, or occasionally just stop because all three of us were fighting in the back and Dad found this just a little bit distracting when trying to drive, but in the end, it's nine hours in a car.

I was blessed with the superpower of not getting carsick when reading, but we spent most of our time looking out the window and listening to a lot of music.

There were lots of albums Dad listened to but there were three albums that I think might have been his favourites, as we listened to them hundreds of times over the years and they are now burned forever into my soul. They were River of Dreams by Billy Joel; We Can't Dance by Genesis; and, most prominently, Cloud Nine by George Harrison (Possibly my single greatest musical hero, and this album also featured one of my other heroes, Jeff Lynne, though I was not to learn this for another decade or so). These albums (with the addition of Queen, which we heard a lot of whenever we went driving with Mum), would set in stone a lot of my criteria of what made great music.

So at the very start, I was already about 5 years behind the times when it came to music.

Over the years I've acquired new music to listen to by many different means, some from my brothers, a couple from girl's I had crushes on at the time (the music stayed, the crush didn't), and random self discoveries thanks mostly to the wonder that is the internet.

The single biggest influence and repository of new music for me though, has been, without a doubt, video games.

I make no apologies for this.

Specifically, the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises, have greatly increased my love and understanding of music. From these games, whenver I found a song I loved, I would always go and do some hunting, and if the rest of their music matched, I'd buy an album or two, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I'm not sure anyone actually says that anymore.

Anyway. Thanks to Rock Band and guitar hero, (and a couple of other games) I have found:

  • Aerosmith
  • Boston
  • Charlie Daniels Band
  • Dragonforce
  • Eric Johnson
  • The Explosion
  • Fallout Boy
  • Foreigner
  • Various Video Game Soundtracks (Myst, Blizzard games, et al.)
  • Jonathan Coulton
  • The Killers
  • My Chemical Romance
  • Ok Go
  • Toto
  • Autograph
  • Weezer
  • Yes
  • And The Beatles, though that's a longer story deserving of a post all of its very own.
Now some of the above I only own a couple of songs from them, but a lot I'm now a follower, and collect their albums as they come out, or am in the process of collecting their back catalogues. What you'll notice is that a lot of the above list is, um, how shall I put this? Vintage. My mother quite frequently tells her friends that I listen to music that was cool when she was my age.

The other thing that these games have done for me is given me a better ear for music. Thanks to playing only one part (and, well, hearing which part was missing when I missed a note) I now can actually hear the different instruments in a song much better than I could previously. I can now hear the lead guitar, as opposed to rhythm or bass, pick out the drums and split the harmony parts, whereas previously it was all one big wall of sound, wonderful to hear, but unable to be separated into component parts. Actually playing along in a small way has improved these skills greatly. Who says video games don't do anything for you?

Now some people may point out that this is probably a skill that would normally be picked up from going to live performances, and these people have a point. But given I don't really do concerts (large crowds and me don't exactly mix), this is certainly a happy compromise.

There's a lot more I could wax lyrical about, the bands that have had the biggest influence on me (The Beatles/George Harrison, They Might Be Giants, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Electric Light Orchestra) but these are probably topics worthier of their own post.

Also it's 2am. So no. Later. When it's daylight.