Saturday, 22 December 2012


Well, its Saturday 22nd December and we're all still here. What did I say? There are a lot of people with a lot of egg on their collective faces right about now. A lot of people who sold everything/gave everything away because they thought the rapture was imminent. Again I say: fucking idiots. Excuse me while I lay here and gloat. Aaaaah. Gloating is good. Not so good when you're being gloated at, mind. But meh.

I managed to knock up a pretty convincing tilt shift photo using that website I linked to in my previous tilt shift-orientated post. I think the effect only really works if you've got the right sort of photo to edit in the first place. To whit - I took a photo of a street scene from afar with the fucking immense zoom lens stuck to the front of the HS30 EXR (serious piece of kit, seriously), and then tilt shifted the fuck out of it:

Now that is impressive in my opinion. Look at the tiny cars! Now to STAND ON THEM! Crush them and kick the roofs off the houses and take a massive shit in the town centre. Piss in a river and leg drop the town hall. Just me? Oh...OK. I get a bit carried away when the opportunity to act like Godzilla presents itself. Did I mention the Mayan apocalypse totally failed to happen? Just saying.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Listen up. According to various news websites, people around the world are stockpiling candles, torches, tinned food and salt (?) at the moment just to be on the safe side when the predicted apocalypse hits on Friday. This, to me at least, seems about as pointless as the Wii Mini. See, if it’s the apocalypse, then the world is going to what good are a few candles and a tin of Spam going to be? Fucking idiots. I don’t know why I’m even bothering to mention this guff – it’s pretty clear to anyone with an ounce of brain tissue inside their skull that the world isn’t going to suddenly ‘end’ on Friday.

It might feel like it has to many of the people who are out on Friday night for the annual 'mad' Friday celebrations – the curious (British?) tradition of going out drinking on the last Friday before Christmas and consuming so much alcohol that you can’t even taste your kebab on the way home – but surely their world-ending epoch won’t really begin until Saturday morning when they’re hunched over the toilet bowl throwing the same minced offal up again? 

This whole ‘end of the world’ shite is literally just that – something that somebody got wind of and was then twisted out of all proportion by the media and adopted as truth by other equally dense people. As far as I can see, the only evidence for any of this crap is that the Mayans' calendar sort of ends around about now (after much shoe-horning and contriving of data so that it sort of looks a push). See, the peoples of ancient antiquity didn’t really have days of the week, or years or months as we know them, so the very notion of ‘Friday the 21st of December 2012’ would have been complete gobbledygook to your average Mayan bloke. So where has this magical date come from? I don’t really know or care to be honest. What I do know is that all these fool s buying candles and salt are gonna have some ‘splaining to do come Tuesday morning when their kids are unwrapping cylindrical, waxy gifts. 

It kinda makes me a little bit sad for the human race reading all these news reports about large communities in supposedly developed and enlightened countries panic buying essentials ‘just in case.’ Just in case what? A wave of fire and brimstone comes sploshing down the street? The dead rise from their graves and shuffle about a bit? An asteroid smashes the world to tiny fragments like a drunk tramp punching a goldfish bowl? A despot* presses a button and starts a nuclear war? In the event that any of those improbable things happen (they won’t), again I ask – what fucking use will candles and Spam be?! See you on Saturday morning, dickheads.**

Speaking of despots, and taking into consideration the new Hobbit movie is out (mildly tenuous segue, I know), have you ever wondered what Sauron might use to write his Christmas list? Wonder no more, filthy Hobbitses:

It uses children's tears instead of ink

Forged in the fires of Mount Doom, this delightful writing utensil is available here for the meagre sum of £10,000. I'll have two, then.

*My money would be on that triple-chinned North Korean bloke if I was a betting man. But I'm not.
**And if I'm wrong, then fuck it - I've got some Spam in the cupboard somewhere. And a colour-changing lamp. Yeah bitches.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ouya? Oh Yeah!

In recent posts I’ve looked at the new Nintendo consoles and basically poured scorn on them both. The Wii Mini looks like the most pointless thing I’ve ever seen – a Wii without internet functionality and no backwards compatibility; and the Wii U...well, my opinions of that turd are fiercely negative and I make no apologies. This week it came to light that due to some arcane European legislation, if you’re stupid enough to have bought a Wii U and wish to view/download ‘adult’ content (i.e. anything that’s rated 18 / Mature), you have to wait until between the hours of 11pm and 4am for it to be visible in the online store. And there I was thinking Nintendo were over the whole ‘green/no blood in games’ thing. 

To be fair, I don’t think this is necessarily something that Nintendo has implemented of its own accord, but both Xbox Live and the PS Network marketplaces do not impose this bizarre censorship and yet they operate in a European environment too. Way to go, Nintendo. First – bring out two new consoles, both of which are similarly titled to your existing one. Then send mixed audience messages by releasing a glut of child-friendly launch titles alongside more adult-themed ones...but then impose a kind of watershed on mature online content. Brilliant. There are two other consoles on the horizon though. And no, I’m not talking about the next offerings from Sony or Microsoft. They’re Ouya and Neo Geo X

You’d be forgiven for never having heard of either of these consoles, and in all honesty the Neo Geo X will probably be born into a cloud of apathy before vanishing into the mists of time (but not before sprouting eBay listings advertising it as ‘**RARE!!!**’); but the Ouya has the potential to be a bit of a game changer (sorry). Ouya started life as a Kickstarter project that went on to attract donations of over $8m and is in essence an indie gamer’s dream – a true modder’s console that runs a bespoke version of the Android OS, and that the creators are marketing as a console that will actively encourage homebrew creativity. So, it’s kind of like that GP2X thing that nobody bought, but in console form. 

The thing that sets Ouya apart from the other ‘modders/homebrew/indie’ consoles is that it offers so much for such a meagre price tag: It’ll apparently retail for $99 (which using the usual gaming hardware conversion techniques will no doubt equate to £99, and not the more realistic £60ish) on launch, and offer loads of cool stuff straight out of the box, such as compatibility with On Live and a fully featured app/game store. The Ouya’s creators are also quite happy for gamers to open the console itself and tinker with the actual hardware inside, which as far as I know, is completely unprecedented for a console. Fair enough, you can buy things like Raspberry Pi and you can always mod a PC...but official modding support from a console manufacturer is a new one on me. I’m not sure if I’ll buy one, but Ouya looks quite intriguing especially as the quality of Android games is improving all the time (those Modern Combat games are getting very good, even if they are blatant rip-offs of Modern Warfare...and technically I’ve only played the Blackberry OS versions, so not really Android...but fuck it. You know what I’m getting at). Ouya is out next March in the US...and a UK release date isn’t even hinted at yet (surprise). 

The other new console I mentioned is the Neo Geo X from SNK Playmore. SNK is a company that I always associated with impenetrable fighting games like King of Fighters and stupidly hard side-scrolling shooters like Metal Slug, and the original Neo Geo console (and its variants) was something I never actually played on because I didn’t know anyone who a) had one; or b) could afford one. 

There was a guy at my school who told everyone he had a Neo Geo, but when me and my brother went round one evening to have a go on it, he came out with some bullshit story that his mum had seen it in his room, not known what it was and then proceeded to throw it in the alleyway behind his house. He then went and pretended to be looking for his Neo Geo in said alley for about 20 minutes before giving up. Unimpressed by the quality (or lack thereof) of this blatant attempt to hoodwink us, my brother and I left soon after and our acquaintance never mentioned the Neo Geo again. Certainly not when either of us was in the vicinity, anyway. 

But I digress. So the Neo Geo then – a fabled and rarely seen console that boasted some (apparently) excellent 2D fighters, shooters and...well that’s it as far as I can tell. Enter the Neo Geo X – A strange hybrid console that consists of a hand held Neo Geo console that is pre-loaded with 20 of SNK’s best retro games...that fits inside a case that looks like the original Neo Geo so you can hook it up to a TV. The console comes with a gargantuan joystick/pad thing too so you can get that true 1990s import gamer nostalgia going on. Reports that it comes with a free Tango & Cash poster are unconfirmed. Oddly, the Neo Geo X doesn’t take original Neo Geo carts (mainly because the plastic case is just that – a mock up of the original AES shell without any functioning parts) as the games come on some kind of SD-like memory card that are plugged into the little handheld unit. You’d have to be a bit of an SNK nutter to shell out the $200 asking price for one of these things in my opinion, especially since most of the games available have either already been ported to other consoles or are available for free (cough) on certain (cough) websites (cough). Cough. As with the Ouya though, there isn’t a UK release date or price as yet. I’d be surprised if we ever see the Neo Geo X officially released on these shores though, especially as the original Neo Geo consoles never made an impact here and the Neo Geo Pocket Colour sold about 3 units. Saying that, if you did happen to find a Neo Geo CD system in a Moss Side alleyway in about 1995 (just up from where Maine Road used to be); could you get in touch via the comments section? I might owe an apology to an old school friend. 

I downloaded a little game last night called Braid. I’d heard lots of talk about it when it launched on Xbox Live, but I never got it because I find the whole ‘Microsoft Points’ thing a bit shit. If you could just buy things with real money out of your debit account like you can on the App Store/iTunes and the Blackberry Appworld, then I might be more inclined to do so...but I just don’t really like the way you can only buy certain amounts of Microsoft Points and then be left with a useless number of them after buying something. I’ve had 180 points in my account for about 3 years now...and 180 is just about enough to buy absolutely fuck all. However, I saw Braid on the App Store on the Mac last night for £2.99 so I bought it. And what a delightful little romp it is too. 

It’s basically a platform game with a great hand-drawn art style. The story and locations appear a little on the surreal side, as does the way you can rewind time if you fall to your death...but you also have to use this function to solve puzzles involving cannons firing clouds. Quite. I’ve looked around on the interwebs quite a bit and discovered that Braid is actually about a nuclear war or something...which just adds a bit of intrigue to the story in the textbooks you come across in-game. Only played the first two ‘worlds’ thus far, but it was definitely worth £2.99 in my opinion. You can’t even get a pint for £2.99 these days (unless you go and jostle with the alcoholics and bums in your local Wetherspoons) so money well spent. I might attempt to do a little video review some time. But then again, I might not.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Glow Lamp Video Review

Thought I'd knock up a quick video review of the lamp I was on about in my previous post. I shot it with the HS30 EXR and I have to say I'm really disappointed with the sound quality I ended up with. There was a weird buzzing noise in the original clips that I tried to reduce in iMovie, but all that did was muffle the sound. Odd. Anyway, enjoy:

Glow Your Own Way

Howdy. Been sorting out my big move back to the capital of the North over the last week hence the lack of updates. Took the Goose up the line on Friday morning and stashed it in my brother’s garage before getting the National Express back late last night. I set off at about 6.30am on Friday morning in an attempt to escape the biblical storm that was sweeping across the country and I almost made it – it was only in the last half hour of the journey that the rain finally caught up with me and soaked me to the bone. I know I’ve moaned about this many, many times over the last year – but Christ. Every single time I get on that fucking thing, the heavens open. All last week it was dry as a bone. Ridiculously cold, but dry. And then as soon as I decide to get on the bike and transport it, the rain starts. I’m not stupid enough to actually believe that some arcane rain god has it in for me, but it just always seems to be that no matter how nice the weather is, as soon as I get on my motorbike, it turns shitty.

Apart from the rainy (windy and dark) journey on Friday morning, the weekend was quite pleasant. Spent Friday night at my dad’s and Saturday night I went to a friend’s house party/Christmas do that eventually spilled out into a few pubs. It was in a place called Ramsbottom on the outskirts of Manchester and was a really good event, not least because the pubs around that area mostly seem to be proper ‘real ale’ pubs with good friendly atmospheres. I don’t really know Ramsbottom that well, but from the few times I’ve been there to visit this particular friend, I have quite a positive opinion of it. The place seems to be very ‘old fashioned,’ but not in a horrible, urban decay way – more in a ‘dry stone wall’ way, where a lot of the buildings are made of those grey odd-shaped bricks. There’s also a proper steam railway around there somewhere, so it gets a thumbs up from me. I fully intend to dress as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and ride that quaint fucker one day. 

I went to Minehead a few years ago and we went down to the station there to have a ride on the steam train, but the twat wasn’t running so we just went to the pub instead. So yeah, Saturday night was a bit of a blur involving lots of ale and party food. Earlier in the day I got lost on the ridiculous motorway network encircling Manchester and ended up somewhere near Liverpool when I was trying to get to Stockport (and predictably I also got piss wet through), but apart from that, it was a chilled weekend. 

I got the coach back from Chorlton Street in Manchester and discovered to my horror that it isn’t only Birmingham coach station that charges 30p for the pleasure of being able to have a piss or shit in their toilets. Personally, I think that this kind of thing is disgusting. Charging people to carry out essential bodily functions. I remember when I went to Hull a few months ago and was bursting for a piss, but the toilets in the train station were even more expensive than the two aforementioned coach stations! I can’t remember how much, but I’m pretty sure it was more than the already outrageous 30p levy at Brum and Manc. In case you were wondering, I didn’t use the bogs at Hull, I just emptied my effluent all over the main High Street instead – not that you could tell (this is a joke, by the way – I think Hull’s a pretty nice place, especially since they built that new shopping area). But anyway, enough of my boring life story. 

When I was in Manchester waiting for my coach, I stepped into a shop called Clas Ohlson, which to me at least, appears to be Ikea without the furniture. It’s full of all sorts of tat – from garden tools and kitchenware to electrical and computer accessories. I love it, and could spend ages wandering around just looking at stuff. One thing I did see was this: 

768 colour combinations apparently. Not sure about that.

It’s a lamp. Not just any lamp though - its called 'Glow' and it comes with a remote control that lets you change the fucking colour! How insanely cool is that?! 

Each button changes the colour, the ones on the right adjust the brightness

Standard 'orange' mode

Probably should've tidied up before taking these pictures

As soon as I saw it I had to have it, so I shelled out £30 for it and transported it back halfway across the country with me. What else? Oh yeah – I sold my old iPod on Gumtree as well as my laptop in order to fund my latest ‘big’ purchase – an iPod Classic 160GB. It’s silver and matches the new MacBook Pro I got last week. I’m becoming everything I ever hated buying all this Apple stuff, but you know what? I think I can see why people desire Apple stuff: it just fucking works. It comes out of the box, you turn it on...and it just works. As simple as that. I’ve had no issues whatsoever with the MacBook, and the iPod is just the same. None of those stupid Windows dialogue boxes popping up with error messages accompanied by that stupid alert noise. Nothing but silky smooth performance. Sure, the MacBook is only a week old so that’s what you’d expect, but the OS is so much better than anything gaudy old Windows 8 could ever be, what with its hideous neon squares and incompatibility issues. Urgh. I played around with a Windows 8 PC in Curry’s last week and I was pretty horrified by how clunky it felt compared to Mountain Lion...and that was after using the Mac for about 3 days. Am I an Apple convert? Well, I was always slightly into Apple macs anyway (my first job after Uni was selling and demoing Apple G5 Powermacs), and I did all the online exams to gain ‘Apple Product Professional’ status (those RAID exams were fun, let me tell you), so I don’t think it’s a question of being a convert. More a case of ‘I ditched Windows because Mountain Lion kicks ass.’ Or something like that. In other iPod news, I’ve managed to download a piece of software that converts DVDs into mp4 movies that can be played on the iPod – so now I can watch movies on the cross trainer in the gym. Which, frankly, is awesome. Right, that’s enough from me for the moment. Until next time.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Tilt Shift

Ever heard of tilt shift photography? Neither had I until today. Well, I had...I just didn't know it was called tilt shift. You probably have too. Look at this:

Go, tiny USA!
It's a technique that involves the use of a special, sickeningly expensive camera lens that turns ordinary scenes of humdrum life into images that make everything look like toy town. See, the perspective shifts or something, tricking those dumb-fuck balls of fat stuck into the front of your head into thinking that they're looking at a bunch of models. Models made of wads of human hair and dried faeces. Possibly. If you don't own a tilt shift lens, there are several sites online that will allow you to upload your own shots of everyday drudgery and turn them into pseudo tilt shift-esque images. Look:

As you'd expect, they don't really measure up to the majesty of the ones shot with a proper lens, but it's a mildly distracting activity for those who have nothing better to do with their time.

If you'd like to know more about this fascinating branch of photography, check out this website for a much more detailed explanation than I could ever craft. There's also a guide to creating perfect tilt shift images. Winner!

Golden Joysticks

Firstly – what the fuck have they done to the Games Radar site? Jesus, talk about fucking up something that didn’t need to be fucked around with. Seriously – go there and have a look at the new layout. It didn’t look like that until yesterday; previously it was a bit like a blog where every new story would just go to the top and push the previous ones down and off the bottom of the front page onto page 2. Now it looks like Lawnmower Man has thrown up all over the screen – there doesn’t seem to be any logical arrangement to the articles...just complete random chaos. Sheesh. Think I’ll be going elsewhere for my daily gaming news until they sort that design car-crash out. Ho-hum. 

In slightly related, but not at all related news, I feel I must pay homage to the late, great Sir Patrick Moore who passed away at the weekend. Obviously, his main interest and knowledge sphere was astronomy and all things extra-terrestrial (by which I mean planets and quasars and all that malarkey), but to pretty much every gamer of a certain age, Sir Patrick was also the face of Thursday night gaming television on Channel 4: he was the Games Master. Fair enough, Dominic Diamond and Dexter Fletcher were also in there (the former much more than the latter, I know), as were several other UK-based industry types (publisher Dave Perry and developer Peter Molyneux among them), but it was the titular Games Master who set the challenges and was the main focal point of the series. 

For those who never saw Games Master, there were several series set over a few years and it was a show I used to watch religiously whenever it was running. The format was sort of like a game show where there was a presenter (the aforementioned Dominic Diamond, and for one series Dexter Fletcher) and contestants who would come on to take part in challenges set by the Games Master. The Games Master was basically Sir Patrick Moore’s head with various CG overlays, who spoke from a giant screen. If the contestant was successful in the challenge set, he or she would walk away with a coveted Games Master Golden Joystick. The best bit was that these challenges were usually set in games that were available to buy for the consoles of the time, and if you watch the episodes back on Youtube, you can sort of tell the era they were from by the games they were using. As well as the challenges, there were reviews and news items focusing on the latest games. Back in the early to mid nineties, gaming was still seen as a bit of a geek’s hobby (and probably still is by most people) and Games Master went some way to establishing the medium in the mainstream, certainly in this country. Obviously, the PSX had a little bit to do with it too, but I’d say that GM also had a fair part to play. 

Alongside the TV programme, there was a magazine (titled, er, Games Master Magazine) which I would get monthly as part of my regular haul of gaming mags. It was a really cool mag, and was kind of like an all-format Amiga Power-lite, in that it was written in a fairly adult tone, with lots of references to real-world happenings. The magazine is still going, but has since taken a bit of a diversion and is squarely aimed at the younger gamer these days. I suppose that’s why GamesTM and Edge now exist; filling a niche and all that jazz. But Edge is a self-important load of old toss, so we won’t mention that particular mag again. So yeah, what I’m trying to get at is that Sir Patrick Moore died at the weekend and I’m sure most people will remember him fondly for the part he played in the whole Games Master saga. 

Again, following on in this games-related diatribe, I read last week that Nintendo have re-launched the original Wii console (there it is, up there!). I say ‘relaunched’ but that’s probably taking things a little too far – they’ve pooed out the Wii Mini into Canadian stores (?). The Wii Mini is basically a stripped down original Wii, with all the internet functionality and backwards compatibility taken out, and repackaged in a rather garish looking black and red casing. The question remains: why? They’ve already confused half the casual gaming world with their Wii U, and now they’ve gone and added to the confusion further by releasing yet another ‘new’ Wii. Baffling. 

I took the Macbook to the Apple Store in Bristol on Saturday. The two people I spoke to on the phone last week said that I could have the chipped palm rest replaced in-store and even though I was slightly sceptical I still traipsed down the M5 (and discovered I had a flat rear tire on the way...which wasn’t fun) and took the Mac in to their ‘Genius bar.’ Genius?! More like Retard bar! The guy didn’t know what he was talking about for a start and then after he’d consulted his iPad for about 10 minutes just came back and told me they couldn’t do the job (even though I had been told otherwise on the phone by TWO different ‘Geniuses’). He did, however, go on to tell me at great length that there was a place in Cheltenham that would do the repair, but “it wouldn’t be cheap.” What happened to Apple replacing these palm rests for free? 

I rang the place in Cheltenham and they said the same thing – they’d have to send it off to their workshop blah fucking blah, and that it wouldn’t be free unless I called Apple and got their approval. Yes – call Apple. And get their approval for a free repair to my computer. As if that’s going to happen. I fobbed the guy off and hung up. 

Something made me go back into the Apple Store though, I don’t know what. I suppose I just wanted to have a muck about with the new Macbooks and stuff. It’s been a while since I’ve been into an Apple Store and just had a play with the sexy gear on show. And it’s amazing what you pick up just from being able to see the whole product range of a company just laid out and easily accessible. For one, I didn’t know that the Macbook Air and the new Macbook (with Retina display) don’t have DVD drives. Who the fuck thought that was a good idea?! Sure, the omission of an optical drive reduces weight...but what about being able to watch a DVD without having to lug an external drive around with you? It’s almost as if Apple and Nintendo are working together to wind people up by doing stupid things with their new hardware (the whole ‘you can’t use a USB stick on two different Wii U consoles’ thing is equally strange). That neither of those two systems (and the new iMac) have optical drives instantly makes me look elsewhere. 

And as a matter of fact, I did: at the Macbook Pro. The normal, £999, 13,” 2.5 Ghz, 4GB RAM, 500 GB HDD model to be precise. What an amazing piece of engineering. I can see why people love Apple hardware, with it's super-sleek aluminium casing and quality feel. I had a play around for a good while and instantly fell in love with it – the two-fingered mouse pad commands were something I had never come across but instantly didn’t want to live without. So I just went and bought one. Right then and there I just went up and asked for a 13” Macbook Pro and paid for it outright. And I have to say it’s the greatest purchase I’ve ever made (apart from the HS30 EXR, naturally...but they go hand in hand what with iPhoto and all the other cool Mac photo shit). It’s been two days now and I’m still fascinated by the thing and all the cool stuff it does. Not too impressed that you can’t plug normal headphone-jacked speakers into it without getting this weird buzzing noise (something to do with feedback of the current or some crap), but I’m totally blown away...and while it doesn’t have a Retina screen, it does have a DVD drive so I can watch my Warehouse 13 series one boxset when I eventually get around to it. I still have the used Macbook white sitting on a shelf, but that badboy’ll be going on Gumtree by the end of the week.

Friday, 7 December 2012


It’s recently dawned on me that over the course of the last year I’ve actually read quite a fair number of books. I started thinking about this as I was having a clear out last night in preparation for my exodus back north (which should be in the next couple of weeks, hopefully), and found a load of books in a box on top of my wardrobe. I say ‘my’ wardrobe – it isn’t really. It belongs to the landlord, as does the bed, the dresser and the bedside unit. And the carpet, curtains, walls and ceiling. I don’t actually own any furniture and after last night’s ultimate cleanse of all unnecessary items, it became apparent that I can squeeze all of my worldly possessions (excluding the Suzuki and my knackered pushbike, but including clothes) into 2 suitcases, a hold-all and three boxes. Seeing it all there in a pile is quite comforting, especially when you take into account my complete repulsion when it comes to clutter: useless ornaments, bags of stuff for ‘what if’ occasions...I hate it all, so in those bags and boxes (one of which is full of smaller boxes for my myriad gadgets) are only meaningful, useful items. But anyway, back to the books.

My most recent books I’m still not done with – Beyond the Shadows (book 3 of the Night Angel trilogy) I really only read on my Kindle when I’m on the cross trainer in the gym, and House of Leaves only gets a look-in when I’ve got a spare 3 hours to sit there and try to decipher what each individual page is trying to tell me. I did get a good chunk of it read last week during my well-documented National Express journey to Manchester and I’m really enjoying it...but the constant footnote references and the way paragraphs continue on previous pages and written backwards (yep, you read that right) does get a little annoying at times. I can see what the author was trying to do (after all, the book is meant to be made up of scraps of documents found in a big bundle so I’m guessing the odd layout is a way of conveying that (?)), but it doesn’t half grate after a few chapters. The different monoluges and fonts used to depict these I can deal with, but when you’ve got different chapters running backwards next to each other on the same page...well, it becomes more of a chore than a pleasure. Still, I’m sticking with House of Leaves because a) it's fantastic, and b) there are things alluded to in the story that are really intriguing and haven’t yet been fully explained. I just need to find a few spare hours. 

I briefly mentioned the Night Angel trilogy and I just want to reiterate how fucking cool the whole saga is. I’m about half way through the final book now and even though some of the story gets a bit muddy and confusing (and downright eh?!) in places, it’s still a cracking read. I feel like I’ve been watching an epic Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings-style story unfold over the course of the three books – massive battles, genocide, betrayals, romance, rape, alcoholism, prostitution, suicide, magic, love,’s all in there. I can’t really praise the trilogy enough, and (as I’ve said in the past) that it was the first published work by Brent Weeks is testimony to the guy’s talent. Not sure if I’ll seek any of his other books out any time soon, but I’ll definitely remember the Night Angel books, and the characters therein for a long time to come. 

Other shit I’ve read this year: Robopocalypse. Set in a world where the machines have become self aware and waged war against the human race (sound familiar?), Robopocalypse is an account of the origins of the machines’ rise to power as depicted in CCTV recordings and diary excerpts etc. If you’re thinking Terminator rip-off, I’m not going to argue...although the way the tale is told through the recordings and written accounts of human battles with errant machines is totally unique. Well, unless you compare it with World War Z...but lets not go there. For now, anyway. Interestingly, Steven Spielberg (so I hear) is working on the film adaptation. Wonder if he’ll do it justice. And speaking of movie/book crossovers, I also finished I Am Legend this year too. I saw the Will Smith adaptaion before I’d even heard of either the book or the original Omega Man film, so all I had to go off when I started the book was the image of a sweaty, shirtless Will Smith doing pull ups in a dilapidated apartment block. The book, however, is umpteen times better than the film ever was, simply because the guy in the book isn’t some super-human beefcake like the guy Will Smith portrays. He’s just an average Joe who is scared shitless by all the zombies knocking about the neighbourhood, and who discovers through lots of trial and error and experimentation how he can fend them off. He also battles with boredom (I know how he feels) and alcoholism and loss. It’s a fantastic book – much bette than the (Will Smith) film. Still not seen The Omega Man though, so I’ll pass judgement on that. 

A further adaptation (well, a character from a book that recently got turned into a TV series, anyway) that I got through was the Dirk Gently novel The Long Dark Teatime of The Soul. It was pretty good and is a strange tale about ancient Gods and the bumbling holistic detective Dirk Gently somehow (apparently at random) managing to solve all sorts of crimes by taking a holistic approach – that is, all things are connected...or something. It was in January that I read this book so it’s kind of faded from my memory somewhat...but I still recall it being entertaining. One book that I read that wasn’t fiction (possibly) was Tales From Development Hell – The Greatest Movies Never Made (updated edition), a book about films that were green lit by Hollywood bigwigs, in some cases had stars attached to them, and then for whatever reason failed to see the light of day. Really insightful and well worth tracking down if you’re a fan of movies (or movies that never came out, more appropriately).The first book in the series, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, featured a chapter on a novel called The Stars My Destination which I went on to purchase and read. I still think that book is the best science-fiction novel I've ever read.

Then there was The Strain, a modern vampire novel written in part by the director Guillermo del Toro, which again was pretty damn good (and nothing like that Twilight shit, before you start thinking I’m into vampires that glow in sunlight. Urgh.), but just got a bit boring towards the end. The Strain is the first book in a trilogy but I started reading the second book almost immediately and didn’t feel as if anything new was I let it go. I’m not one of these people who feels that if they start a book they have to finish it – if I get bored, I will literally just stop reading it. That’s not to say I won’t give it a chance to stop being get the idea (I hope). There were also a few HP Lovecraft short stories (The Horror at Red Hook, Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Colour out of Space) and a few random Sci-Fi shorts too. I hope this has enlightened you. If not, then please feel free to go and do something interesting for the next half an hour to restore the equilibrium in your life.

On a different note, last night I stripped the Macbook down and emptied a whole hoover-bag’s worth of dust and shit out of its innards. The result? A machine that now runs almost silently. Now, if Bristol Apple Store can sort out the broken keyboard thing...well, it’ll be awesome. I’ll find out soon enough.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Amazing Effects

As I documented in the last post (just down there), my new (well, old) computer is an Apple Macbook. Due to this, I have recently discovered the awesomeness of the Apple App Store. Having a Playbook means I also get to peruse the Blackberry Appworld...but to be honest it isn't really a patch on the App Store. That's not to say that Appworld isn't cool - it really is...but it doesn't have anywhere near the number of apps on it. Saying that, as I'm on Snow Leopard and unable to upgrade any further, I'm guessing that my ability to use many of the newer ones on the Macbook will gradually diminish with time. Just gives me an excuse to get a proper new Mac though, eh? Anyway, I've been dabbling in the App Store and I've found a really cool little thing called Amazing Effects...and it's a little tool that, well, adds amazing effects to your photos. Want proof? Here:

The original

With a nice soft glow added

Slightly cartoon-ised

And with a colour filter

I took this photo hanging out of the window with the HS30 in the rain. I hope the drama comes across in it. Also - Amazing Effects is completely free so well worth the money in my opinion. Speaking of opinions, mine of the Macbook have improved considerably after discovering how freaking cool the little remote control thingy is - you just press the 'menu' button and the mac goes into a sort of 'Windows Media Centre' mode where you can scroll through your iTunes tracks and play them from across the room. Oh, and the speakers are belting for their diminutive size. I'm taking it down to the Apple Store in Bristol at the weekend to see if they can do anything about the broken palm rest (they said they could on the phone...) and will report here if they make good on their word.

Le Big Mac

Ok, this is going to make me look like the world's biggest hypocrite...but yesterday evening I spotted an advert on Gumtree for something I've been thinking about getting for a while; even more so since I started with the whole photography thing. I rang the number, chatted with the seller for a bit and then agreed to go and have a look. I was impressed with what I saw at first and was maybe slightly blinded by the whole 'image' thing associated with the object...and with hindsight I'm not sure that I did the right thing by purchasing it. Sure, it's pimped out with extra technical gubbins that clearly aren't standard...but upon getting it home and inspecting it closer I've discovered that it's actually a little tatty and the 'L' key requires slightly more attention than the other keys when typing.

What am I on about? Well...I went and bought a used Macbook. It's a few years old and suffers from 'light wear and tear': namely the palm rest has the usual 'broken off' edges around the bottom and sides and the case itself has a few cracks and scuffs here and there...oh, and the fan gets a bit tasty when there are more than a few applications running at once. Overall I'm quite impressed by it, but still I'm not overly convinced that I should have just spent a bit more on a brand new one. Only time will tell I guess.

Having dabbled with macs extensively over the years (going back to the old LC III I convinced my mum to buy way back in the mid nineties), I'm pretty au fay with the various iterations of Mac OS X and this one came with Snow Leopard already installed so I've been having a bit of a play around. I'm liking the App Store and the new updated iTunes layout, and I've found it relatively easy to set up new user accounts etc...I just can't help but feel a little let down by the condition of the casing. I didn't really know anything about the whole 'brittle body' Macbook thing until I bought this one (I'm writing this on it now), but it seems to be a common fault having looked around the various forums. Weird. But anyway, it doesn't affect the running of the Macbook itself, so I guess I should just stop wingeing. 

So – the specs. Well, it's a white Macbook from around 2008 I'd say. It has 4GB of ram and a 500GB (not standard) hard disk. As I said earlier, it's got Snow Leopard on it and all of the applications and free software (GIMP, Chrome, OpenOffice etc) seem to run just fine, as does the bluetooth, wifi etc. I paid £340 for it, which is a damned sight cheaper than pretty much every other Macbook I've seen either on eBay or Gumtree and the guy who sold it to me seemed fairly genuine and happy to show me all the features and let me have a play around before I handed over any cash. Like I said, I'm still undecided as to whether I actually got a bargain yet (what with the cosmetic issues, and the inability to upgrade to Mountain Lion), but again I got it for a relative steal compared to what many other used Macbooks go for. Ultimately, it will replace my HP Pavilion laptop which my brother has expressed an interest in...I just hope I haven't just wasted a fuck load of cash. On the plus side, it does look fucking cool and it has a remote control to switch music tracks and movies and shit in Front Row. Now all that I need to do is sit in the window of a Starbucks and look like an absolute twat while using it.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Fujifilm HS30 EXR: A Review

I thought it was about time I raved about how fucking awesome my new camera is. I’ve always had an interest in photography simply because it’s something that even the most retarded, cretinous idiot can get in to with the minimum of effort, but if you want to get really deep (man), you can. Y’know – messing about with white balance, f-stops and all that crazy shit. Up until very recently, I was getting by with my trusty Panasonic Lumix point-and-click, and as a basic compact it is one of the best around. You just point...and click, and invariably the images come out all crisp and nice and everyone’s happy. The thing is, there isn’t a lot of room for manoeuvre with the Lumix. Sure, it’s 16 megapixel and it’s got loads of built in modes, but if you want to be a bit more creative or want to set manual focus, depth of field etc...well, you just can’t. 

So I trawled the internet looking at reviews and educated myself in the mystic art of the camera. I looked at DSLRs first and it kinda dawned on me that buying one of those beasts simply wasn’t practical for a novice. Too many lenses, too many settings...fuck – DSLRs are intimidating bits of equipment if you don’t really have any idea how they work. I had a quick play around with one in a camera shop a few weeks ago and I couldn’t even get the thing out of the menu screens, so I just put it down and walked away, defeated. From that experience alone, I knew that the DSLR simply wasn’t an option. 

I then turned my attention to that hybrid category of cameras known as the ‘bridge' camera. Now, as far as I can tell, the bridge camera is kind of a stepping stone between simple point-and-click compact digital cameras (like my Lumix) and the Lovecraftian steam-punk head-fuck that is the DSLR. Hence the name ‘bridge’ (I guess). Again, I went head-first into Google absorbing every review and blog I could find to try to get an idea of which camera I should buy. I looked at Canon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Nikon... every kind of bridge (or super zoom as they’re also known) I could find and I started to build an idea of the kind of features my perfect bridge camera should have: a rechargeable battery, a decent zoom lens, SD card compatibility (none of that proprietary ‘XD’ shit for me, thanks) and possibly a HD movie mode. I set out with a fairly miserly budget of around £150, but it soon became apparent that for that price I would have to knock one of my desirables off that list – namely, the rechargeable Li-ion battery option. That’s because budget-priced bridge cameras all seem to be powered by 4 AA batteries – something I wasn’t aware of before this little quest began. Running off AA batteries isn't a major issue, and it’s probably the best option if you’re taking your camera off around the world because those types of disposable batteries are pretty ubiquitous, whereas three-pin UK compatible plug outlets most definitely aren’t (most of the rest of the world use those weird, unearthed, death-trap two-pronged things). However, this blogger likes Li-ion rechargeable so I upped my budget slightly. 

This also increased the number of cameras I had within my reach and my attention was drawn to the Fujifilm HS30 EXR. I was going to steer clear of Fujifilm cameras simply because one of my previous compacts was a Fuji...and it was a load of crap – the colours were washed out and everything looked grey and horrifically grainy under low light conditions. Basically, I didn’t want to go anywhere near a Fujifilm with my debit card. Curiosity got the better of me though, and I read a few reviews and they all seemed to give positive opinions of the HS30’s performance. I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued by the fact that the thing offered full manual zoom and focus (via rings around the lens) and had every other feature I was looking for: the rechargeable battery (boasting best-in-class 600 pictures from a single charge); the zoom (30x optical zoom – again one of the best in the class); SD card compatibility; and a full 1080i HD movie recording mode. In a word (well, several), everything I wanted in a bridge camera, and more. 

The tilting LCD is a nice feature
The price was slightly higher than I wanted to pay, so this lead to about a week of agonising over whether I should splash out that much cash (£280) on a fucking camera, especially when I only spend about £40 a month on food shopping. So I went on ebay and looked for a used one – they were all going for over £220 - so it was pointless even bothering to try to get a used one when new ones are only £80 more. Slightly deflated, I took a trip to Curry’s/PC World (or whatever they're calling themselves this week) and found the thing nestled in, all anonymous, with the other digital cameras. I picked it up and instantly liked the weight and chunky feel of the rubberised casing. I turned it on and was instantly impressed with the simple menus and multiple auto modes...and even more impressed by how simple it was to switch to full manual mode, bringing the focus ring into the mix. The manual zoom felt super smooth and the picture quality on the LCD screen was pin sharp. There wasn’t an SD card in the display model, but the built-in memory allowed me to take some pretty impressive snaps of unaware shoppers on the other side of the shop. Basically, I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving that shop without the damned thing, but the little Tyler Durden voice in my head was constantly telling me that I didn’t really need it. I told Tyler to fuck himself, but I still had to walk around the store about three times trying to convince myself to buy it and stop being such a tight-wad. 

During these laps of the store, I was accosted by a Sony salesman who did his best to sell me a 3D TV and also told me about a time he got stabbed in a pub in London just because he was wearing a Charlton Athletic shirt...and then it just happened. I saw other people spending triple, quadruple what I was thinking of spending; taking out credit agreements for £3000 TVs and iPads and all kinds of other glorious gadgety shit. At that point, the words ‘fuck it!’ snapped into my mind and I went back to the camera section, found a sales assistant (who – in all honesty – was dressed up like the Heath Ledger version of the Joker in aid of Children in Need) and asked for a HS30. Trying my luck, I also asked if there was any possibility of a discount on a camera bag, and found to my surprise that he could give me 20% off because I was purchasing the camera at the same time. He didn't, however, ask me why I was so serious. Which was a bit of a missed opportunity, but meh. 

In total, the camera and bag cost me just short of £300 and I won’t lie – I felt physically sick for a good while after I’d paid for it...but upon unboxing and using the thing for the first time, all of that sickness dissolved. So what were/are my impressions and experiences thus far? Well, being a novice as far as advanced photography goes (even though I know a little about scene composition and other shit like the rule of thirds etc), the first thing that hit me was just how user-friendly the HS30 is. There are lots of automatic modes that can be selected via (one of ) the little toggle wheel(s) on the top and they allow the camera to select the best settings for any particular shooting environment. If you want to delve into the manual setting options, they are but a click away...but for the first week or so I never went near the manual stuff simply because the auto settings are so good at selecting what it thinks you need. 

On the odd occasion that I wanted to add depth of field to an image, selecting the ‘aperture’ setting on the wheel allows you to adjust the focal length while the camera sorts everything else, giving you really good shots that make it look like you know exactly what you’re doing (note – I don’t). The ‘EXR’ bit in the camera’s name refers to a special uber-auto mode where the camera goes into overdrive selecting all sorts of utterly impenetrable settings to give you the best shots possible. In truth, you could probably leave it in EXR mode and never switch out of it; such is it’s the excellence. There are lots of other nice features too – the HS30 allows you to shoot video in several resolutions, including 1080i full HD; and super slow-motion hundred frames per second (I forget exactly how many) movies too. These are pretty low res, but being able to film a match being struck and then playing it back in slow motion to see the individual sparks igniting; or filming water pouring into a cup and marveling at the viscosity...well, it’s very cool. Some other stuff I've been playing with: 

  • A panoramic mode that allows you to sweep the camera from left to right (or vice versa) in one continuous arc before stitching them all together seamlessly 
  • A ‘pro focus’ mode that adds a blurred effect to backgrounds in order to emphasise your subject matter (with 3 levels of blurriness, I might add), 
  • A ‘3D’ mode that isn't really 3D – but it just lets you take two images of the same object and then in quickly switches between the two on playback to create a kind of animated GIF effect,  
  • A 'super macro' mode that is even better than the normal macro mode
  • A delayed flash option allowing for better capture of backgrounds in night shots
  • Multiple shot modes that then choose the best of the lot and then lets you agree or disagree with it before deleting the shit ones

The list goes on. Obviously, the real test of a camera’s metal is whether it can actually take decent pictures...and well, with a 16 megapixel sensor the HS30 takes some stunning, crystal clear images. 

This is by no means an expert review - for that go and look at a dedicated photography blogger's opinions - this guff is really just for the layman who wants to know if the HS30 EXR is worth the asking price. You've probably already guessed my opinion – it is. By God, it is. Going back to the Lumix after using the HS30 just isn't an option (unless I’m going out on the lash or to a party or some shit where the size isn't practical), and I’m glad I took the plunge and bought the thing. In the few weeks I've owned the HS30, I've also bought a few lens filters (a polarising filter that blocks out reflections in glass, a clear UV filter which is mainly for protecting the lens and a yellow filter that enhances black and white shots' contrast), and another bargainous (£1.99) 4GB SD card to go alongside my existing 8GB one. 

I’m really happy with the performance so far and am seriously considering doing a photography course in order to make the most of the extensive manual shooting modes. My better half has bought me a guide to digital photography to work my way through in the meantime though. And if you’re still interested in the HS30 EXR, have a look at the shots in the ‘Photos’ and ‘Flickr’ tabs at the top of this blog to see some of the shots it (under my control) hath produced thus far.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Beans and Chimp

This morning I discovered something that made me spit my vodka all over the TV, which was a little annoying seeing as the BBC were just beginning day 2 of their wall to wall coverage of Princess Cambridge’s morning sickness live from outside some hospital in a posh area of London. What make me eject the warm, warm elixir? This:

Apologies for the quality of the Blackberry Curve 8520's appalling camera 
Yes, it’s a toaster that also cooks beans. Who the fuck would waste money on such a thing? Seriously? What’s wrong with putting your toast in a normal toaster and then putting your beans in the microwave (or if you’re feeling particularly exotic, a pan)? If I was invited into someone’s kitchen and I spied one of these monstrosities on the side, I think I’d have to re-evaluate whether that person was worthy of my companionship. At that point, I’d probably raid their fridge for whatever wasn't glued down and then run away into the night. On that bombshell, here’s a picture of a chimp with an afro:

Just because.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Cadbury Advent Calendar: A Review

I'm not really one for chocolate. Neither am I one for spending money on useless shit like advent calendars. This year however, my significant other thought I needed to cheer the fuck up and get in the spirit of she bought me a Cadbury advent calendar. For those unfamiliar with the notion of an advent calendar, here's the premise: take a piece of card, cut flaps in it and then write a number on each flap (1 - 24) to represent the days of December up until Christmas Eve. On the morning (or afternoon - your choice) of each day, you open another flap. Inside the flap is usually some festive scene or a poem...or as in this case, a tiny piece of chocolate in the form of a reindeer's face. Here's a photo of my advent calendar:

I opened up flap number 3 this morning and devoured the chocolate with a ferocity approaching Jurassic Park velociraptor levels. It gave me a sharp pain in one of my teeth because I think I've got a hole or something developing back there. I didn't enjoy this pain and I cursed my own pseudo-festive gluttony, but I know for a fact that upon rising from my pit in the morning there's a 98% chance I'll rip open flap number 4 and repeat this morning's episode. That's because, unlike Pavlov's dog I never learn from my stupid, stupid mistakes. The picture on the front is quite Christmassy as far as pictures go - there's Santa dry-humping a sparsely decorated evergreen while Rudolf gets himself tangled in some fairy lights (fucking idiot). There also appear to be two elves hiding in a box containing massive chocolate renderings of Santa's own head. Santa doesn't appear to have noticed this though, or the fact that the fire in the background is roaring dangerously out of control. Also, why is Santa putting the tree up? Surely he can get the elves to do that while he reclines in a La-Z-Boy and sips Jack Daniels? What the fuck kind of operation is the child-worrying old fool running here? Mind: boggling.

Turning the calendar over reveals a full 'Christmas Team' bio, which states that the two elves are named, rather unconvincingly, Lloyd and Esther. Esther also appears to be suffering from red eye. The reindeer is called Rudy and his favourite sport is 'extreme sledging.' Santa is described as having a 'big laugh to match his belly,' but looking at him, this Santa looks fitter than most middle aged blokes - he's probably only got a 34" waist judging by these images. Something doesn't quite add up there. Maybe he keeps fit by doing an improbable number of sit ups in front of that raging inferno in the hearth, his rippling, sweat-soaked six-pack glimmering in the orange half-light while Rudy gets tangled in the fairy lights and lies there quivering and covered in his own faeces as Esther and Lloyd repeatedly skull fuck Clyde the snowman with his own carrot nose outside in the cold, dark garden. This is only hypothetical, you understand.

Rating: 7/10

Another Week in the North

Hello there. I spent the last week up in Manchester, hence the lack of posts. Sure, there are thousands upon thousands of internet cafes (probably), but it meant lugging my laptop into town on the bus and then finding somewhere that wasn't full to bursting with trendy trench-coat and luminous jean-wearing hipsters sipping mocha-choca-lattes. 

My mum’s house hasn't yet entered the digital age, so I've been in a bit of an internet dark age for the last 6 or seven days; but the main reason I went back up there was to attend a job interview. 

As I've documented several times over the last few weeks, my existence in the backwater township of Gloucester is hardly enjoyable, and so I've taken steps to relocate my ass back to where stuff actually happens and I don’t have to live in a flat with shit spread all over the inside (and occasionally the outside) of the toilet. As it turns out, I wasn't successful at the job interview but I was offered a small lifeline by the woman who interviewed me – there’s another post coming up in 4-6 weeks and they’d like to keep me in mind for it. Obviously I jumped at the chance and even though it’s not a guaranteed job offer, I'm going to throw caution to the wind, quit my current job and move home as soon as possible. It’ll probably mean crashing on my mum’s couch for a few weeks until I can get a place of my own sorted...but fuck it. What’s life about if not taking risks once in a while? Better to be on my mum’s couch (well, spare bed) than here in total isolation wrestling with boredom-induced alcoholism every night of the fucking week. 

I've already written an email to my manager offering my resignation...but judging from my previous attempts to quit, she’ll try to convince me otherwise and get me to stay. Not going to happen this time, not a chance. I just want to do my notice, hire a van and transport all my shit home (or rather, into storage). After that, I think I’ll go for a short holiday before Christmas. Cheers for the payout, Royal Navy! I was always planning on going backpacking in Thailand or somewhere when this job ended in April, but now my plans have changed I think I’ll spend a little less on a nice week away on my own somewhere instead. Europe maybe. Or possibly further afield. Don’t know yet. I just need to clear my head and then come back refreshed – get Christmas out of the way and then start getting my life and head back together without the constant feeling that I want to be somewhere else. 

My week in Manchester was also filled with lots of running (33 miles worth, in fact) and also lots of photography (several GBs worth). I've started a Flickr account and will be uploading the best of the shots I manage to squeeze out of the Fuji’s massive lens, so stay tuned for those you lucky people. Other highlights of the last week included Manchester’s Christmas market...but in all truth they were that busy that calling them a ‘highlight’ is a bit of a lie. I made the error of trying to meet a mate there on Saturday night and the sheer size of the crowds meant that we stayed for little more that 5 minutes before leaving. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the amount of people swarming about seeing as it was the payday weekend, but it was definitely the busiest I’ve ever seen the markets. I remember when I was living in Manchester before joining the navy – the Christmas markets were never like that – you literally couldn’t move in some places, such was the volume of people standing around trying to buy a glass of hot wine for a fiver or a chocolate-covered banana for some equally extortionate sum. Nevertheless, we found some decent pubs and had a good night, so it was alright in the end. 

Sunday I went to Smithfield market, which is basically the world’s biggest car boot sale...and just wandered around looking at stalls over-flowing with cheapo toys and hideous chav clothes. Didn’t buy anything (except a fucking amazing Cumberland sausage barm with mushrooms), but it was good to get out amongst the hustle and bustle of a proletariat market. But now I'm back in Gloucester. Not for long though. Not for long. Hopefully, I'll be outta here by mid December and can get on with trying to sort my life out. Exciting times ahead!

Oh, and you can check out my Flickr photo 'stream' here.