Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bark: No, I'm not dead. Don't look so disappointed.

Well, I'm back from my Christmas holidays: Twelve days in the IT wilderness, with nary a videogame nor internet connection in sight. My original plan to take my Nintendo DS was royally scuppered by my girlfriend hiding our European Travel Adaptor, so that I couldn't recharge the console, so I made do with taking my poker set instead (which raised a couple of eyebrows at Basel airport when it went through the X-ray machine). I got to play a little Texas Hold 'em with Nicolas, the boyfriend of one of my girlfriend's sisters, which was nice, even though he was a bit of a newbie (i.e. I trounced him royally - just as well we weren't playing for real money, since some dickhead took the wing mirror off his 307 on Boxing Day morning, just for kicks, AND he got a speeding fine on the same day).

We did a little shopping in the Christmas Markets of Mulhouse and Strasbourg, drank plenty of vin chaud, saw some friends, and I spent a lot of time reading, getting through two Heinleins and 600 pages of The Seven Basic Plots, which I told you about last month. It's an absolutely astonishing book - I literally couldn't put it down for the best part of a week, and it's taught me a lot about storytelling method, which I plan to put to use this year by knocking off a couple of short stories. One (which I've started already) will be a Fantasy tale set in the AD&D Forgotten Realms (see Baldur's Gate for details), and a second will be a sci-fi short set in a Heinlein/Kim Stanley Robinson-style post-apocalyptic "future history" of my own fiendish conception.

One of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to actually finish a short story and not lose interest halfway through (as I usually do); my others being to drink less; lose about two stone in weight; and finally, make a concerted effort to learn more French so that I can string together an actual, grammatically correct sentence and engage my girlfriend's parents in conversation without needed to call on her as an interpreter. We've decided to have "French days" and "English days" as part of our week - Monday, Thursday and Saturday being the days where we aim to speak as much French as possible, plus practice verb conjugation in the car on the way to work (my real weak point), with the rest of the week speaking English or French as we choose. You may even see the odd blog entry written in French by the end of the year... who knows?

While we were in France we did get a little snow: a couple of inches the day after Boxing Day, which lurked around until New Year's Eve, and a few nights were bitterly cold. I think it went down to -15oC at one point. Chilling! The most fun I had was driving home ten kilometres, in the rain, on roads coated with half an inch of ice at around 2am in a nine year old Fiat Punto (without snow tyres), including driving down a hill in Altkirch that's about 1 in 3. Still, at least at 2am there's nothing left on the roads to hit...

I quite like driving in snow/ice conditions, actually. In an "ohmygodI'mgoingtocackmypants" kind of way. I don't get to drive on ice very often, and it's a nice test of your car control skill, because it's completely unlike driving on any other type of surface. If you drive on ice the same way you drive normally, you're just asking to end up in a ditch. Forget about using the brakes, because you'll just lock the wheels and you'll slide off the road, aquaplaning on a tiny sliver of melted water between the ice and the tyre's contact patch. If you want to slow down, you instead give yourself plenty of lead time and use the gears to limit the wheel speed. (Example: driving down the 1 in 3 hill, I kept it in first all the way, to prevent the car getting away from me) Driving on ice is also the best time to see (and use) the effects of torque steer (assuming you have a front-wheel drive car), as you can use the torque from the engine to correct slides instead of using the steering wheel. The other mistake people make when driving on snow and ice is forgetting that it's not a good idea to use first gear. Wheelspin isn't desireable when driving on ice. Obvious, really, but so many people trying to get up steep hills seem to forget it when you add ice to the equation. It's like locking your wheels with your brakes - once you get those wheels spinning, say goodbye to Mr Traction...
Still, fun as driving in the snow might be, I'm glad I don't have to do it every day.

I suppose I should put up the inaugural Bark and Byte Awards for 2005, plus my hot tips for the best games of 2006, but not now. I have to get my nose back to that grindstone, and I have about seventy e-mails still to read. Gosh, I missed work... (Like a hole in the head...)
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