Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bark: In This World

The fruits of an insomniatic trawl of YouTube...

My work here is done. See you in the morning...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bark: Short circuits of the synapse

My managers at work got the surprise of a lifetime when I dumped all my angst on them this week (one of them described it as being "most out of character"), but they're both being terribly understanding with me about the ongoing existential crisis I'm going through. They're putting me in touch with all the support services (Occupational Health and IBM's Employee Assistance Programme), to help me work through all the thoughts buzzing around my brain that are preventing me from functioning like a good little corporate minion. Even taking some time off in sick leave has been mooted, though I'm a little ambivalent as to whether I want to take that or not.

I know that there's clearly something not right with me at the moment - you shouldn't walk around Sainsbury's calculating how many ways a shopping trolley could be used as a sociopathic outlet (like I did this lunchtime - for the record: at least half a dozen; ranging from simple obstruction and inconveniencing people, to actual use as a weapon) - and being able to recognise and admit that a problem is there is a huge step in itself, but getting over that inner reticence to actively seek help from other people is still presenting a bit of a barrier.

Part of it is a fear that these people are going to tell you "Just suck it up and get on with it, you pathetic shit, there's nothing wrong with you" - and that you've been wasting everyone's time; and the other part of the fear is that what's wrong with you is so serious that you've got to spend the rest of your life locked up in a loony bin, rocking back and forth all day against padded walls muttering distractedly "There's no place like home... there's no place like home." The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle, but knowing this rationally doesn't help. I'm not sure if I like the idea of being analysed, diagnosed, categorised and then packaged and labelled into a neat little compartment of illness (mental or otherwise). I've always hated doctors and hospitals, and I've always had the sneaking suspicion that we "discover" more illnesses not because medicine is getting more sophisticated, but because the way we structure modern society (pushing people closer and closer together, removing traditional cultural boundaries) is simply creating more pressures on the body and the mind and creating new ways for people to get ill...

Part of me doesn't want to know just how serious the problem is - but another part of me knows that unless I find out, the chances of actually getting well again are more limited. So this creates its own paralysis, which manifests itself as me not knowing what the hell I want to do anymore, not being able to keep a thought in my head for more than five minutes, not being able to deal with more than one thing at a time (which is perhaps the most worrying - one of the things I liked most about myself was my ability to multitask a heck of a lot better than Windows can...) and a crippling lethargy and lack of motivation to do *anything*.

I'm even losing the ability to write - I have two pieces to do for gamesTM in the next week or so - but the words aren't coming. Which is why I'm writing this... just to try and put some order back into my skull and sit behind my keyboard and have words, any words, flowing out of my mind and onto the screen again.

Though one good thing is coming out of this - my general apathy for life in general, and my lack of appetite in particular (I've eaten just two sandwiches in the last 72 hours) means that I'm losing weight at a rate of knots... So I may be going slightly/completely/utterly* mad, but at least I'm under 14 and a half stone for the first time in about three years. So hurrah for that.

Right. I'm off to kill people on a Battlefield 2142 server, so that I don't have to do it in real-life. (And who said videogames don't save lives?)

I will leave you with this, a quote from Robert Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which I'm reading at the moment. I'd not touched the book in weeks (it's not one of Heinlein's best, really), but by chance, this was the first paragraph I read after discussing my general dissatisfaction of life, the universe and everything with Fleur.

Happiness lies in being privileged to work hard for long hours in doing whatever you think is worth doing. One man may find happiness in supporting a wife and children. Another may find it in robbing banks. Still another may labour mightily for years in pursuing pure research with no discernible result. Note the individual and subjective nature of each case. No two are alike and there is no reason to expect them to be. Each man or woman must find for himself or herself that occupation in which hard work and long hours make him or her happy. Contrariwise, if you are look for shorter hours and longer vacations and early retirement, you are in the wrong job. Perhaps you need to take up bank robbing. Or geeking in a sideshow. Or even politics.

Kinda appropriate, huh? So if there's a sudden rash of perfectly planned bank robberies across Surrey in the next few weeks, I'd like to remind you that IT'S NOT ME...

*delete as appropriate

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bark: Word of the Day #297564981

The word for today is gnarly. No particular reason, other than it grabs me for some reason today.

Also, right now I'm listening to a track on Mogwai's new album (Mr. Beast) called Glasgow Mega Snake. I don't know why, but I just love the concept that there could be a Glasgow Mega Snake... In my mind's eye, it wouldn't be a huge constrictor like a python, or really venomous like a cobra, it'd simply go around threatening people with a broken bottle and shouting drunkenly "See eugh, Jimmy!", whilst scavenging half-eaten fish suppers out of rubbish bins at three o'clock in the morning.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bark: It's all going horribly wrong...

First Steve Irwin, and now this... It's not right. Someone, MAKE IT STOP.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bark: A disease of the soul

In The Brooklyn Follies, one of Paul Auster's characters describes writing as a disease, or "an influenza of the spirit"; when I read that on holiday this summer in Norway, it struck a real chord with me, and wondered if I'm not afflicted with a similar disease of the soul.

Perhaps I shouldn't have watched The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive last night, because maybe ignorance really is bliss. Far too much of what Stephen Fry and the other bipolars in the programme were describing felt far too familiar to me to be comfortable. I've always felt that my personality has had a manic depressive edge to it - my recent enthusiasm for wanting to grab hold of my life and do what I feel I want to do, offset by crushing ennui and the sensation that life simply spirals out of control (such as going way over my overdraft limit by having so many holidays crammed into such a short space of time, followed by the electric cooker deciding to stop working, just when I don't have the money to buy a new one).

I seem to be going through a bit of an existential crisis lately. Or maybe I'm just going slowly fucking insane. I really don't know what's wrong with me at the moment. I know I'm not happy with my life as it is right now, and I'm not happy with myself, either. I picked up a throat bug coming back from Seattle, and it's been lingering for over a week. When I'm not feeling well, I struggle to work up the enthusiasm to get out of bed. Today was a good case in point. Despite having a whole load of really important work to do - work which needs to be done quickly because my project manager is getting heat from his bosses about it - I couldn't muster the energy to scrape myself out of bed until well after lunchtime. Maybe it was because I was ill and not feeling well, or maybe because it was because I didn't care. I'm struggling to be able to tell the difference anymore.

Fleur's out tonight at a "Body Shop party" (that's where you look at cosmetics, not hammer out a wing panel on a Ford Escort), meaning that I have free reign to eat and drink what I like, but I couldn't even be bothered scraping up enough enthusiasm to get an essentially guilt-free Chinese takeaway, given that the cooker's on the blink (which, if you know my love for Chinese food, is incredible). I haven't eaten all day, and I really don't care.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I'm not expecting answers or solutions - maybe I just want to express it - scream from the virtual rooftops just to let it out; like that scene in Garden State where Zach Braff, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard are screaming into the abyss in the rain.

Maybe it's just a case of having an overly analytical mind and too much information. How can you *not* get depressed when you're told that the tipping point for climate change may be less than ten years away, and you've still got governments unable to admit that it's a problem at all? Perhaps that's just a natural reaction.

But is it natural to get the urge to break out an assault rifle and rampage with it around your local supermarket, just because you can't bear being in such a confined space with all that seething humanity? Is it natural to want to steer your car into a tree at 80 miles per hour, just because you're curious to know what it would feel like? Or is it natural to want to jump off a bridge into the Thames to see how long it would take you to drown, or to find out whether you'd really have a heart attack from hitting such a large mass of cold water?

Is it natural to wonder who would *really* care if you got hit by a bus, lightning or a meteorite first thing tomorrow morning? If I were to be utterly erased from existence tomorrow, who would it matter to? Offhand, I can think of maybe three people. Likewise, what would I leave behind? I'm not having kids, I'm not building some kind of dynasty here - all I have is what remains of the life I have to make some kind of mark that matters to me, and potentially to the world. I'm not having delusions of grandeur or chasing fame - I just want my life to have counted for *something* - something more tangible and important than having put a couple of cents on some massive, faceless corporation's share price.

Objectively, you might think I've got a good life. I have a secure job, a decent income, a home, a car, a stable relationship, and even a hobby that allows me to write freelance and make a bit of extra cash now and again. Compared to living in abject poverty in central Africa, even I can admit you've got a point. But subjectively, I know that this, ultimately, doesn't count for shit. We've got a world tearing itself apart over resources that are destroying the environment we all live in, the cost of living spiralling beyond affordability, governments that prize the possession of power over serving the very people that gave it to them, and religious leaders who can't even quote a centuries-old text without starting a holy war.

I'm torn between despair for the world and the megalomania of thinking that I could solve it all if only they'd put *me* in charge for a couple of years. Humanity has become a victim of its own success. Humanity's ingenuity managed to put it at the top of the natural food chain, but its conceit that it could do a better job than Nature will not only be the planet's undoing, but its own as well. Humans weren't evolved to live in such proximity, in such density, or in such diversity. And now we're paying the price. People fear what they don't understand, and by bringing such diversity into such close proximity (through technology - i.e. the internet, air travel, etc) it's little wonder that we live in a world of fear and intolerance. And I can only see there being one ending - and that's in flames, not humanity riding off into the sunset over the intergalactic horizon, like a techno-John Wayne...

Forgive me, I'm rambling. No, I'm not drunk, but I am working on it.

Maybe I'm insane. Maybe I need help. Or maybe I'm the only sane person in a world going mad. Who can tell the difference anymore? And does it really matter anymore, anyway?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Byte: An Unholy Trinity

It seems oddly appropriate, in the context of the discussion about the Pope's infallibility in the wake of him daring to make a quote from the 14th Century that didn't flatter Islam, that I should be confronted with the unholiest of trinities.

LEGO Star Wars II arrived in the post yesterday, along with my review copy of Company of Heroes. I also have lots of writing and other work to do. So do I work, liberate Normandy from Nazis, or save the galaxy from LEGOular evil? As you can see, it's no simple dilemma...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bark: Why don't you just start the march on Mecca now?


Gosh, it's just like playing Medieval: Total War, isn't it?
What next? Suicide bombers in the Vatican? Though I have to say it'd be interesting to see how the Swiss Guard handled them...

Bark: Great timing

Why do they have to relax the hand baggage rules on flights to the US just *after* I come back from there? Typical.

I suppose I should tell you about my trip to Seattle. I'm not going to talk about the game (Supreme Commander), given that there's an embargo on news about it until next month, but I can give you an insight into the mind of Chris Taylor (the creator of Supreme Commander and also of Total Annihilation and the Dungeon Siege games). He's undoubtedly one of the most charmingly bonkers men I've ever met. I was lucky enough to interview him for the best part of half an hour on Monday, and he's got a real passion about his games, with the clearly insane edge of someone who works far too hard. I kid you not, he almost ate my dictaphone at one point during the interview. It won't be an encounter I'm going to forget in a hurry, let me tell you. (Note to self: Just don't mention the hookers, midgets or cocaine... oh shit, too late.)

This was my first trip to America, and pretty much everything I'd been told about America turned out to be true. Firstly, it's just like the UK, only everything is about three times bigger - the cars, the roads, the hotel rooms, the food portions...

I also had a particularly fearsome Immigration Officer, who I'm sure was within a hair's breadth of having me red-carded and deported for claiming to be on holiday, yet seemingly having no idea of what I was on holiday to do. However, I guess I was deemed harmless enough to not be considered a threat. Despite the hair. Still, next time (if there *is* a next time) I'm going to take Tim Edwards' advice and get myself a Journalist's Visa to smooth relations...

The first night (on Saturday) we went to an Italian restaurant across the road from our hotel, where I was made aware of just how extreme the portion sizes in American restaurants are. The "half" portion of angel hair spaghetti with "shrimp" (i.e. King Prawns) and arrabbiata sauce could have resolved several famines in continental Africa. There must have been half a pack of spaghetti in that bowl. I barely made a dent in it before I had to admit defeat. Though at least I did eat all the shrimp...

Sunday we had the whole day to explore Seattle, do a bit of shopping (whereupon I bought myself a nice new 6 megapixel camera), before going to an improv theatre in the evening - the theatre itself being more infamous for its Gum Wall than the shows it puts on.

[Edit: One thing I forgot to mention about the improv club - the audience shouts out ideas to "inspire" the performers, and there were a couple of moments when the group I was in were shouting out suggestions that were funnier than the sketches themselves. Tim Edwards' revolutionary title for 'a novel that's never been written' - "Jesus Loves Beer" - set the tone for the night, and eventually won the prize for the best suggestion of the night. His reward was a supremely distasteful plastic bag full of plastic cockroaches and, bizarrely, miniature rubber chickens. Also memorable was when we were asked to come up with suggestions for an animal, which elicited a frenzied cry of "BADGER!" (Tim again), immediately (and seamlessly) followed by a very loudly hollered "MONKEY!"]

Seattle itself seemed like a nice enough city, but I'm not sure I'd want to do anything other than visit there. At least the tramps have style: one guy had "My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons." written on his begging box.

Monday we spent pretty much the entire day at Gas Powered Games, engaging in a little multiplayer tournament and some skirmishing with the AI. The funniest moment of the day was when Andy (from PC Zone) accidentally trod on his Supreme Commander ACU with a Spiderbot in the final 4 way match of the press tournament. It was a very British defeat - humourous and humiliating in equal measure.

Tuesday and Wednesday pretty much melded into the same day, given that we were having an overnight flight back to the UK. We spent Tuesday morning in the Bellevue Mall, and it was just like the Westpoint Mall in Vice City - that hideously twee tinkling jingle music echoing in the background. I visited the LEGO store to take a look at all the Star Wars LEGO kits. They had just about everything, from A-Wings, B-Wings, and Jabba's sail barge to the Death Star itself, which comes in a box about as big as a house. I would have liked trying to explain that one away to customs... "No, I've nothing to declare!" In the end I came away with a couple of LEGO keyrings: the obligatory Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper, who's just the cutest. I also picked up Star Fox Command on DS for less than £20, which was a bit of a bargain. Especially since it's not going to be out in the UK for another couple of months. I also picked up another game on DS called Freedom Wings, which looks like a cross between Crimson Skies and the original MechWarrior, as it's got some kind of RPG and aircraft upgrade system. I haven't played it so much yet, so it's probably complete rubbish, but for $20 at an exchange rate of nearly 2 to 1, you can't complain, really.

Tuesday afternoon we visited the Seattle Museum of Flight, where I went a little mad with my new camera, taking all manner of photos of the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-14A Tomcat they had there. We also had a walk through President Kennedy's Air Force One (a converted Boeing 707) and the Concorde that they had there. Concorde is undoubtedly the pokiest aeroplane I've ever been in. But it used to fly at twice the speed of sound, so you can forgive it being cramped and just a little bit dingy.

I spent most of the flight back either trying to sleep or playing Star Fox, because BA had rolled out the worst selection of in-flight films ever, in the history of ever. The only thing marginally watchable was Mission Impossible III, which was utterly predictable and shit. The rest were just too dire to even bother trying to remember, let alone waste your life telling you about.

Getting back in the UK was simultaneously a relief and an aggravation: a relief to be back in my comfort zone, but an aggravation that we had to wait 20 minutes for a tow to our stand position, because our 747 ran out of momentum ten metres short. Also because I had to wait an Ice Age for my bag (though at least they didn't lose it, like they did with poor Tim's) and also because the council had dug up the entire centre of Woking since I left, making it impossible for me to find my bus back home (I ended up taking a taxi). Still, it's nice to be back...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bark: Oh, lord, no - not another useless internet quiz!

The Movie Of Your Life Is A Cult Classic

Quirky, offbeat, and even a little campy - your life appeals to a select few.
But if someone's obsessed with you, look out! Your fans are downright freaky.

Your best movie matches: Office Space, Showgirls, The Big Lebowski

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Byte: Sony White Elephant 3

It won't have escaped most people's notice that Sony have taken a leaf out of Nintendo's book and delayed the European launch of the PlayStation 3, thanks to production problems...

After the spectacular PS3 no-show at Leipzig, I can't help but feel that the PS3 is Sony's equivalent of the Millennium Dome. The one big selling point of the PS3 was that it was not just a games console, but also a next generation Blu-Ray DVD player, but who's going to get excited about a list of films like this on launch day? Constantine *AND* xXx? Sign me up! NOT.

Also, who's going to want to pay upwards of £425 for a next-gen console when both of their rivals cost less than half that? And have already been entrenched in the market for months (in the case of the Wii, assuming it gets released as planned) or over a year (in the case of the 360)? If the PS2 vs. Xbox battle taught us anything, it's that the Console War invariably is won by the side that hits the market first, not the side that has superior hardware. With Sony giving Microsoft a two Christmas period head-start, it's got to have a catalogue of seriously exceptional titles to regain all that lost ground - especially when you're going to pay a huge premium to be able to play them. Sony are staking a lot on brand loyalty - which I don't think necessarily applies to the modern videogames market. Gamers want good games, technology is a bonus - and I don't see anything in the PS3 line-up that makes me want to run out and pre-order one. Especially not at that price.

Even worse, news coverage this week suggests that the other supposed unique selling point of the PS3 - HDMI support for high defintion TV - may not even feature on the 20GB version of the PS3 at all, and that an HDMI cable will not be included with the 60GB version that does have the functionality, adding even more of an expense to the already prohibitive cost of the console.

My prediction is that the PS3 is going to bomb, big style; unless... unless Sony generate so much hype with their PR machine that in the months running up to next March everyone takes leave of their senses and somehow forget that £425 is a HUGE AMOUNT OF MONEY. It'll be interesting to see what the import crowd, such as the denizens of NTSC-UK, make of the PS3. I imagine there will be an equal mix of rabid fanboys and people wondering why the fuck they wasted so much money, before hawking it on eBay for a small fortune and a large profit...

Personally, I could care less either way, to be honest - I can't say I've ever been excited by any game on the PlayStation - certainly not enough to warrant buying one. The 360 doesn't really have enough games I'm interested in yet to really inspire me to acquire one, either. I'm going to be spending my pennies on a Wii.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Bark: All donations welcome

Whoops. I discovered today that I can't spend *any* money at all for the next five days. Because I'm £250 beyond my overdraft limit. Perhaps having two holidays within the space of a month wasn't such a good idea after all. Oh well, it's only money. I guess I'll just have to eat gruel and drink water for the next couple of months until my cashflow gets back into positive figures. Still, at least the commission from gamesTM I got this week should go some way to easing the pain...