Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Byte: Iain is on holiday. (In Outland)

I know I haven't been updating much lately, but I have a very good excuse. I am on holiday. Because my beneficient employers decided to change our holiday system, so that we can't carry over vacation days from one year to another anymore, I have taken my final remaining few days of holiday time, as I reside between projects at work.

Last Friday was quite touching, as I left the project I have been on for the best part of the last three years. I was presented with several bottles of very nice beer (Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc), and a copy of Brain Training for the DS. In a little less than a week, I start on my new project; maintaining and doing development on the UK's Air-Sea Rescue command and control system (innovatively called the RCS - Rescue Co-ordination System). Our customer is based up in RAF Kinloss in the very north of Scotland - so I have a week long site visit to look forward to next month, to help me get up to speed with the application. Other than that, I will be based back in Farnborough, my local office, which is great for me, as I don't have to do a huge commute every day (compared to when I was working every day in Winchester, or occasionally bombing down the A3 to Portsmouth). It's a nice tight team (4 full-timers, including the project manager, plus a couple of occasional consultants who help look after the hardware infrastructure and the Oracle database). I'm looking forward to it immensely. It helps you sleep better at night to know that the work you're doing ultimately makes a difference - this is literally an application that helps save lives. I think I'm going to be much happier working on this than doing the internal reporting work. Interesting as that was, it was too politicised a working environment for my liking, and you never really got the recognition you deserved for doing a good job. If it hadn't been for the fact that the actual people I was working with were utterly first rate, I probably would have left a lot sooner than I did.

I'm almost champing at the bit to get started with my new project, but I am enjoying my time off. On Monday I went into London with my girlfriend, to have a poke around the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. I'd not been there in years, and I just love going around these kinds of places. I've been to the Natural History Museums in London, Basel, Strasbourg and Paris (plus probably another couple I can't remember offhand) and I find them consistently compelling. There's just so many creatures that would never even enter your sphere of consciousness if you didn't visit these places. I also paid a visit to the art shop behind Leicester Square (on Charing Cross Road, just up from the National Portrait Gallery) and ended up spending nearly £50 on sketch books, super-soft pencils, and a couple of mechanical pencils and non-HB leads. I'd never seen 0.5mm leads for mechanical pencils that weren't HB, but here they had blue, red, 2H and 2B leads - so I just had to buy them. Sketching in HB is okay, but to get the depth of contrast you want, you really need to use a range of grades. So now I've got a whole set of pencils ranging from 6H to 9B, and I'm going to be practicing my sketching skills over the rest of the week.

I wouldn't say I'm even halfway decent yet - but I am improving. I'm starting to get the size and shape relationships right now. Judging scale isn't so much of a problem as being able to create genuine likenesses. I still have a lot of trouble with faces - not so much the shapes, but bringing out the character with the recreation of how the light and shadow casts on the face. I'm trying more to draw the light and shadow than the actual shapes (because doing the latter is almost too cartoon-like, with the huge contrasts and sharp edges). It's very difficult, but I think I just need more practice. Training your eye to see the differences in shade and shadow can only really come with experience. I have found that I'm definitely better at drawing at the small scale. Things look a lot better on an A6 pad than an A4 one, for example. When you have less space to work with, it helps you keep the proportions right; but I would like to be able to sketch well on a larger scale. That's my aim for this year.

Another aim for this year is to hit the WoW level cap. I've been doing quite well since the release of The Burning Crusade. This week I've gone from Level 63 up to 65. By the time I get my new PC (hopefully by Friday - it's in the building stage now), I might have hit 66. Which still leaves me another two levels to go until I get Flight Form, but I am enjoying the journey immensely. Nagrand is pissing me off a little, as it's full of level 70s doing PvP, which makes it almost impossible to quest without getting ganked to hell. Though on Monday night I did have a nice moment. I was jumped by a Tauren Warrior three levels my senior (66 as opposed to 63) when I was grinding a bit of leather in Cat form. I switched over to Dire Bear form and promptly handed his bovine ass back to him on a platter. Feral Druids are so ridiculously overpowered at the moment, that I fear for nerfing we're going to get in the next major patch. Though considering Druid isn't such a popular class, we may get away with it for a while. Hopefully until I reach 70 and I can hand out some mighty pwnage in PvP...

Anyway, that's enough of that. Back to the World of Warcraft. I have to work on my secondary skills. I maxed out on First Aid this week, but my Fishing and Cooking skills still need a lot of work...
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