Monday, April 30, 2007

Bark: Tokyo Diner

Regular readers will know that I'm rather fond of my food, particularly oriental food; so when I arranged to go into London yesterday to do a little shopping and meet some friends for lunch, I tasked my friend Chris to find us a good Japanese restaurant, as I'd not had any genuinely decent sushi since I went to Seattle last autumn. Since Chris is essentially a walking edition of Time Out, one of his many contacts had recommended him the Tokyo Diner, so we dutifully trotted over to the edge of Chinatown next to Leicester Square to check it out.

Having lived in Japan for a couple of years, Chris is somewhat of an authority on Japanese food, and he said that the place was authentic of the "diner" style restaurants you get in Japan - good, simple food and all the free green tea you can drink. And the best part? No tips. It's apparently never been a part of Japanese culture to take gratuities; they pretty much refuse to take them, giving any money left by stubborn customers to charity instead.

I had a chicken katsudon with a tamarind-based sauce, which was absolutely delicious. I also was compelled to try their superb Salad Futomaki (which were in fact more like california rolls). It wasn't quite on a par with the sushi restaurant the PR guys took us to on the Supreme Commander trip, but Seattle does have a reputation for incredibly good Japanese food. I know that I'd take a trip back to Seattle just to go to that restaurant again... but this diner will be quite an adequate substitute in the meantime, and I can highly recommend it if you like your restaurants on the cozy side.

It was reasonably priced as well - a decent sized lunch plus drinks for less than £15 a head. Very impressive considering the quality of the food and that we were in the middle of London. Next time I think I'll go for one of their intriguing looking bento boxes. Dammit, after writing about this I'm all hungry again...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bark: Linguistic flaw

Men are filthy, lazy beasts. Men are also very literal beasts, which is why (as a writer and someone with a heightened interest in the way language is used) I have a problem with the signs that the site managers had posted on the backs of the toilet stall doors at work. What they say is:
Please leave this toilet as you would expect to find it.

Can you see the flaw? When I go into a public toilet, be it in the middle of London or at work, what I *expect* to find is a toilet that hasn't been flushed in three days, stuffed to the gills with toilet paper, overflowing, or pristinely clean, except for the single rogue turd left floating proudly in the middle of the bowl... which, despite these signs having been put on the stall doors at work over a year ago, is still invariably what I find.

This is because the wording of the sign gives overly literal men a logical get out clause: they *expect* to see the toilet left in such a state that makes the bog at the beginning of Trainspotting look spotless. So that's what they leave, because it's a public toilet and they're not the one left to clean up the shit (literally).

What the sign should have said was this:
Please leave this toilet as you would wish to find it.

A change of only a single word, but a huge difference semantically, because no-one, not even a man, would *wish* to find a filthy toilet waiting for them when their bowels are bursting... It kind of makes you wonder if they use the same signs in the ladies toilets, and whether it makes any difference to how they leave their cludgies. I'd guess probably yes, as women generally aren't quite such pedantic jerks...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Byte: DEFCON Screensaver

This morning I had one of those "wouldn't it be great if..." thoughts pop into my head. Specifically, I thought "Wouldn't it be great if someone made a screensaver out of DEFCON's rolling demo?"

So I Googled it, and hey presto, someone had the very same thought. And it doesn't appear to work with the Steam version.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bark: If only...

That Star Wars moment we all so wanted to see, but were so cruelly denied. Via BBC News.

Byte: Khaan!


Bark: Dumbing Down

I was pretty shocked to read this story on BBC News today.

This is apparently what passes for 1st Year University level Maths these days. I was doing trigonometry this basic for my Maths GCSE fifteen years ago.

Compare this to a question from a Chinese pre-entry Maths test for Science undergraduates:

Pretty significant step up in difficulty. I know my Maths is pretty rusty (and wasn't brilliant to begin with, as my D at A-Level will testify), but I'd struggle with that having done lots of Maths (including differential vector equations... brrr!) in my Physics degree, let alone be expected to do it when I was 18 years old. And yet we're constantly told by the government that educational standards are going up. It doesn't take a Nobel Prize winning Mathematician to tell you that the two sides of that equation don't balance...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Byte: Multitedia

In the words of the great Iggy Pop, I'm bored. I'm the chairman of the bored.

I've really been in a strange mood this last couple of weeks. I don't know if it's because I've stopped playing WoW, because I've been stressed by this whole episode with the shower going kaput or just some kind of general malaise related to drinking too much and sleeping too little, but I've been struck by a sense of listlessness and boredom that not even a run through of Half-Life 2: Episode One has managed to shift. The traditional post-Christmas release lull just isn't funny anymore - there's literally nothing coming out that I want to play for a couple of months, and I can only replay Half-Life 2 so many times before even that bores me to death. Non-gaming media is little better. There's bugger all on TV these days, I've run out of Scrubs episodes to watch, BSG series 3 doesn't hit DVD for another few months and the internet (barring Wikipedia) is just so dull. I might actually be forced to read books if things carry on like this. (Not that this is inherently a bad thing, you understand - it's just usually I like to read when I'm on holiday and can devote a huge amount of time to it)

In desperation for something mildly gripping to do, I tried reinstalling Deus Ex last night, though that seems to take exception to my new PC being so damn fast and gives me a saggy framerate (as does the original Unreal Tournament - must be something to do with the engine). It does appear to run nicely on my laptop, however, so at least that's something - though gaming on the lapdog isn't ideal. I'll have to dig out some old save game files I backed up onto CD a year or two back however, because I don't think I could survive yet another run through of the initial New York levels. I must have sorted out the NSF a dozen times by now... I'm sure I've got a couple of Area 51 save games stashed away somewhere. I'll have to hunt them down and finally finish the damn thing.

I have been having a bit of fun with UT2004, but contrariwise to the original UT, UT2004's engine loves my new rig so much that the frame rate is pushing way past three figures and the bots are lightning fast, making the game a struggle if the AI is set anything above Adept. The Flak Cannon and the Lightning Gun are as gorgeous as I'd remembered them to be and the graphics still stand up pretty well by modern standards. I need to find a few people to play it with online though, as the thought of going onto a public server this long after the game's release is particularly horrifying. I'll have to have a look at some of the many UT2004 mods that are knocking about, too. Feel free to recommend some in the comments.

In other news, today is going to be an expensive day. My coupĂ©'s in for its 60k service, which isn't going to be cheap - especially as it needs four new tyres at £100+ a throw. I briefly flirted with the idea of ordering a new TV today as well, because once things get past four figures, what difference does it make? In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. Much to my credit card's relief, I didn't quite get around to it - it's going to take enough of a hammering today as it is. Still, at least this means that I'll finally be able to drive up to see my parents and deliver them my old PC to trade for their crappy old laptop, upon which I'm going to install Ubuntu and use for mobile writing and surfing purposes.

Speaking of writing, I suppose I could use this lull to actually make some headway with the short stories I've been meaning to write for... oooh, about three years now. But it's just so much easier to procastinate. Maybe if I get REALLY desperate... *sighs*

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bark: Ignorance really *is* bliss

... especially where plumbing is concerned. As Fleur was mildy concerned about the fairly odd noise the new shower was making (a kind of cross between hissing and whizzing), we arranged for a plumber to come around to give us the benefit of a professional opinion. The good news was that the noise was pretty much what I'd thought it was: the impeller in the power shower pump spinning, because there's an imbalance between the hot and cold water pressure. Nothing to particularly worry about, but something that would eventually lead to the pump motor breaking and SHOWER DEATH, as we found out that because of the water system we have, the shower we used to have (and as a consequence of that one being installed, the one I bought to replace it also) isn't actually designed to be used with our plumbing set up as it's essentially directly connected to the water mains. Great.

I have figured out a way to stop the noise and minimise the damage to the impeller motor; simply by closing the flow valve on the pipe to the shower to prevent the cold water cycling back down the hot water pipe - which also has the added benefit of preventing cold water backflowing into the hot water tank, cooling down our hot water and wasting a load of energy. It does mean we have to make an extra step to turn the valve back on again whenever we want a shower, but I can live with that. It was also nice to be told that Charles and I did a good job with the installation of the shower and didn't fuck anything up. Okay, so the type of shower itself is utterly inappropriate for our water system, but there's no way I could have known that - given that it was precisely the same type of shower that had been previously installed and that had given us over six years of trouble-free operation. It's not like installing it will affect the rest of the plumbing, it's just that the water pressure imbalance will eventually wreck the pump - but given that I reckon the old shower lasted a good 15 years plus, it's not something I immediately need to be concerned about. I'm sure we'll get our money's worth out of it.

No, what's more concerning is that the plumber didn't have any idea what was causing water to trickle out of the overflow in the bath, which is something that's clearly been happening for quite a while (judging from the limescale trail on the bath), but had never really bothered me until last week when I noticed it while I was fitting the new shower. Being naturally curious, I did some research on the internet to see if I could dig out any answers to the cause. Clearly, it's not a problem with the main waste water pipe being blocked and backing up, otherwise you'd have water bubbling out of the bath plughole long before it backed up the overflow pipe, so there must be something really strange going on. Some people seemed to think that it might be because the waste water pipe from the washing machine and the bath are connected, which wouldn't surprise me at all, because the previous owner of our flat was a real DIY cowboy. So I think I'm going to have to take the side panel off the bath this weekend and see if there's anything untoward going on with the plumbing.

Regardless of what I find under the bath tomorrow (dead bodies, a nest of rats), I decided long ago that the whole bathroom needs completely gutting and replacing, because I somehow doubt that dusky pink bathroom suites are going to come back into fashion this millennium. At the moment, you could call it a UNSP - a Unique Non-Selling Point... So I'm going to have to put aside some money to get it done - a couple of grand should do it. Unfortunately, this means that the plans for an LCD TV will need to be delayed, as a bathroom that won't flood the flat takes slightly higher priority than an HD widescreen TV, dammit.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bark: Thought for the day

Can you get skin cancer from the light radiating off TFT screens? For ten hours a day my face is bathed in light from a pair of 19 inch TFTs on my development machine plus the 14 inch screen on my laptop. Then I go home and typically spend another couple of hours infront of another 19 inch TFT monitor.

As a computer geek, I don't get to see the sun much, yet I have a tan. Someone explain that one to me...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Byte: The big come down

After purchasing the full version from Steam earlier in the week, I've now almost got to the end of the Adventure mode of Peggle, which is quite depressing really, because whatever you play after finishing a game as well designed and imaginative as this is undoubtedly going to be a bit of a disappointment.

I picked up the Unreal Anthology (which, incredibly, runs off a single DVD) from Play for a tenner because I rather stupidly misplaced my Unreal Tournament 2004 CD key when I threw out all my game boxes a year or so back, and I miss playing it online. My other rational for picking it up was that I'm going to need to tone up my flabby reflexes and get back into practice for when Unreal Tournament 3 comes out in a couple of months, as UT is really the only online shooter I've ever been any good at and I don't want to start playing the new one a few months behind the curve of all the caffeine-fueled hardcore twitchers.

I think I'm in the middle of a changing of my gaming mood, as I'm hankering more for a bit of FPS action lately, what with reinstalling NOLF and playing through Half-Life 2 Episode 1 again. Since I installed Steam on my laptop to be able to play Peggle and DEFCON on it, I even put Half-Life 2 and Episode One on it (mightily abusing the speed of the network at work to the tune of about 5GB in an hour and a half), just to see if my T60 was capable of running it. Obviously, with an Intel graphics chipset, it doesn't exactly look this good on the laptop, but despite some glacial loading times, it does give me a playable frame rate, which is testament to the flexibility of the Source Engine.

It's probably no coincidence that my gaming genre shift happened to coincide with my three month sub expiring on World of Warcraft. I think I'm going to take a break from WoW for a while and go back to it afresh in a couple of months. After reaching level 70 the shine kind of came off the game a little - probably because I hammered it too hard since The Burning Crusade came out, and I've always been a more eclectic gamer: I don't like to play the same thing for too long. No doubt in a couple of months I'll get severe withdrawal symptoms and sign up again for another three month sub, but for the moment, I think I need the break to play something different.

On the writing front, there's been no word from gamesTM since the Burning Crusade review, but that's the life of a freelancer - it's either feast or famine, with the latter being the more common of the two. Though that reminds me - I really must send off the invoice for that - not to mention my expenses for that trip to Kinloss last month... Not quite gotten around to finishing that Silent Hunter 4 review for Pro-G yet, as I've been preoccupied with power shower related difficulties (and being addicted to Peggle hasn't exactly helped, either). With all the shower dramas and needing to get the car serviced somewhat desperately, I've been struggling to keep ahold of a train of thought recently - not that my powers of concentration are anything to write home about at the best of times, but they've been particularly flighty for the last week or two.

Fingers crossed after a couple of months when I finish paying for the car and I can get a proper grip on my finances normal service will be resumed. Sigh. All things being equal, I'd much rather be playing Peggle...

Bark: Inside the head of a physicist

You're probably all long time readers of XKCD already, but I've only recently discovered this marvellous webcomic. It's going straight on my Work Avoidance list, because it's utter genius.

Make with the clicky.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bark: Shower o'bastards

I've had quite an interesting weekend. Our power shower gave up the ghost earlier this week, which was bad news for all concerned, really. For Fleur as it meant that she couldn't wash her hair anymore, but especially for me as it meant I had the somewhat unenviable task of a) finding a new one that wouldn't require totally re-plumbing the bathroom, and b) actually fitting it.

The first half of the task proved a lot easier than I thought it would be, as a quick trip to the huge B&Q warehouse in Farnborough revealed that the makers of my old shower were still in the business, and that their new shower units still allowed you to plumb them in from the side, rather than from behind (i.e. from out of the wall), so at least I'd be able to use the current piping without having to worry about re-plumbing. Of course, the actual cost of the shower unit itself was slightly more than I had anticipated (nearly £150), but at least Fleur has promised to reimburse me half. Of course, £150 is a pittance compared to what a plumber would have charged me to fit the unit, so I was determined to fit it myself - after all, how hard could it be?

Sensibly, I co-opted a friend of mine from work, Charles (aka charlesr from NTSC-UK), to come around and help me with the job; we had originally planned for Fleur and myself to travel down to his place this weekend, so we could play a few games and keep him company while his wife was off at a conference - so in a slight change of plan, I managed to persuade Charles to come up and lend me a helping hand, while Fleur kept young Ben (Charles's wee bairn) entertained. As I anticipated, Charles turned out to be an excellent choice to co-opt into DIY duties, given that he knew a heck of a lot more about plumbing than I did, and his toolbox was also a lot better equipped than mine.

The operation didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts, given that the previous occupier of the flat had boxed in the stopcock to the mains water supply underneath the boiler tank in the utility cupboard, and it took us over an hour to figure out where the hell it was - which is quite an achievement in a thirty square metre flat. Once we had consulted with the neighbours to find out where theirs was, we took down the boards hiding the piping and (with the judicious application of a hammer) managed to free twenty years' worth of limescale from the stopcock's valve and get the water stopped. With the probability of flooding reduced to much more acceptable levels, Charles and I then set about removing the old shower unit.

Freeing the shower from its fittings and taking it physically off the wall didn't pose too much of a problem. Freeing the shower pump from the pipes, however, was a much more difficult proposition. Essentially, the little copper fuckers wouldn't budge. With very little room to play with, while the pump was still in the shower unit's casing (flexing the pipes themselves seemed like a particularly poor idea, as the last thing we wanted to do was spring a leak), I decided to go mad with the screwdriver and remove the pump and the pipes from the casing of the shower unit itself. It was at this point that I realised that I couldn't simply take the casing off the shower to free the pump unit - as the pipes were sticking through holes in the side of the casing. With the pump free from the plastic case, I then used a hacksaw to cut chunks out of the casing so that we could free it from the pipes. So now with just the pump unit left on the end of the pipes, we had a bit more breathing room to try and free the pipes from the remains of the old shower pump.

Of course, the little bastard wouldn't move a millimetre. We couldn't simply cut the pipes free from the pump unit itself, as we still had to measure up the new unit and see how much length of the old pipes we would need to create a firm seal. A positive point in our favour was that the new unit was slightly larger than the new unit, so should theoretically need less length of piping to form a decent seal, but Charles and I still didn't want to take chances. Being in the slightly ridiculous position of having the internal working of a broken shower unit hanging off the wall, suspended from the hot and cold water pipes, we opted for what Charles called "the Russian approach" to remove the pump and free the pipes. In other words, we bashed the fuck out of it with a hammer.

So while Charles was bracing the pipes against the wall using a rubber strap wrench, I was trying to knock the old pump unit off the end of the pipes by hitting it very hard with a claw hammer (trying not to take Charles's head off in the process of my backswing). We ended up being partially successful: we freed one pipe, though not by popping the end of pipe free from the fitting, but by hammering the plastic so hard that the fitting itself shattered. With one pipe free, hammering the pump wasn't doing any good at all, thanks to a lack of leverage. So I took an executive decision and got the hacksaw out again to remove the plastic entry socket from the main body of the pump, where the copper pipes were pushed into the unit. Five minutes of hardcore sawing later, the last remnants of the old shower had been successfully disposed of.

From then on, it was actually a fairly simple matter of measuring up, trimming the input pipes to their proper length, drilling the holes for the wall mountings and getting the new shower installed - but even so, the whole thing took over four hours - and, if I'm being honest, it's not something I want to repeat in a hurry. I was glad Charles agreed to come over and help, because it would have been impossible to do on my own - and four hours at Surrey plumber rates would be a good £300 or more, so I compensated Charles for a job well done with a very good bottle of 2001 St-Emillion Grand Cru I'd been saving.

With the DIY chores done, I cooked us a late lunch of a turkey, asparagus and saffron risotto before we changed venue to Charles's house, down near the West Sussex coast. Here Charles and I spent the evening persuading Fleur about the merits of High Definition TV, using Charles's plasma flat panel as a case in point, while watching DVDs and episodes of Battlestar Galactica Series Three. I think our case was both persuasive and successful. Expect news of an HD LCD TV purchase in the next couple of months...

Today was spent in and around Chichester, down at the coast in the morning, having a very pleasant stroll down the beach in very summer-like sun and a very gentle sea breeze, before going into Chichester itself for the afternoon and doing a little shopping; where I picked up Mogwai's Government Commissions album (the near obligatory 'BBC Sessions' album that most really good bands seem to do), plus - unusually for me - some new clothes: a couple of new pairs of jeans (one pale, one dark), some trousers for work, a new belt and a white kaftan-style shirt. Chichester itself seems like a nice enough place - very similar (perhaps unsurprisingly) to Winchester in architectural feel. We didn't quite get around to seeing the whole of the town centre (as Charles, who was showing us around, had to go home a little prematurely with Ben) - but I think we'll definitely go there again, if for no other reason to pay another visit to the exquisite chocolatier on East Street, which sells some of the most incredible chocolate I've had the privilege to sample. Which reminds me, I've still got half a packet of giant white chocolate buttons left...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Byte: Ode to fun

With practically nothing else out worth playing at the moment (unless you happen to be a C&C fan - which I'm not), the discerning PC gamer currently seems to be playing Peggle, and after much prompting from Mr Cobbett, I've been making the most of my two free hour's worth of play (one demo download giving and hour each on two separate machines) and I have to say, it really is a charming little game. It would be easy to describe it dismissively as a variation on a theme of Puzzle Bobble, but there's quite a bit more depth to it than that, and some of the level design is lovely and really makes you think about how the ball will react when you launch it. At the dollar equivalent of a tenner on Steam, it's definitely worth picking up - especially considering how it's otherwise £15 should you buy it direct from Popcap's UK website. Not sure how they worked that exchange rate out...

Peggle is one of the best types of puzzle game - easy to pick up the basic principles of how to play, but hard to master - much like Tetris and Meteos, not only in the initial simplicity of the gameplay, but the hidden depth and level of satisfaction when you truly get to grips with it. And like all these kinds of game, it's perilously addictive and the presentation is first rate - not least with the disproportionately spectacular fanfare that greets the successful completion of a level, accompanied by possibly the most brilliantly inappropriate use of Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth since A Clockwork Orange, or perhaps that Berlitz advert with the German Coast Guard.

Try it, then buy it. You know it makes sense.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Byte: You look like you need a monkey.

Since there's pretty much bugger all I want to play out either on Wii or PC until... oooh, at least the end of June (and that's undoubtedly going to slip until September to clash with Unreal Tournament 3), I'm taking a trawl through my increasingly vast PC games collection (200+ and counting) to try and find things I might possibly derive some satisfaction from playing.

I've been playing few the first few levels of No One Lives Forever again over the last couple of nights, and despite clocking on for nearly seven years old now, the game stands up surprisingly well. Sure, the models and textures are a bit clunky by modern standards, but the gunplay is still first rate. The animation is still great in places as well. Cate is super-slinky in the cutscenes, and the way the baddies hurl themselves about after being shot would make an Imperial Stormtrooper proud. The way corpses roll down slopes is a little ludicrous in these days of Havok physics and skeletal animation, but I remember being really impressed at the time that the dead bodies were capable of moving at all and didn't simply levitate like a board over the inclines, like the object clipping would have done in most games up to that point.

The best thing, however, is the quality of the characterisation and the writing. The throwaway conversations between the goons are a consistent joy - particularly the one that links beer consumption and criminality. Rather than being an out-and-out Bond-spoof, however, NOLF is more Austin Powers-meets-Jason Bourne. There's the humour and '60s styling of Powers, but very much the hard, lethal edge of Bourne as well. The variety of the game is pretty staggering and shames most modern shooters with its breadth and depth. There's an almost equal emphasis on stealth and shootery - the sneakier you achieve your objectives and the more intelligence items you gather from the game world, the better mission rating you get - giving you reputation bonuses and access to better gadgets - such as the lipstick grenades and guard dog distracting robotic poodle. A few of the later pure stealth missions are a bit wearing, but when you've got missions that take place in sunken ships loaded with great white sharks, or you're trying to escape from dozens of HARM goons by having a rooftop shootout in a chateau, it's easy to forgive the odd duff level. NOLF also had the best cheat codes ever. It actually played a sound file going "Dr Dentz!" if you used the 'mpdrdentz' code to restore you back to full health. How classy is that?

I much preferred the original NOLF to its sequel. Though the sequel was much better graphically, a lot of the humour felt forced and it didn't have nearly the same level of quirkiness or charm. It also tried to add in Deus Ex-style RPG skill elements, which it didn't need to do, as the skills were fairly superfluous to the actual mechanics of the game. It's not a game entirely without merit, but it didn't really live up to its parent's expectations, if you see what I mean.

I'd like to see another NOLF game at some point, provided that they go back to what made the original game so great and they don't bloody put in Bullet Time, or something stupid...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Byte: Armed Insult

In light of Bohemia Interactive's PR not getting me the review copy of ArmA they promised Tom at Pro-G they were meant to be sending about a month ago, I picked up the game for twenty quid in Game at the weekend.

I wish I hadn't bothered now. If this is what masquerades as retail standard code these days, I'm going to have to set up my own software house and show people how it's done. And I'm a terrible programmer...

Simply put, this is the shoddiest heap of badly optimised shite I've had the misfortune to play since, well... Battlefield 2142. And the PC I'm playing this on is (by comparison) at least three times more powerful. A brand new dual-core, SLI rig with twinned GeForce 8800GTS cards and 2GB of RAM, and this brings it to its knees AT DEFAULT SETTINGS. The control lag is awful, the 3D engine has a comedy half second lag in the rendering that presents you with six year old, dozen polygon 3D models holding paper cut out weapons in cutscenes before catching up to showing you two year old semi-decent avatars that don't quite make your eyes melt. Graphically, this is no Unreal Tournament 3. Hell, it's not even UT2004. And with the difficulty level being off the scale (learning curve? try the North face of the Eiger), it renders the whole thing utterly unplayable.

Operation Flashpoint (one of my favourite games ever) was harsh, but ultimately fair. This is just digital masochism in a box. The code's not really in any better a state than the equally unplayable preview code I got at Leipzig last summer (though at least then I had the excuse to not give it a scathing preview it on account of being preview code, so I held my tongue, didn't write a piece at all and gave them the benefit of the doubt). So now, in the interests of journalistic fairness I have to download 470MB of patch tonight to find out if that even remotely fixes the brokenness. But I'm not holding my breath.

The reviewing claws are being sharpened. Expect blood... and I had such high hopes for this one too.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bark/Byte: Diarrhoea, Chocolate and Japanese Shipping

Apologies for being quiet these last few days, but as the post title intimates, I have been rather ill. My least favourite recurrent malady (gastroenteritis) has struck again, leaving my bowels in a state of violent rebellion for the last few days, though the trouble in the Balkans has finally decided to allow UN mediation and a ceasefire has been called.

The last four days have been spent (in almost equal amounts of time) in the bathroom and bedroom, performing emergency evacuations and resting somewhat fitfully, respectively. If there is one positive to take from this most unpleasant of illnesses, it's that I've lost nearly a stone in less than a week, given that the only things I've been able to eat in the last five days are a packet of tortellini and a couple of bagels. Well, it's one way of reducing the weekly food shopping bill, I guess.

Today has mainly been spent watching TV. I seem to be getting unusually good reception on Five at the moment, so I took advantage of it this evening to watch the double bill of Grey's Anatomy. It's not normally a series I'd bother with, but it had Christina Ricci guest-starring in it tonight, plus the central story was about some muppet who'd shot himself with a home-made bazooka, so it was actually quite dramatic. Still not as good as House, but then, what is?

I also spent quite a bit of time today eating chocolate, with it being Chocolate Sunday (now, this fact might offend some more religious readers - not that I expect I have any - but today is clearly set aside in the calendar for the consumption of fine chocolate; the Christian lobby have simply derailed yet another pagan festival to shoehorn in one of their own celebrations onto the calendar. Eggs representing the rebirth of Christ, indeed. Pffft!)*, since my dear Fleur had seen fit to provide me with a Cadbury's Caramel chocolate egg (given to her by a devoted student, no doubt) to tide me over until she comes back next week with proper continental stuff from the chocolate section of the Altkirch Leclerc supermarket, which is larger than most UK supermarket tinned vegetable sections. Tangentially, French supermarkets are incredible places. You get a larger selection of chocolate in French supermarkets than you would get in five UK supermarkets combined. Similarly with wine - though the booze sections in UK and French supermarkets might be roughly equivalent (the French just edging it in terms of volume, and overwhelmingly superior in terms of quality and price, however) in French supermarkets the balance between home-grown and foreign wines is very different to that which you'd find in the UK. In France, the larger supermarkets will have at least two isles over 100 feet long, with sections divided up into every single French 'Appellation' (that is, geographic region that grows wine in France) every dozen feet or so, leaving just a three foot section at the end of one of the isles for 'foreign' (i.e. non-French) wine. Not parochial at all then...

Finally, when I've not been sick, watching TV or asleep, I've been launching primitive aquatic explosive robots of death at Japanese merchant vessels in Silent Hunter 4, which has turned out to be better than I expected it to be. I will be writing my review of it for Pro-G tomorrow for posting sometime in the week, so I won't preempt too much here; but despite a few bugs and graphical issues, it's definitely a solid title. The lack of anti-aliasing is a shame, and I've been forced into a few annoyed reloads after very random things happening during time-compression (more detail about this will be in the review), but the return to Pacific is a welcome one, and it's nice to commanding a Gato again, after the previous two games' indenture to the Kriegsmarine. The original Silent Hunter still rates as one of my favourite simulations and this comes close, but Silent Hunter 4 still has a few too many little niggles to be a classic as far as I'm concerned. If you're into the genre, it's definitely worth checking out, but as with Silent Hunter 3, SH4 is trying to straddle the simulation and action game genres, and not entirely successfully...

*Cue Christian sense of humour failure alert. AWOOGA! AWOOGA!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bark/Byte: Home alone

You'd think that being home alone with my girlfriend away visiting her parents in France would be a fabulous opportunity to relive my bachelor days, with all night gaming, drinking and otherwise debauched behaviour. You'd be wrong though, because I'm bored beyond belief.

There's very little I want to play around at the moment - even WoW is losing some of its lustre since I hit the level cap. I haven't given up on it completely, but I think I'm going to be devoting more time to my alt than my main in the next few weeks until I can work up the motivation to do some raiding. I do have a review copy of Silent Hunter 4 to play, and it appears to be an improvement over the last one (thanks mainly to a return to the Pacific theatre), but other than playing it to get the review out of the way, I can't see myself wanting to devote a whole lot of time beyond that to it. Simulations are great and all, but they're bloody time consuming.

In my desperation I even reinstalled Far Cry last night to see how it looked on my new rig. The answer: not as pretty as I remember it. There were rendering bugs everywhere, and the shadows didn't seem to want to work at all, just appearing as huge black patches on the ground. I'll have to patch it and see if it improves any. Though I can't see myself playing it beyond my traditional giving up point - where they introduce the bullet-sponge Trigens.

Jedi Academy will get its usual six-monthly run through, to fulfil my Stormtrooper dismembering needs and I may try Neverwinter Nights 2 again - trying *really hard* to like it this time. Maybe the intervening patches between when I reviewed it and now have improved the experience a little. No more weasels with waraxes, please...

Mostly though, I'm missing actually having someone else around in the flat. Now that I've cleaned everything up after Sunday night's calamity (having gotten through several scented candles and a pack of incense to get rid of the smell) and I'm not so busy scurrying around, the place feels really empty, and there's only so much empty space in a man's soul that can be filled up with computer games and bottles of Baltika... Tiredness and loneliness is not a good combination - last night I contrived to rub some chilli from the Nasi Goreng I made last night into my eye - despite the fact I'd washed my hands twice and knew full well that I'd put a lot of chilli in the dish. It's not been a great week, in all honesty. Though at least I have a disk of The Simpsons to watch from our DVD mailing list...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Bark: I know I like my curries hot, but incinerated was not what I had in mind...

Drinking is not big and certainly not clever. I discovered this at about 3am this morning when I woke up thinking "that's a funny smell" to find that I'd left a Sainsbury's oven cook curry in the oven. For about 5 hours. And I'd forgotten that I'd left the oven on... Not clever. Though at least I didn't wake up to find flames licking around my ankles, though that's scant consolation at this point.

So now the flat has a charming stench of stale smoke and melted plastic, despite the can of Oust I've gotten through, plus a couple of hours with the windows and front door wide open to get some fresh air into the place. Thank God my girlfriend is in France for 10 days so I can give the flat a complete airing and desmelling by the time she gets back. Of course, if she'd been at home, this never would have happened in the first place. Whenever she leaves me on my own these things seem to happen - like the time I managed to flood the bathroom because I'd left a tap running as I wanted to shave and be pristinely groomed for when she arrived back home. The road to hell is most assuredly paved with good intentions, it seems.

The moral of the story? Firstly, never let your girlfriend leave you home alone for a week because they'll have to dig out your dental records to identify the remains, and secondly, eat *BEFORE* you get stark raving drunk...