Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bark: Regeneration

The new bathroom suite is going in.

No more dusky pink! Hurrah!

The bath is in already, and barring a small issue with the waste pipe, we're pretty much on schedule to be finished by the end of the day. Which is terrific news, all things considered.

Of course, once everything is in, I then have to re-tile the floor and the walls, but that shouldn't take too long. The floor should only take an hour or two, but I imagine that the walls will take a full day, if not longer - since I've never attempted to put tiles up before. It's going to make such a big difference to the flat, it's incredible. I really have to do a good job with the tiles, though, as otherwise the walls are going to look horrible.

I'm mildly appalled by the cheapness of construction, however: after stripping the tiles and removing the old suite, the walls look a right mess. Some tiles were more securely fixed than others, requiring a bit more work with the hammer and chisel to prise off, and taking some of the plasterboard with it. Worse though is the black mould (surely toxic) growing where moisture had gotten underneath the old tiles; it looks awful and smells worse. That's going to have to go before I even think about re-tiling. Taking up the floor was pretty easy around all the old fittings - again, mainly due to water having got underneath the vinyl, so it's not going to be that difficult replacing the floor, which I'll probably make a start on tonight.

Fleur should be pleased, though. I might have the whole thing finished before she comes back from France on Thursday.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bark: Catharsis

I've just spent the last hour stripping the tiles off the bathroom wall, in preparation for the wonderful chaps from B&Q to come around tomorrow and start to fit the new bathroom.

I managed to wreck a brand new chisel, bought specially for the occasion, but I suppose that spending £7.50 on a chisel and doing the job myself worked out a heck of a lot cheaper than paying someone else to come in and do it instead. I even got to look quite cool as I was doing it, as I was using my wraparound shades (which I normally wear when cycling off-road) to shield my eyes from rogue ceramic shards as I was chipping away at the tiles.

We picked the replacement tiles and the vinyl tiles for the floor on Saturday, and I get the pleasure of fitting those next weekend. We've gone for a metallic, slightly off-white blue, which should give the bathroom a bit of colour, without making it look too dark. In any case, changing the suite from a horrible, 1970's dusky pink to a classic white is going to make a huge difference, and going from a dark grey tiles to a pale, metallic blue will really brighten up the room and make it look a whole lot less than a toilet in a 1970's nightclub. And if that doesn't add a couple of grand to the asking price to the place, I don't know what will...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bark: There's only one way to settle this... FIIIIIIGHT!


OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets



OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets


80% Geek

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets

Okay, I'll stop now.

Bark: Ouch, my head

I had my first Kendo session in armour last night. You would have thought that the last thing a person with chronic tension headaches should do is engage in a sport where the primary action is hitting people on the head with big bamboo sticks, and of course, BEING HIT ON THE HEAD WITH BIG BAMBOO STICKS.

But no, I'm contrary like that.

First impressions: crikey. Well, that's different. Putting the armour on to begin with was a bit tricky, since I have a fundamental inability to be able to tie bows behind my back. I've been able to tie my shoelaces since I was about three or four years old, but take away being actually able to see the knot you're tying, and boy... EPIC FAIL.

Once you get the armour on, however, it's quite a strange experience. You do feel a bit badass, well... you would if you weren't flailing around like Robocop on Ecstasy in a techno nightclub, because you've lost about 50% of your vision, and you've got no idea what any of your limbs are doing anymore. It's not what I'd call an unpleasant experience, but not exactly a pleasant one, either. I guess it takes some getting used to. As does getting hit on the head with a shinai by someone who's not used to hitting people on the head with a shinai...

I'm going to have to remember to keep my head and chin up, so that the metal ring around the men absorbs most of the impact, because if the shinai doesn't hit that and strikes you behind it, on the padded part, let's just say it doesn't do your headaches any good. It's going to take a few weeks yet before I figure out whether I really like the whole experience when you're in armour, at which point I'll either never go again or I'll rush off to buy a set, but I think the latter is more likely.

So, yeah. As an experience, very different from just practicing kata or practice-hitting held up shinais, with a little bit of the thrill of mortal combat, but with rather less chance of death. All in all, it was definitely worth waiting three months for. I'll have to practice my tying bows behind your back madskillz before next week, though. Not being able to tie on your own helmet is pretty embarrassing for a 32 year old...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Byte: The Long Road

A fresh Windows install is always a bit of a double-edged sword. The good side is that you get rid of all the crap that accumulates on your hard drive over the months that gradually makes your computer slow from a sprint to a crawl, but there's always the downside that you have to go through the whole rigmarole of reinstalling all those patches, security updates, the anti-spyware/virus programs, and - of course - all your games.

It's a very time consuming process, and only now am I in the position of trying to decide which games to reinstall, and in which order. I'm almost reluctant to reinstall World of Warcraft, because not only is it an EIGHT CD install (the original four, plus The Burning Crusade's four disks), I've got three and a half years worth of patches to download and apply. Which is going to take some considerable time. I'm almost tempted not to reinstall it at all, since I do have it on my gaming lapdog, but fate has thrown a spanner in the works there, too. Ever since the last patch came out, logging into WoW on my lapdog crashes my wireless network. I presume it's an incompatibility thing with Vista (since I didn't have the same problem with my main rig, and that runs XP), but I'm not sure what to do about it right now. So no doubt I'll be abusing my broadband download limits over the next few days putting on all those patches again.

I'm also currently reinstalling Steam and a few games I have on my account there (starting with Audiosurf and X-Com: Terror From The Deep, by virtue that they're small) but it's going to take me a while to reinstall all of them. If, indeed, I do decide to reinstall them all. You see, when your PC games collection numbers somewhere over 250 titles (30 of which are on Steam), it's not exactly a trivial process to decide what you're going to reinstall and when. It's appropriate enough that Audiosurf should be the first game I reinstall and play, since it's still my favourite PC game of the year. (Not that it's really had much competition on that front)

Other than that, however, it really is a bit of a conundrum. Since I've lost pretty much all of my save games, barring a few I already had backed up to CD, it's difficult to contemplate which games I really want to install and replay from scratch.

SpellForce 2 has gone on again, since I only just started replaying it, so redoing the first half dozen or so maps isn't going to be too painful. But do I really want to reinstall something like Oblivion or Neverwinter Nights 2 and replay them again from the beginning? Sure, things like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic are a raging certainty (after you've completed it a dozen or more times, you're pretty much immune to First Planet Blues), but other games that I've played to death, like GTA: Vice City or Half-Life 2 may not be so lucky. I don't really see myself replaying Half-Life 2 until Episode 3 comes out... whenever the heck that may be.

In fact, this may represent an opportunity to look at some of the more neglected games in my collection. I never did get around to installing Supreme Commander and Titan Quest, so now would be a good time to have a taste of them while Warcraft isn't on the menu. Who knows, I might even get around to installing some of the games I've only briefly flirted with for a couple of hours (such as Hostile Waters, X3: Reunion or Project Snowblind) and give them a proper run out. Either way, don't expect to see me in Azeroth or Outland for a few days...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Byte: It's enough to make you want to buy a Mac

So, I'm working from home today and I think "oh, this would be a nice opportunity to dual-boot my games rig with the lovely new version of Ubuntu." Y'know, I'm a geek, and I like Linux, because it's just so much more friendly, stable and less likely to get infected by viruses and the like. Okay, it can be a pain to set up, but Hardy Heron has a lovely new installer that even works from within Windows. So this is going to be a breeze, thinks I... Of course, WRONG.

I should have known better from my last attempt at installing Ubuntu on my games rig that it seriously hates SLI architecture, and it would appear, RAID arrays... Of course, I didn't find this out until the installer nuked my RAID array and wiped out all the data on it. Terrific. Not that there was a huge amount of critical stuff on it, just a few photos and save games, but very annoying nonetheless. Even more annoying, since the one disk that went missing from my Big Box of Things I Need To Reinstall Windows From Scratch was the goddamn RAID controller disk.

Congratulations, you're now in the proud possession of the world's largest and most expensive paperweight!

And of course, the Ubuntu Live CD didn't want to work with my wireless network, so I didn't have any way of creating a new RAID controller driver disk, since none of my other computers have floppy drives, as they're modern laptops... Double terrific.

Fortunately, one of my neighbours happened to have a USB floppy drive, so I'm now having the pleasure of spending my evening reinstalling Windows and all the multitude of drivers and programs you need to make it a working, non-virus/spyware ridden zombie that runs slower than a 386, despite it costing over £1000 and having enough raw computing power to cure cancer in five seconds...

And that's before we can even think about reinstalling Steam, WoW (and all the patches... urk) and the rest of my games. Not exactly how I'd planned to spend my evening, really.

Bark: Two Bathrooms

I'm currently expecting the delivery of the new bathroom suite we're having installed next week. Now, you may recall that I live in a one bedroom shoebox in Surrey. Which begs the question, where the hell am I going to keep it (a full suite of toilet, sink and bathtub) for a week until the guys we've hired come around to fit it next Tuesday?

Given that these things are probably going to be transport-packed in enough cellophane, styrofoam and cardboard to build a three bedroom house, we've got a bit of a space issue here. Leaving the suite outside is obviously a non-starter, since I hardly want anyone to wander off with it in the middle of the night. And there's no room in the bedroom, bathroom or kitchen to put any of the suite, so that just leaves the main living room. Which is already pretty full.

There's nothing for it. I'm just going to have to learn how to levitate, because that's the only way I'll be able to reach the sofa for the next week...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Byte: Does your Wii smell?

Believe it or not, this was a question my Canadian buddy Chris asked me yesterday when we were comparing notes on Wii Sports and Metroid Prime 3. He's been detecting some odd burning circuitry smell whenever he's been playing on his Wii, but I've never smelt anything like that with mine. So, categorically, my Wii is unscented...

I broke with tradition last Friday night, and instead of watching a film or playing WoW on my Warcraft lapdog, I tried out Ghost Squad and Red Steel on the Wii instead.

Ghost Squad I can imagine cracking out once a week and having a blast to try and top my high score. It's short and pretty sweet; a well-executed arcade conversion, and plays nicely with the Wii Zapper. You can blast through it in less than half an hour, and while not exactly thrilling, it's entertaining enough. I don't play a lot of light gun games, so I found it on the right side of "hard", neither a walkover, nor an exercise in constant death. Some of the set pieces are nice, but a couple of the ones on time limits are pretty evil, particularly the one at the end of the second mission where you have to snipe a boss with a single headshot in less than 10 seconds. I spent the time trying to get the damned aiming reticule to register on the screen... and so failed miserably. There were a few little control glitches like that, but I'm not sure yet whether that was because of something wrong with the game code, or because the batteries in my Wii-mote were down to the last bar. I'll try it again with new batteries, and hopefully all will be dandy.

Red Steel, on the other hand... Oh, I'm so glad I got this as my "free" game in the Buy-One-Get-One-Free deal, because I wouldn't recommend anyone pay actual money for it. I recall playing this at the Leipzig Games Convention in 2006 and thinking it had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the game was pretty much uncontrollable on Friday night. The game seems incapable of responding to large movements of the Wii-mote, making snap shooting impossible. In fact, the controls were so unresponsive that I ended up spending half the time fighting the controller to stop it from pointing upwards at the corner of the walls and ceiling.

Hello, Scott? Can you stop spazzing like a retard and point where I tell you, please? You know, at the guys SHOOTING YOU...

Not very impressive, really. The graphics seem a little unfinished and the menus are uniformly horrible, but it could have been a pretty solid game, if only they'd not rushed it out for the launch of the console. Again, perhaps fresh batteries would make the controls a little more responsive, but I'm not holding out much hope. This might actually be the first game I ever trade in, rather than keep for my collection. I'll give it another chance and then see how it goes. Or I might just abandon it entirely and play something else completely different instead. You know how this goes by now... I do have to get back to Metroid Prime 3, No More Heroes and Super Mario Galaxy. And Zelda. And Super Paper Mario. And I've not started on Supreme Commander or Titan Quest either. Plus there's that Sins of a Solar Empire review I've got to finish...

So many games, so little time to squeeze them in around World of Warcraft. Oh, and work and that whole "life" and "girlfriend" thing... Just as well I'm an insomniac. One lifetime just wouldn't be enough.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bark: Kendo, Can Do

The Beginner's Kendo course I've been on for the last couple of months reached its conclusion tonight, with us finally getting to hit other people with shinai, practicing in reality the three main cuts to Men (the head), Kote (the wrist) and (the body, the target area being just above the hip and beneath the ribcage) we'd learnt in the first four formal kata.

In short, I've enjoyed the course immensely, and I'm going to be joining the club, as well as getting a proper membership with the British Kendo Association, and hope to keep going on a regular basis for a long time to come. It's a shame that I never really made the effort to look for a club like this when I first moved into the area eight years ago, because perhaps now I wouldn't be quite the porker I am now. Though at least Kendo is the one martial art where being overweight doesn't necessarily have to be a huge handicap - I'm by no means the biggest or heaviest guy there, which is reassuring.

Even though I've only been going once a week for the last ten or twelve weeks, I have noticed that the muscles in my arms are certainly better defined, but there hasn't been any major signs of weight loss yet. I've lost a couple of kilos here and there, which is a nice start, but I put that more down to slashing my alcohol intake in the last couple of weeks, which should also have a few other fringe benefits to my health.

Next week we're going to have our first session in armour, which is going to be awesome. I've been looking forward to this point since the first session, when I stayed behind to watch the rest of the club spar, and it's going to be pretty intense. Not to mention maybe a little claustrophobic once I put on the Men helmet and faceguard on for the first time. I'm pretty sure that getting hit on the head by shinai isn't going to do my recurring headaches any good either, but I always end up coming out of a session pretty pumped, so I'm sure the adrenalin will help some with that... Anyway, I reckon this is going to become a fairly permanent fixture for my Thursday evenings for the foreseeable future, so I reckon it rates its own blog keyword by now...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Byte: Two. Five. Seven.

This week gave me a good reason to crack out Audiosurf again: namely, a new Moby album.

I like Moby for pretty much all the same reasons a lot of other people seem to detest him: he's a religious, outspoken, vegan New Yorker, which is probably most people's most people's idea of a dinner date from Hell, but I really like the guy, despite the fact he's pretty much the antithesis of me (barring the outspoken part). He sticks up for what he believes in and is pretty articulate about it and has a decent sense of humour. And if you saw his appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, he doesn't take himself too seriously either, which is always a sign of a thoroughly decent human being. So while I'd never agree with him on a lot of things (I couldn't agree more about George Bush, though), I do like and totally respect him - and he makes awesome music.

Obviously, that last statement is a matter of taste.

His new album, Last Night, is much more akin to his earlier techno stuff than the poppier sound of albums like Play, 18 or Hotel, so if you've only listened to all the stuff he's done that's been used on TV adverts, you're probably going to struggle with this album. I've only listened to it a couple of times so far, and I think it's going to be an album that's going to grow on me. There are only really a couple of tracks that immediately stand out on the first play (Disco Lies and Ooh Yeah) but I'm already taking a shine to the tracks 257.Zero and Mothers of the Night and there aren't any tracks that I think are stinkers, so overall, it's a decent addition to my collection. It'll probably give Seventh Tree a good run for its money as my most-played album of this year.

Now, if Royksopp can just hurry up with a new album, my work days will be much more peachy...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bark/Byte: Withdrawl

I haven't played any WoW for TWO WHOLE DAYS. And I'm not curled up in a quivering ball from withdrawl! Isn't that amazing?

Admittedly, I've been playing SpellForce 2 instead (and the character I'm playing is even called Shareth), so it's not like it's that much of a change, or like I've stopped gaming. I've already given up quite enough recently (alcohol, caffeine), thanks to these damned headaches that still won't go away, despite the medication... Back to the doc's later this week, thinks I.

Over the weekend I discovered that my memories of SpellForce 2 hadn't deceived me on replaying it: I don't think it would ever rate as a classic, but it's very good fun and the RPG and RTS aspects work nicely together, even if they're individually on the lightweight side. I've not tried the expansion pack yet, as I want to finish the main campaign first. Having ploughed so much time into SpellForce, I've not really had time to dabble with the other games I bought at the weekend, but I did finally manage to crack out Wii Fit. And it is good, even if finding out just how unfit and badly balanced you are is a little unnerving. My Wii Fit age is 46 - pretty bad, though better than Fleur's (52! Ouch!) - and I'm shockingly bad at most of the balance games.

The Yoga (which Fleur was amazed to see me trying) is quite good, and not nearly so intimidating to do in your own home than in an evening class. Fleur was very disparaging about that (a little unfairly, I think), saying that it would be better to get out of the house to do it, though she got her comeuppance after she tried doing the Tree form and got a lower score than I did... and she used to do Yoga in an evening class... I didn't rub her face in it too much, though.

"LOSER! LOSER!" *makes L sign*

You know me... the very paragon of restraint and tact. *coughs*

Bark: Thumbing your nose at authority

I love this news story. When trying to be reasonable in an unreasonable world just doesn't work anymore, reach for the petrol-driven disk-cutter...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Byte: Lull Bargains

Since there are STILL no new releases out on the PC worth buying, I made a trawl through the shops of Guildford this afternoon, using my wallet like a big videogame-catching net, snapping up bargains left, right and centre, in a possibly futile attempt at getting me playing something that isn't World of Warcraft.

As my Wii is still woefully underused, I took advantage of GAME's buy-one-get-one-free offer (which would acronym wonderfully to BOG OFF if you added an extra "fuckface" on the end) and acquired Ghost Squad (if only to justify my purchase of the Wii Zapper) and got Red Steel as my free game. I know Red Steel's not really that terrific a shooter, but at least it's not another fricking World War II game. Lord save us from Medal of Honor...

I also finally picked up Supreme Commander in the "2 for £15" budget section, since after hyping it mightily when I previewed it (seemingly a lifetime ago, now) for gamesTM, I thought I better put at least some money where my mouth was. If anything, playing Sins of a Solar Empire recently has built up enough of an RTS tolerance for me to warrant buying it. A little bit like the Far Side cartoon where there's a mad scientist trying to cure someone's fear of snakes, height and the dark simultaneously by suspending them off the side of a skyscraper in a single-windowed box full of pythons, I need to gradually wean myself onto a genre like RTS that I don't particularly like by playing it exclusively for a while. I call it genre aversion therapy.

The second title in my "2 for £15" selection was the Gold Edition of SpellForce 2. I've still got the review disk of this knocking around somewhere, but I fancied a retail copy, as I did enjoy the game a lot, and even though the included expansion pack is bound to just be a case of diminishing returns, I'd still like to give it a go.

Finally, I raided HMV, which appears to be getting out of the PC games market completely, by throwing pretty much every title it has on sale. Which was good news for me, as it meant that I could pick up a copy of Titan Quest even cheaper than it's available for on Steam. I had a bit of a dabble with the demo a few months back, and it seemed pretty decent, if not ground-shakingly awesome. Still, worth a fiver, thinks I.

Five new games, less than £50 spent (thanks to £2.50 being on my GAME card)... as my fellow croupiers used to say at Napoleon's, job's a good 'un.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bark: The biggest disaster for London since the Blitz

...and the people voted for it. This pretty much confirms what I've thought for years: Democracy does work, because there are too many stupids. I credited Londoners with more intelligence. Especially since London is such a cosmopolitan city, the last person you'd want in charge is a bumbling, insensitive bigot, but it just goes to show that if you package it up with the right soundbites and haircut, people will still vote for it... What a triumph for Democracy! Presentation over Substance, gets the voters every time. You can't really blame the Tories, though... it worked for Blair.

I can only hope that the Tories put in place some kind of sensible brain trust behind the scenes and reduce Boris to the shambling, incoherent mouthpiece that he so clearly is. If not, well, I guess I'm going to have to move to a nicely run dictatorship, like Cuba. At least the weather's better there.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bark: Today is "Don't Fucking Vote For Boris Day"

Please don't vote for Boris. In the same way that Gordon Brown was put on this Earth to remind us how good a Prime Minister Tony Blair was, Boris is Brown to Ken Livingstone's Blair.

Just don't do it, m'kay? Really. I'd rather you voted BNP.

In other news, I got the results back from my blood test today. True to form, inconclusive. Mostly good news, it has to be said: there's nothing wrong with my liver (amazing, considering how much I drink) or my kidneys (the same) and I don't have type 2 diabetes, either (again, a relief, since I'm fairly overweight and at risk), and other than mildly elevated cholesterol, I appear to be perfectly healthy. That is, except for the inexplicably high blood pressure and seven weeks' worth of constant headaches that range from 'mildly annoying' to 'my brain is tearing itself off from the inside of my skull'... This week, they've mainly been in the latter category. Not very fricking pleasant, let me tell you.

My GP prescribed me some super-hardcore pain medication, amitriptyline hydrochloride, which hopefully should not only help with the headaches, but also sort out my sleeping patterns and maybe even help me feel a little less depressed. I was mildly concerned that the tablets appear to contain Carbon-14, a radioactive form of Carbon, but I'm hoping that the radioactivity will give me super-powers. "GASP! At his ability to play Project Gotham Racing 2 until 4am on a weeknight!" "How do you do it, Insomniac-Man??

Regrettably, this medication does come with an "avoid alcohol" warning... SHIT. Just as well, then, that I've finally found a non-alcoholic beer that doesn't taste like cat's pee. Which is good news for Cobra Beer's shareholders, if nothing else.