Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Bicycle Mango Boat

Mango Bicycle Boat

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Mega Oh-No!

So I've had this PC for more than 5 years at this point.  I bought an all singing all dancing computer for games because A: I like playing games and B: Half-assing a computer build means spending the remaining life of the PC upgrading here, changing there, and generally dicking around with it.  Something I wanted to avoid like the plague.

I have changed the motherboard once (the old one had dodgy hdd controllers, a flaw in the design that I was too slow to reclaim through the manufacturer), but that's the only modification I've made.  This PC has done me pretty well, all things considered.  I can't remember exactly how much I paid for it, way back when I was living in korea, but with the screen, speakers, mouse and keyboard, it was probably a little over 1,000 USD (stuff is a lot cheaper in korea, probably on account of half the stuff being made there or in Taiwan which is basically just up the road).

For the first time since I bought this PC, I came across a game that I can't play.  The new Doom game (yes they are still making them) won't run on this PC.  It'll boot to the menu, load into a game, but I can't do anything, it's too slow.  Too few frames.

So this year I'm going to buy a new PC.  There's no point 'upgrading,' the parts, because everything will have to go (it also makes it easier for compatibility purposes to do it this way).  I will keep the peripherals like the mouse and keyboard, screen and whatnot, but I'm thinking of getting a new case, and I'll definitely get a new power supply (this one has fits every now and again).

So, having said that, I'm torn.  I don't have nearly as much money as I did when I was in Korea, but once this thing is built, I want it to last another five years.

I managed to get in at the perfect time with this PC, because the old consoles held PC games back in the sense that there was almost zero software innovation, games in 2008 looked pretty much the same as they did in 2013, and until recently, this computer played games incredibly well.  Now, looking forwards, VR is going to completely change that.  The requirements for games in VR are astronomical, and for the first time in more than a decade there's going to be an arms race with regards to graphics hardware, which leaves the consumer back in the old annual or biannual upgrade grind.  This isn't set in stone of course, it's just my prediction, but Sony have recently announced that they're going to release a new PS4, one with upgraded innards - essentially a playstation 4.5.

That may not sound newsworthy to people who buy a new phone every year (which is the way of the world now, unfortunately), but to games people, it's enormous news.  It's the biggest news in gaming since the introduction of consoles.

Aside from being incredibly anti-consumer (in the footsteps of apple) it's a tacit admission that they can't afford to take a hit up-front on tech, and the recoup via other means.  In fact, inside sources have indicated that they broke even on every console sold from the get-go.  This is unheard of, every other console in recent memory has been a loss-leader, the companies making money up on software and more recently internet services.

What does this lengthy diversion have to do with me buying a new PC?  Well, firstly, it's the basis for my theory regarding the future of PC hardware.  CPU's will continue trudging along as they have done for decades.  Memory will, bar natural disaster, be cheap enough that you simply buy as much and as fast as is available, the overall percentage of your budget devoted to RAM will always be negligible even if you opt for top-of-the-line stuff.  Hard disks have stalled in a major way, and SSD's are still too unreliable for my needs (frankly, I find it worrying that so few resources online mention that they aren't reliable enough for use beyond a couple of years) so I'm going to buy a 4tb drive and just be done with it.

PSU's are slightly more efficient now than they were 5 years ago, but not the the point of being noteworthy.

So, as it always does, it comes down to graphics cards.  4K and VR are the new frontiers and the next wave of cards coming out around September won't be enough to see me through for another 3 years, let alone 5.  So do I buy a mid-range card, live with it for a couple of years, then upgrade when they've figured out the new architectures, or do I just go big now and live with it?

I still need to save up the money, which is going to take a long time, so at least I have the luxury of being able to wait and see how the early stakes pan out.

Thursday, 21 April 2016


 So I've decided to spread out the distribution of pictures from Vietnam.

Instead of dropping a ton at once, I'll drip feed them over the space of a few blog posts.

As we were walking around Hoi An (I think) there were tons of people taking wedding pictures, either on the river or next to the colourful lanterns.  This couple were sitting on a boat next to a famous bridge, away from all the tourists.  I waited until the lighting man (each photography group was three strong, camera dude, light dude, boat dude) lit them up, then snapped a few while they were busy doing whatever with their lanterns.

This last one was shot miles away, it's slightly cropped, slightly dark, slightly imperfect, but I like it anyway.  You really need to blow it up to fullscreen, otherwise you can barely see anything other than a red blob.  Regardless it's got an interesting feel to it.

That's it for now!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Flowers of Vietnam

I didn't realise, but Vietnam supplies a large number of flowers to places around the world.  A lot of these blooms are ones I've seen before (not that I'd be able to name them) and are quite familiar around the UK.

One or two are not, however.  There's one particular plant in this list of pictures that I'd never seen before, and despite asking what the name was, have since forgotten.  I think it's a bird plant?  That's probably no the Latin name though.
The name that flower game begins here with one I've seen about the place in england.

There are a lot of pictures here so you'll just have to make do with a list of pictures and no writing.


Okay, you can have a tiny amount of writing.

These ones are quite popular in england too.

This one was taken in the grounds of an old presidential estate, just after watering.  Either that or it was so hot the flower's melting.  Probably the former.

The pinkest/purplest flower ever.

I think I turned up the colour too much on this picture.  Then again, the leaves look just as they did, so maybe it really was that colour.

What's this then?

The colours are definitely wrong in this one, the greens in the background look more like the colour of toy army men than plants.

I'm going to guess, marigold?

This one looks a bit better.  I could crop it to bring the flower closer, to make it larger, but then I'd lose detail.  A good close-up lens would help with tiny flowers like this one.

What a fantastic flower!
This is the bird looking thing.  I'm going to say, bird plant?

Looks good from both sides.

Bird flower?  Whatever it's called, it's a really interesting shape and colour.

It really is this pink.

This one, and most of the following flowers, were grown in a greenhouse we looked around.  I was surprised at how big the flower growing industry is in certain parts of Vietnam.  It's not something I thought of before, but I guess they have to come from somewhere.

An orange version of the pink one above.
These were slightly yellowing on the edges, giving a really nice graded finish.  The kind that looks fake and plastic.

It wasn't really that dark.  I don't know where the background went.
 I like the many colours of this one, even though it isn't really my taste.  Also, it looks like the picture was taken at the dead of night for some reason.

This is a real plant, honest.
 This one looks absolutely fake.  Faker than the moon landings even.

I assure you that it's real though, I even touched it with my hand.  (Don't tell the police)

I like this one because it's all deformed and kind of difficult to look at.  I mean, the middle is all stretched out and weird.  It's just not right maaaaaaaan.

Still bloody pink though.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Tokyo Weekender Magazine

So I got back from Vietnam yesterday, around midnight.  I've spent today doing work stuff, uploading/downloading/reloading/side-loading photographs, going to the gym (I lost 4 kg's!) and generally catching up on all the stuff I should have been doing instead of eating frogs.

When I got back I had this magazine on my doorstep:

I didn't take the pictures this time.

 It's an article I wrote for Tokyo Weekender magazine last month, you can check it out by clicking here.

I've not read it since I sent it in, nor have I looked too carefully at the pages in the book - if I look at it and find a phrase I don't like or a spelling mistake then there's no changing it.  It's better to have the image of what I've written in my head be my truth, there's just no way I won't find something wrong with it if I do have another look.  Ignorance is bliss.

On an unrelated note I'll get the photographs done and put on here soon.  The computer is working on archiving, resizing and converting about 80 gigs worth of pictures and videos, and that's going to a NAS over the world slowest network connection so it's taking a while.  The jpg's will be ready by tomorrow (I accidentally off-loaded all the storage to the NAS, so every picture has to be pulled back onto the PC, edited, then saved back to the NAS which is monumentally innefficient) at which point I'll have a look through and decide which ones I want to work on and which ones can be stored away, never to be seen again.

I think I'll probably used about 200gigs by the end, with video editing (video editing is a black hole of storage usage, the space is gone before you even realise you needed it) and image manipulation (I think that's what the cool kids call photoshop these days).

Anyway, the pics will come slow and steady over the coming days/weeks (read: months).

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Years End

Of course it's not the end of the year, that happened some months ago.

But it is nearing the end of the school year here, so I'm soon to be out of work until the new school term ramps up (the contracts are designed to be slightly less than full-time so you can't claim the benefits of full-time work from the company, like rolling holidays, maternity leave and whatnot).

In the meantime I'm going to be off on holiday.  The one I alluded to earlier that made me ill.  I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures and probably more than one or two videos.  I'm somewhat concerned about the battery on my camera, it doesn't last very long these days and being out and about doesn't lend itself to recharging.  However, I will also take a little 35mm film camera which will do in a pinch and requires only watch batteries.  If it requires batteries at all.  (I'll double check later).

Anyway, I'll hopefully have a few pictures to put up in a couple of weeks when (if) I make it back.

So that'll be nice.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Skiing in Pictures

So I went to Hakuba a while ago for some snowboarding.  We went for the weekend, arriving early Saturday morning and staying overnight.  The hotel was, like all Japanese hotels in the mountains, old and grubby, but the town was pretty nice.  It was obviously styled after a european town, but no one managed to get to europe before they did so.  Everything looks like a disney town from the 70's, plastic and glass fibre which is kind of weird, but also fun.

The skiing was okay, but the snow was terrible.

It started raining on the Saturday night and didn't stop on Sunday, so we decided to abort the Sunday skiing and check out the town.

There were a few quite interesting places to visit in the town, including a place to make some glassy stuff (pictures at some point later) that we did.  Walking around with the clouds and the mountains gives a pretty cool (haha!) effect whenever the sun comes out, in that the roads heat up and create great swathes of mist, which form fog, which cool the place back down, which clears the fog, which then let's the sun through and so on.  It happened a few times while we were walking around and enabled a couple of these pictures where everything seems foggy and mysterious.

It was difficult to tell when it was going to stop raining, so when it did we ran around taking pictures and trying not to step in the lakes that had formed about the place.

I'm not sure whether I like this picture, but it has a light and a dark half which is kind of cool.

My favourite snow based machine.  These are everywhere as you might imagine.

See how filthy that snow is?  That's because they hadn't had snow in weeks by the time we got there.  The conditions were downright bad for skiing.  It snowed the day after we left.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

End of Term

So the end of term is near.  The third year middle school students had their farewell ceremony thing today, which is an incredibly drawn out affair lasting three hours.

All variety of plays and songs are performed at these things, including a few performances fro the various bands associated with the school.  One performance, by the brass band, took me completely by surprise.  From the second it began I knew exactly what it was, which is weird because I haven't heard it in quite a long time.

Of course you've guessed it by now.  It was this:

Okay, you may not have guessed what it was just from the writing above.  To be honest it took me by surprise.  I wonder if this music is famous in its own right, perhaps an old composition by a famous composer of yore?  Regardless of origin, this music will always be thunderbirds for me.

It sounded surprisingly good, even with a school brass band playing.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

I Was Sick!

I thought I'd let the internet know that I was sick, not once, but twice today!

It's been years, at least 2, since I vomited.  And I was sick twice today.

But the interesting thing, and why I share it with the internet, was that it wasn't from illness.  It was from stress.  I stress vomited for the first time in my life.

I'm trying to book a 'holiday,' (this is very much not a holiday at the moment) that involves co-ordinating three people on two continents, none of whom can communicate in real-time due to the distances involved.  Having to start and stop over and over again for the past three months (I've tried to do this seven or eight times so far) means (as surprising as it may seem, I am actually busy) I've forgotten everything that was talked about last time.  And the time before that.  And the time before that.  Now I just want to be done with it, but I can't, because of the time difference.  I am busy, which means I can't get it done during my free time, which means I have to vomit everywhere just to make myself feel better?  Question mark question mark.

It's strange the way the body reacts to stress.

I also have a massive headache.

I no longer allow anyone to come to Japan 'to see me,' (they can still see me if there's a valid alternative reason, like holidays or sightseeing) for the reason of organising stuff for them to do is up there with moving house levels of stress, i.e. among the most stressful thing I had ever done.  But now pissing away absolutely ridiculous amounts of money, and other peoples money, has officially topped that record-high level of stress.  Is there another word for stress?  Because this is stress, but I don't want to keep calling it stress.  I feel like stress is something that people getting shot at feel.  This is vomit-inducing something.  Fear?  Anxiety.  There we go, I found the correct term for this.

It isn't vomit inducing stress, it's vomit inducing anxiety.  Phew, glad I figured that one out.

Now I can go and eat nothing while I bite my nails trying to figure out what to do.  And also more vomiting.

I wonder when my hair starts falling out?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Project A Super Reveal Alpha Go

So I've got an absolute ton of projects on the go at the moment.

Super secret project X was started over a year ago and is nearing the end of alpha testing.  It's super cool, and for once I'm not going to backtrack with a deprecating comment here.  It is really cool.

Super not so secret project Y was started before Christmas, but the parts I need are currently out of stock almost everywhere, leaving me with the choice of paying twice the RRP or just waiting.  Obviously, as the richest man in this house right now (I live with a woman but am also currently alone) I have chosen to wait.

So with a long term-project in the works and a short-term project on hiatus until the chinese get their act together and start making electronics again, I was short of something to do for ten minutes one day.

Therefore, I went on the internet and bought some stuff.  That stuff was to go inside a jar I received for Christmas.  This jar was originally full of delicious sweets, which have since been eaten.  The jar itself is really cool, kind of corrugated glass which gives an interesting effect when waving your hands around inside it (it's a really big jar, more than a gallon, or in other terms, 2kg's of fizzy dummies) which gave me this idea.

The De Roeck Microbiome Project
So I filled it with water and added some plants and moss.  Now, the first thing you're going to say is that's stupid.  Yes it is.  Deal with it.

The second thing you're going to say is that plants don't perceptibly move, so the cool effect I saw when waving my hand around on the inside has no bearing on this thing.

Now, of course, you're right that plants don't really move when there are no external forces (yes, yes, yes, they grow and whatnot, stop being pedantic) but this is just stage one.  These plants are to create a livable non-mechanical environment for a creature.

Now, you're worrying that I'm going to buy a shark and put it in there.

There's no denying that would be cool, but it would also be kind of cruel.  So as of right now I'm thinking of a couple of snails and/or a couple of tiny shrimp.  There are obviously a few important milestones that need to happen before I can get to this point.  Firstly, the plants need to get substantially larger.  They're going to be the main input of oxygen into the water.  The neck is large, and has a fair surface area, but not enough in such a small volume of water.

Secondly, the plants are going to be the things filtering all the other toxins, which won't be enough to keep anything alive for more than a few days, which means I'll need to change an amount of water every week or so.  How much I'll need to change is up for debate at the moment, but my current estimate is around 20%.

Before all this, however, I'll need to test the water for nitrates, nitrites, nitritium, nitronium, nitroxidium, heavy metals and all the other good stuff.  With such a small volume of water, quick and exacting problem identification is crucial.

The plants are growing incredibly slowly right now, which leads me to suspect that it'll be well into Summer before they're big enough to process any of the waste products from an animal.  Even something as small as a snail or a shrimp.

There are also concerns with the winter temperatures in Japan, or more specifically the incredible lack of insulation any building has here.  If it's -5degC outside, it's somehow -15degC inside.  A small temperature controlled heating element might do the trick.  Will have to investigate if it comes down to that.

Anyway, keep an eye out for the reveal of the next project.  Start saving up, you'll be wanting to spend the big money when it turns up!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

I Came Here To Gloat, But Then I Forgot

So I started having another go at a book of cryptic crosswords today.

In the history of this medium I've managed in the order of five solutions.  Five solutions over hundreds of questions and dozens of years.  Not exactly making myself seem intelligent here.

But today I nailed one.  I intuited a question without any adjoining letters helping me.  I was on top of the world (yes, I really am that sad) and then I forgot my briefcase.

Now, before you say anything, it's not really a briefcase.  It's just an A4 wallet that happens to have a lid and a carrying handle.  It's not posh and definitely not leather bound.

What it is, however, is a recepticle for every vital piece of paper and or information that I own.  It used to hold (after today, I will ensure it no longer holds this information.  Not because having your stuff in one place is inherently bad, but this folder is now tainted with bad juju and must be replaced.) postcards for those back home, letters for the same, bank books and myriad other things that identify me.

I was uncontrollably angry with myself when I arrived home without my case.  I don't think I've ever felt the same sense of self-loathing at any other point in my life.  It doesn't help that the case also holds other personal items, stuff that represents a ton of work and other items that represent the irreplaceable personal items we all hold.  What an absolute idiot.

So today I'll go back to that place and try not to forget my own goddamned feet or something.  There will, even in safe old Japan, be some loss.  If it were England it would have disappeared never to be seen again, so at least it turned up at all.  But I'd be foolish to think there won't be any repercussions for my negligence.

Acquires vases, it's said:


In case you were wondering what the cryptic was.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Canterbury Boots

Since I tried a pair of Predators (TM) (C) (All Rights Reserved.) (please don't sue me) when I was a kid, I've never really stepped (Aha!) outside of Adidas.  They're the right size, but more importantly, the right shape (I have what can generously be described as wide feet) and that counts for a lot when you're running around.

How much does it count for?

The right side has taken a beating
The boots are mostly fine, so I'll just get a set of insoles and re-use them for training or something.
I've had these boots for about a year and this wear and tear is the result of training three times a week with one game a week, which makes these a decent pair of boots in my books.  The shell is fine on both, it's the in-soles that've had it.  I'll replace those in the future, which will give me two pairs of boots because I've now got a shiny new pair of Canterbury something or others (TM) (C) (All Rights Reserved.).

And they actually fit pretty well.  They feel fractionally heavier than the ones you see above, but they have the same wide touch along the balls of the feet and they don't taper too heavily at the toe which is nice for us abnormals.  The stud arrangement seems fine for a hard grass surface, so I expect them to perform well on 3G too.  I haven't tried them on wet ground, but I could see the heels clogging up which is an annoyance, but one shared with all blade designs, (or at least I find it is) so take that as you may.

I did get a small blister on the back of my heels from not tightening them properly.  Whenever I wear a new pair I tend to leave them slightly loose at first, to work out the stiffness in the material, before moving on to proper lacing.  That caused the blister, so don't fret if you're thinking of purchasing them.
Looking good so far.
So would I recommend them?  If you have an Adidas foot (wider feet, wider toe profile, prefer a more supported arch than Nike offer) I would say they're a solid choice.  The arch feels slightly lower than Adidas who tend to offer more support, but they're a world away from the Nike boots I've tried, which have arch support bordering on the masochistic.  Nike shoes are for hooves, not feet.

I can't really comment on their long-term comfiness or their durability yet because I haven't worn them enough, but early indications are good.

Brand loyalty makes sense with boots where it doesn't with other items.  Each manufacturer has a test foot they keep locked away in a vault, that they bring out for new designs.  If their test foot is a plaster mould of a sheep footprint (as is the case with Nike) then your foot is obviously not going to fit.  Internal designs don't change much, so you can be fairly certain a new shoe in the same range will fit if the previous pair did.  At least that's been my experience over the years.

Canterbury have made a smart choice in basing their design off human feet instead of bovine or pachyderm trotters like some of the competition, and these seem to be a pretty decent pair of boots.  If you want to save fifty quid on the Adidas competition, head on down to your local sports shop and try these on.  You might end up liking them!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

How Big is Tokyo?

Check out this link:


It's a map showing Tokyo (I live in 'Funabashi,' if you're interested) showing the town relative to other places on Earth.  It covers things like surface area, relative population density and so on, and gives you a visual representation of just how massive this place is.

Obviously, being English the overlay of Tokyo onto the map of England was the one that struck me most.  Absolutely, utterly bonkers.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Let's Talk Sound

So I've written a few times about the stagnation of technology in the personal computing sector.  Mainly the relative lack of innovation in the field of graphics, but occasionally in other areas too.

With the introduction of VR (something I am desperate to jump into) in the coming months I believe there will be a leap forward, both in raw tech and the usage of it.  Naysayers will point to the dismal failure of 3D and dismiss it off-hand, but there are several crucial differences between 3D TV's and the headsets used for VR.  The only downside is how long they've taken to bring the physical items to market, or rather, how far in advance they advertised their products and how much hyperbole they induced.  They started too early and the result is a slight dip of interest just as launch is rounding the corner.  Certainly not ideal.

Anyway, I'll save that talk for another day because I'm listening to music right now.

Music and sound are always the things that set the tone, and add the cherries to the top of any audio/visual work.  Movies are always praised for their sound, but rarely are they about the sound.  The same is true for games, where graphics rule the roost and with the exception of a brief period around the mid to late 2000's they always have.  In fact I would argue that sound is something that you can point to as having been pretty solid throughout the history of computer entertainment, with the advent of modern chiptunes drawing a direct line to the limited audio chipsets of yore.

So I was thinking about the soundtracks that made the entertainment of 2015 compelling for me, and there were a few standout offerings.

The first I'll highlight is this:

This is classic James Bond, or as near as you can come without infringing on copyright.  It's a great song to listen to for the voice alone, but the lyrics work particularly well with the story of the game(s).  Often I'll listen to a movie theme and wonder whether I watched the movie the song is supposed to represent.  Quantum of Solace, for example, is nonsensical to me.  I will concede that it's entirely possible that I'm just me being thick with that example though.  This track is different, it is MGS5 for me.  I wonder what that says about my feelings on the game as a whole...

The next is a game I haven't even played:

This is a game about space trucking and space shooting.  Or rather, truckin' an' shootin'.

Regardless of where or when I hear this, it makes me think of haulin' grimy goods and 'spice,' which is testament to how well the music does its job.  But I also just like listening to it whenever I've got a spare few minutes and need to get something done.  This is gettin' it done music.

I then had to think about the other music I've been listening to that's from games this year, and after a quick think I came up some more tracks from Rebel Galaxy, and then, I remembered this is the year of Hotline Miami 2, which follows up from a trippy prequel that had pounding dance music designed to pep you up.  I listened to the OST for Miami 2 and was pretty disappointed, it's nowhere near as good as I remember it being.  Not a patch on the first.

Your mileage may vary.

I moved on and found the Undertale OST, a game that I intensely disliked (and am the only person on the planet to do so).  It has a cutesy chiptune soundtrack that manages to play well with the themes of the game and also be relatively inoffensive in its own right.  It's not something I would sit down and listen to for the sake of enjoying sound, but if I'm working on something else and want an accompaniment I consider loading it up.

Do not take this to be a tacit endorsement of the game.

Next on the list was something I hadn't even considered, but a podcast convinced me to take a listen.  It's a game from Nintendo, which means it carries certain expectations (that it'll be cutesy and sugary to the point of absolute toxicity) that I'm glad to say it dodges.

It's still pretty light, but it also gets really weird which is something I can appreciate.

Take a listen to that and tell me your brain isn't in a thousand pieces on the floor.  That's some obscure use of an electric keyboard right there.  If only I could have figured out how to do this in music class.

The only problem is that it's so strange I'd struggle to do anything while listening to it, and I certainly wouldn't sit down to 'appreciate,' it, so it falls into that area of the venn diagram where there be dragons.  At once energetic and charming, but nigh impossible to listen to.

And then I thought about the heavy hitters in the music world, the Halo guys.  The ones responsible for stuff like this:

Easily one of the most recognisable soundtracks in games, and an absolutely fantastic thing to listen to, even if you're not one of us.

This year saw the release of Halo 5, (called five even though it's about the 8934783957th game with a Halo name on it) which should have been another landmark moment in orchestral scores.

But it wasn't really.

It starts with the theme tune for the game, which is cheap, but frankly an excellent way to remind people of what is about to happen.  After that quick introduction it jumps into the new arrangements, which are still excellent, but not quite what the original trilogy were.

It's not even fatigue, because no one else does it like this studio, and they only release a new game every couple of years (random mobile phone games and barefaced cash grabs notwithstanding).  It's also not boredom within the album itself because the songs are different enough to be entertaining over the two or so hours.  It's something else.  Unfortunately, I don't have the vocabulary of music or the will to learn it, so I will forever be unable to articulate why.

The new GTA came out on PC this year, but that's primarily licensed music that doesn't really do anything for me.  A lot of people talk about the soundtracks to these games, but being licensed, they're just songs with no meaning to me.

Special mention to Final Fantasy 14, the online one.  I've started dabbling with it this year and I've been absolutely charmed, not least because of the music.  It's orchestral in the same way as Halo, but takes aim at an entirely different area of the brain.  Just like the original Bungie scores, it hits, and is worth listening to.

And that just about wraps up my thoughts on game music for this year.  It was a year of banner releases, giving us the biggest names, a host of new titles and on the whole, a slew of great soundtracks to listen to.

Even during lean gaming years the music tends to be great, but last year delivered on all fronts.  It'll be interesting to see what happens in 2016.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Outgoing

I can't remember a time when I've written a retrospective post about the prior year, or something looking forwards, so I thought I'd double down on new experiences and try for both.

The logical place to start is back, (not that time has a 'back,' or 'front,' but you know what I mean) so let's start there.

In terms of job, nothing changed.  I'm with the same company, doing the same work.  The only difference is location.  This year I ended up working with a fun group of teachers, so that's a bonus I didn't have last year.  I'm working closer to home, which means I'm not waking up at six in the morning, I'm sleeping longer every day which in turn led to me being happier overall.  It turns out sleep is pretty important, guys!

I'm still with the same rugby team.  I joined last year and there was a noticeable changing of the guard (I say noticeable, I wasn't there the year prior, so I don't have a frame of reference beyond what people have told me) that ensured we had a decent amount of energy going into the season.  We staved off any mention of the word relegation, and ended the season with two or three wins (I forget).

This year we were forced to play two relegation playoffs, of which I played one (I was busy for the other and could not play).  In all, this year has been incredibly disappointing.  Almost all our points were scored through the forwards, our attack had no flow, we made very few opportunities and made hundreds of mistakes.  Up to the playoffs I had played four or five games (I also had surgery on my ankle this year, which meant an enforced absence for the first few games) and only scored once.  The other wingers on the team had scored once or twice.  The fullback scored once.  I can't remember any of the centres scoring.  We probably scored more points in any two games last year than the whole of this year.

Our defence was not much better.  We were disorganised and, frankly, unfit, so we bled points even during the games we won.

On a personal note I made mistakes and struggled to find form.  It was difficult coming into a team that was already established, after a personal injury, and I will have to put in  a lot of effort next year to retain my position.  Try scoring is an important statistic for wingers, and I did not do enough of it.  The result was my often coming off the wing and working the inside channels like an extra flanker, not exactly conducive to scoring and also an excellent indication of the dysfunction of our attack.

No individual wins a game of rugby, but I will definitely hold myself to higher standards next year in order to try and drag us upwards, particularly in defence where I will suggest using an aggressive pattern (and of course be rebuffed because I'm a foreigner who doesn't know anything).

It's evident that no one else is going to step up to the plate on the pitch, so I will.

Machismo and bravado aside, this year I started a number of personal projects.  The first is a book.  I've been writing a sci-fi (yes, I know, hardly an inspired genre choice) novel that's reached the end of alpha testing.  That is to say, in literary terms, that I've written a hundred thousand words, and that I need to now beat and wrestle those words into a story.

I've seen people talk about their writing as if they were sculptors, finding a story hidden inside a block of imagination, much like an artist chisels away at wood or stone to find the naked Greek man underneath.

Writing, for me, is more like punching a bear in the gonads.  At many points I sat down and fought like a madman, foregoing food and drink (and occasionally sleep) to hammer away at the keys in front of me, thinking I was making headway in felling the beast.  Occasionally it would get angry and fight back, knocking me for six and causing me to seriously reconsider the endeavour.  During these low points I would peruse the internet and look to others who are writing for the creative outlet (as opposed to those looking for financial gain) and see a literal world of people who are better at it than me.  That's always a fairly dispiriting realisation, no matter how times you are forced to reflect on it.

Like punching a bear, this project serves no real purpose.  I'm never going to be a professional author (not smart enough), nor am I ever going to be published (no personal connections).  Despite being willing to go toe to toe with any number of Carnivora for the chance to have a Dream Job (tm) I'm realistic.  Sad face.

As such, I have some modest goals for my book.  They are as follows:

Goal the first, sell one hundred copies.  This is the big one.  The goal that means, in my mind if nothing else, that I'm an author.  I will note it on my CV.  This, for me, will be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to 'be an author,' and to 'write a book.'  This is a dream I assumed I would target when I was forty and in the midst of a life crisis.

Goal the second, sell ten physical copies of my book.  Possibly with signatures.

Let's get down to brass tacks.  This is a vanity endeavour driven by ego.  The idea that someone might want to read whatever drivel I write, and that I am interesting or important enough for another human being to be entertained, is entirely self indulgent.  I am essentially saying that I am cool, and you are not.  That I matter in some way.  A physical book can last thousands of years and thus secures my legacy as a human of note.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'm having my mid-life crisis early.

Anyway, with the advent of on-demand vanity presses I can sell enormously expensive single copies of the book, instead of bulk buying thousands at a time.  My aim is to sell ten physical copies, each of which will count towards my hundred total.

The third, have a real ISBN number.  This one is probably the easiest to fulfil, but is likely to be the most expensive.  Anyone can purchase an ISBN number, but they're very expensive.  If you go through Amazon or other popular self-publishing services, they can give you numbers and bar codes that look like ISBN numbers, but are only recognised by their respective services, so are not true ISBN's at all.  Sneaky buggers. 

The point of this is to ensure I can take my phone, scan the code, and have it direct to a recognised storefront.  Should I ever meet someone who is interested in my book (an unlikely premise, granted) I want to be able to whip out my phone, scan the barcode of the copy I will carry around with me literally everywhere, and have it direct to a storefront with my name on it.  Did I mention I have an enormous ego?

Fourthly, I want a pucker cover.  I want a cover that is art.  I want it to be a self-contained story that is good enough to go toe to toe with the huge publishing houses and their artists.  This has potential to be the most expensive aspect of the project, but will almost certainly make or break it.  The cover is the first thing you see and most people will judge it thusly.  To get my hundred sales this needs to be perfect.

The fifth and the final, I want a review.  Not a review from the Times, or an online blog.  An amazon review.  I want someone to have read it and felt strongly enough to have left a review.  I don't care what the content of the review is, I just want one.

Notice how none of these goals have anything to do with the quality of the writing or how it is received.  Don't take that to mean I'm assured of my own genius, but rather the opposite.  It is not Discworld, nor will I ever be Pratchett.

It is also my first book.  The first is always a learning experience.  Who knows.  Where I will end up in the future?  One day I might even be adequate.  Now there's a long-term goal.

The rest of my top-secret projects will be revealed at a later date, that's enough writing for one day.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

I Think I'm About to be Assassinated

So I have an utterly, utterly filthy plastic cup that I've never washed (building up immunity) sitting on my desk.  It's so filthy that no matter what I put into it (usually tea, occasionally watery hot chocolate) it all tastes the same.

One of the English teachers I work with took pity on me and washed it out.  Evidently their cleaning liquids were not up to the task, so instead of giving up and telling me to stop being a bridge troll he took the nuclear option.  He cleaned it with bleach.

The nuclear analogy is perfect for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it worked.  The cup is now white.  Whether it's white because the filth has been whitened, or washed away, we will never know.

Secondly, it made a point about my personal cleanliness habits that I will not soon forget.

Thirdly, the area which has been bleached is no longer fit for consumables.  I can no longer drink from that cup.  IT REEKS OF BLEACH.  No matter how many times I wash it out, it won't stop smelling.  I was only away from that goddamned cup for an hour so it can't have been stewing for more than fifty nine minutes, and yet the poison is ingrained.  There is no way it's ever coming out of that damned cup, never ever, ever.

It's a shame because it took me the best part of four years to buy a cup to drink things at work (I only got it because I needed one for the hospital and it happened to be in my bag when I went to work the next week) and I will never remember to buy another one.

And what else is a cup useful for, other than cup stuff?  The cup has been destroyed.

It's also a shame because he's a really nice guy and I don't think he meant to utterly destroy my personal property - he only meant to slyly tell me that my colleagues think I'm a pig (I don't have the heart to tell him I don't give a rats ass) and that I should clean my stuff.

Anyway, it is said that we should learn something every day.  Today I learned that if you BLEACH a receptacle for FOODSTUFFS (drinkstuffs?) you are substantially reducing the ability of that thing to carry the item(s)/thing(s) it was designed to carry.

P.S.  If you're going to try to murder someone who isn't anosmic, bleach is a terrible choice.

Friday, 4 December 2015


So it's no secret that food is a big problem for me in Japan.  There are a thousand different types of fish (none of which are predicted to be available in 10 years due to over-fishing) and a thousand different types of rice (who knew there was more than one kind of rice?) but very little in the way of marmite.  There isn't even the option for one kind of marmite, the bog standard marmite in a jar.  Marmite chocolate is fine in a pinch (that pinch being a three month wait for it to be shipped over), but, realistically speaking, nothing is going to take over the crown of the original.  Marmite crisps are something to be avoided.

So we know how things are from an English in Japan perspective; how about the reverse?

In Japan they have all the fish and all the rice, but they also have interesting takes on well known western classics.  If you're a macdonalds person who has ever been on the internet you probably know about the teriyaki chicken burgers.  They're just fried chicken sandwiches with a teriyaki sauce, so nothing mind-blowing.  Unless you've never tried teriyaki, in which case I suggest you go out and find something adorned with said sauce.  You might like it if you like tangy things, but aside from that I can't really tell you what it's comparable to and whether you should avoid it or not.

I am bad at this.

There are also the chocolates, something I am much more familiar with.  The venerable kitkat has made its way here, only to fall over and get covered in green tea.  It's bright green and tastes quite peculiar.  It doesn't really taste like green tea (who would have guessed that a chocolate company pouring chemical formulations into their chocolate would end up with something that doesn't taste anything like the flavour written on the label, shocking!) but it doesn't really taste chocolatey either, so I'm not entirely sure who this is aimed at.

Locals who have never eaten chocolate or drunk green tea?  Good luck finding that person.

There are also seasonal varieties here.  They love the fact that they have four seasons (for some reason that I have yet to figure out, all Japanese people think that Japan is the only country in the world with four seasons, even though they only have three - hot, cold, rainy) and utilise that for some insidious marketing.  In Summer everything is watermelon flavoured.  In rainy, everything is cherry blossom flavoured.  In Winter everything is back to normal, but with a christmas tree on the cover.

One thing I've also noticed is that apples come around this time of year, apparently from up north (Hokkaido) and they're great.  Super sweet, super juicy and enormous.

Artists impression of various apples.  Big ones - Japanese Winter apples.  Small ones, stupid English apples.
The only problem is, and I say this with all the affection for quirky Japanese customs, rituals and superstitions in the world, they are terrible at eating them.  The worst.

They get a knife, peel the apple, then cut it into equally sized slices, then serve them on a plate.

Everyone does this.  Monsters.

It's a fucking apple!  Just eat the damned thing!  Run it under a tap to get all the nitrates, pesticides and carbon nanotubes off the skin, then eat the fucking thing.  Christ almighty.  I could have washed, eaten and thrown away three apples in the time it takes to peel one.  By the time you're done the thing is brown anyway.  What on earth.

Anyway, apples aside, there are a million variations of normal western food out here, I just wonder how long it's going to take someone to make a sushi stuffed Christmas turkey, like a turducken, only with wasabi.

Oh, wasabi.  You should definitely buy some if you have never tried it.  It's possibly the most revelatory food experience I've had since I've been here.  It's part tastebud destroyer (like the worlds strongest mustard), part decongestant.  It's excellent with almost anything you'd use mustard for, I'm told (I don't eat mustard, mustard is disgusting) and obviously great with sushi.  I've also been known to just sit down in front of the youtube with a tube (of mustard), and slowly work my way through it, instead of going to the corner shop and buying some horrendous slop as a snack.

It's probably given me, or is going to give me, seventy bajillion ulcers because that stuff is basically caustic, but damn if it doesn't get the pipes clear.

Try it out some time.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Give Me Presents

I have come around on socks.

And also pants.

So in order for mortals to buy each other Christmas presents there has a to be a well defined price bracket, which in turn means there are restrictions on what can and cannot be purchased for one another.  I cannot, for example, request a jet fighter for Christmas.

Well, I can request all I want.

The point is that socks and pants are lame.  Clothes are pretty poor Christmas presents, and pants and socks are objectively the worst clothes, so they are super lame.

But you know what's worse than socks?  Buying socks.  Who wants to do that?  It's one of the worst chores out there.  If someone could somehow invent a machine that connects to a global system of other machines that humans could interact with in order to remotely buy such items it would alleviate some of the hassle, but it's still terrible.

And because I cannot request jet fighters for Christmas I need a reasonable present idea that can be acquired by anyone.

As such, with a heavy heart, I must declare socks and pants a good go-to Christmas present.

A jet fighter would be cool, too.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Christmas Creep

So the never-ending encroachment of store pedalled Christmas Crap (TM) into earlier slots on the calendar is something people in the West are embracing.  Something you might not expect to hear, however, is the stunning inclusion of this early onset transactionitis in the Japanese psyche.

This picture was taken on the first of November, a crazy thing when you consider that no one even celebrates this shit here.  No one buys this stuff!  Why is it out on the shelves?  It's useless crap in December, let alone November.

And then, on November the third I saw this adornment to my local shopping centre/train station.  What in the world is happening?

This encroachment is a full week earlier than it was last year, bringing it very much in line with England and America.  I wonder if next year they'll start before halloween.

Speaking of halloween, there was a very large party in one of the booze districts of Tokyo this year, and police are very much apprehensive of the trouble it caused.  There were a whopping two arrests this year, which is a zero percent increase year on year.  As a result of the sleeping man (incident one), and drunk man who lashed out at coppers (incident two) the police are going to up security measures next year in Tokyo.

The news reported the fact people were having fun as if it were the literal end of the world, that society had fallen blah blah blah.

So if you ever needed proof that the news is a bunch of sensationalist bullshit designed to scare you, look at Japan.  The country is a thousand times safer than your country in all metrics but they're still trying to keep you terrified of nothing.

The system works!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Scared Straight

So I done gone caught the flu, and done gone forgot to sleep last night (what a time to not sleep!) so I'll be honest, I'm not feeling great.

On the upside, I got to see a car crash into a cyclist today.

On the downside, it was a planned event on school grounds whereby a group of 'stuntmen,' were deliberately hit by a foam padded car in order to show how dangerous cars are.

On the upside it was cool, and the bike was mangled pretty badly.

On the downside it was super hot outside.

On the upside, I'm not outside anymore.

Three ups, two downs.  Ups win.

Anyway, the premise is simple: show the kids what a crash is like and they'll be perfect citizens for the rest of their days.

I quite like the idea of showing something like a crash for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, most of these kids will have never, and likely will never, see something like this in the wild.  It puts a real consequence to a theoretical they've been taught all their lives.  If they ever do find themselves as a spectator to something like this, the 'I know this,' effect will kick in, and all the people will be saved from the bald dinosaurs.
It's a bit of a stretch, admittedly, but at least they ask the students what the emergency service numbers are during the presentation, so a conceivable benefit has been realised.
The other benefit is employment.  A troupe of unemployed actors get to roll around destroying bikes.  Cool.
So they teach the kids how to be safe, don't ride without a helmet.  Don't cross the street until the man is green.  Don't stand near the edge of the pavement.
And all this great advice will improve the safety of the younglings not at all.  They're taught how to act, (great word incoming) unilaterally, unthinkingly.
If the man is red then you wait.  Implied in waiting in modern society is looking down at your phone, headphones in, entirely oblivious to the outside world.  And then you cross on the green man, head down, oblivious to the outside world.  But the green man said go.  I assume you can see where this is heading.  And it stands for so many aspects of Japanese society, working all the way through the corporate favour system they employ, to running a household.
Keep your head down and go when the man says to.
I would have stayed out longer and watched a few more stuntsmen pretend to get run over, but for some reason it's about a million bajillion degrees outside and I have a legitimate flu' (if it's influenza, why is the flu not 'flu' on account of missing letters on either end of the word?).
Also the name.  Statistics show that the death penalty doesn't work, and that's the ultimate in scary straighteyness, so who are they trying to impress with a name like that?  (P.S. It's in English so no fucker knows what it means anyway.)
If you think I'm stretching, take this somewhat less extreme example of this principal in action: taking bad kids to a prison to straighten them right up.  The article shows it's an ineffective strategy to say the least.  I wonder if there have been any studies translated into Japanese?  Then again, this little circus employs eight or so people, so best not to rain on their parade.
Side note:  Is it just me, or has tech suddenly become interesting again?  For the last decade there's been an incredible amount of stagnation in the tech space, the last great innovation was the move to parallelism in computing then nothing seemed to happen, and now bam.  VR.  3D printers.  Drones (I don't think anyone actually cares about drones, but they have a cool connotation, pew pew gonna' bomb yo' non-European/American freedom hating free speech fuck yeah 'Murica ass).  Space travel  (One way trip to Mars.  Cool!).  4K.  Self Driving cars that only try to kill people a little bit.  Fusion generated electricity within the next two decades (it's only taken fifty years, what's waiting another twenty?).
Of these things I want VR and a 3D printer.  4K is a natural evolution and will happen equally naturally.  Who cares about drones?  Who has the space for one in their home when it's not flying around spying on the neighbours?  Or maybe you can mid air refuel them.  100 foot battery change, eternal flight.
I would sign up to be the first man on Mars even if it meant I was never coming back.  In a heartbeat.  But that's not going to happen, so I'll settle for the first two.  In a strange way they're entwined, as both require virtualisation in 3D space, and you could conceivably work a design for your printer with VR.
I've watched the evolution of VR into a viable product for a few years now, and the obstacles they've overcome have been pretty interesting.  Latency, resolution, fit and feel, brightness - all things that have been designed around and the results look great.  I've only tried static 3D headsets up to now, no tracking with head movements and certainly no controllers that map to the 3D space of the virtual world (punching yourself in the face while trying to scratch your nose is a reality.  I did it.) but they are all things that have been added to the pot.  With the first release of occulus, vive and morpheus (facebook owned, valve owned and sony owned respectively) we'll see a brand new format war that I'm entirely ready to embrace because up until this point, much like 3D in cinemas, VR has been a gimmick.  I want to see what it can do.  Plug the internet straight into my brain goddamnit.