Archive for August, 2011

30/08/2011

Five Minecraft situations you should never get into, and how to get out of them without suiciding.

If you play Minecraft then you’ve been there.  You’ve braved dark, Creeper filled chasms, and after hours of careful exploration your inventory is bulging with loot.  For possibly the first time ever you have an embarrassment of Minecraft riches, a full stack of diamonds, several stacks of iron ore, loads of lapis and red dust, and of course endless quantities of coal.

The only problem now is that you’re stuck.  Somehow you’ve painted yourself into one of several corners, leaving yourself with that classic of Minecraft conundrums.  Find a way out of this, or suicide and just give up on the riches you’ve gathered.

Well worry not friend, here at Random Ruminations we don’t want to see you drop a fortune in diamonds just because you’re lost.  So we’re here to give you a way out, a way out that doesn’t involve charging a Creeper in nothing but you skivvies.  A lot of these will seem to be very obvious pieces of advice, and they are.  But it’s advice which took me time to learn for myself, because believe me when it all goes in the pot, you find very quickly that logic takes a back seat.

1. Damn it I got carried away and went digging straight down:

Every Minecrafter makes this mistake at some point.  You hit a really promising vein of coal or iron and tunnel vision ensues.  I like to think of this as going with gravity, and just like in reality, gravity in Minecraft is a cruel mistress.

You see if you dig straight down there are several nasty possible endings. You might pop through the roof of a cavern.  It’s not much of a fall so it doesn’t kill you outright.  Unfortunately though the floor is made of lava, now that’s a tan that’ll kill you.  Or there’s a body of water down there with some tricky currents that wouldn’t be a threat at all, if you could see.  Or it turns out to be the nesting grounds of many, many Creepers, spiders, zombies and skeletal archers.

Alternatively you might just hit bedrock. But either way you now have to get the hell out of Dodge before you end up as lunch for something.

First piece of advice, do not dig straight down.  It doesn’t matter how unbelievable that vein is, do not dig straight down. At the very least dig in a spiral around it. But if you lose your sanity for a few moments, leading you to go with gravity, and somehow you don’t end up instantly dead, for a start don’t panic.  Don’t go wandering, don’t decide to compound the problem by going any further in any direction apart from up.  After all you got into this situation because of a sweet load of something, wouldn’t it be nice to get back to your base with all that sweet, sweet loot?

So start digging upwards on a diagonal.  It’s that simple.  If you hit a cavern don’t explore it just find another wall and dig upwards some more.  After all this way once you’re home, unloaded and reloaded for bear you can always go back.

2. I went exploring and got lost, Mommy!:

There’s really two Minecrafts, the subterranean Minecraft and the surface world.  And strangely when I get lost playing Minecraft it’s never underground.  You see underground you have the tunnels you’ve dug to follow back out, along with a bread crumb trail of torches.

But on those occasions where I take it into my head to do some impromptu exploration of the surface world, it almost always ends with me hopelessly lost.  It happens very easily, I mean let’s face it Minecraft generates some truly beautiful landscapes.  But it also creates some very disorienting ones.

So take Sunday night.  I decided to scout around the giant water tank I’m building to see what resources were easily available in the area around my two bases.  Five minutes later I was completely lost.  I did not however panic.  I simply remembered that I was infinitely better equipped to survive that I had been when I started building on this particular map.

So steps to surviving without suiciding and thus losing the three diamond picks, three diamond spades and the diamond sword I was carrying.

Find the lowest point nearest to my current position and stop going further away.

Cut down some trees and make a crafting table and forge.

Dig down until I found iron, coal and red dust.

Do what I should have done before I left my base, and build a compass.

That’s all there is to it.  The compass will bring you back to the last bed your character slept in, thus making everything hunky dory.  But it get’s better and there’s a way to make this minor disaster a good thing.  You see you just dug a mine, if you’re lucky like I was you may even have found a great cavern system with tonne’s of resources.  It would be a shame not to find that again, wouldn’t it? Well then my friend just leave a trail of torches behind you as you return home.

See? Simple and you’re mommy didn’t even need to come and hold your hand.

3. I don’t know how but I just got trapped by lava:

This one is an oddity which happens with horrific frequency to me.  I’m minding my own business digging away looking for yet more diamonds, they are after all a geeky, minecraft playing, girls best friend, when I make a break through.  Right into a pool of lava.  When that happens you have a tiny amount of time to react, if you’re fast you can back away enough to get out of the line of flow.  If not you get burnt to a crisp.

Sometimes though through over enthusiasm, poor planning, or momentary idiocy, it’s very possible to end up with lava all around you, while you stand on a single, solitary block.  This is especially possible somewhere like The Nether though occasionally it can even happen in regular caverns. Well as usual don’t panic, I know broken record or what?

You’re going to have an inventory that’s packed with things to walk on.  So pick a direction, preferably one that’s going to get you to solid ground fast, start crawling backwards and lay one block at a time very carefully.  I know most of you are scratching your heads right now.  After all this is basic, basic Minecrafting technique.  But I have chatted with players who genuinely didn’t realise you could do that.

Alternatively you can go for the overkill method, and smother the lava all around you. Leaving a moat of lava, which might lead to the future construction of the Bond villain hideout to beat all other Bond villain hideouts.

The main this is to always be prepared for lava to start pouring near you, move fast and think carefully.  It’s all about protecting those ores, diamonds and the tools you’re carrying.

4. Great now I’m trapped, underwater and drowning:

I’ve saved the funnest one for last.  Nothing is quite as unpleasant in Minecraft as being trapped underwater, okay Creepers are but that’s sort of a given. Well let’s paint a picture.  You’re exploring and you bravely dove into the waters of some cove, you found a small cave down there.  They do show up occasionally, after all the land underwater is generated much the same way as the dry land.  You peeked in and thought you could see an air pocket.  Turns out you were wrong and now you’re watching in horror as your air supply vanishes.  You’re screwed, right?

Wrong!

Just dig an air pocket for yourself.  I’ve been playing Minecraft for months now, and I only discovered this trick in recent weeks (I should point out I don’t use the Wiki’s or guides, I decided to figure everything out the hard way).  But it turns out that if you’re quick enough you can create air pockets in the cavern roof, better still you can even plant a torch in it.

But best of all this technique opens up the ability to efficiently build underwater.  Now how awesome is that?

So I hope that this will be of some help to someone.  As I come across other life saving techniques I might even write a follow up.  If you have some creative, awesome or just plain odd method of avoiding the suicide escape in Minecraft please feel free to add it to the list.

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27/08/2011

Oh, now I get it.

Remember when you were a teen?  Back when you really loved one particular type of music, liked a few more and loathed the rest?  No?  Well okay then maybe it was just me.  But regardless that’s what I’m going to speak about here.

Back in my teens I was very much into dance music.  I loved Techonotronic, Baby D, Mousse T, Leftfield, hell even Ace of Base made it onto both my most loved and most listened to list.  Dance music made sense to me.  I spent so many days turning it on, playing it loud and bouncing around a climbing wall or rock face to the time of the music.  Of course like just about everyone else I did like music other than dance.  I adored Queen, and would even listened happily to some rap.

But some music just left me cold.  I couldn’t stand listening to The Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis and Blur just made my fists itch. And the less said about either Bon Jovi or Guns and Roses the better.  As for Nirvana, I would shudder.  Brit pop in general just did nothing for me.  American rock of the period made me think longingly of knitting needles and my eardrums.

But of course as we age, our tastes change.

While Oasis, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses still make me feel like jumping off a cliff, with maybe a rope attached to my breasts for some pain relief, the rest sort of make sense now.  I can sit and listen to Blur, I don’t love it, but I don’t threaten to disembowel the person playing it either.  I find myself rather enjoying it when The Smashing Pumpkins come on Scuzz and even Nirvana no longer makes me think longingly of a bottle of lemon juice with a complimentary dull, rust covered razor blade.

I was actually kind of stunned when I realised how much my musical tastes had changed. You see the dark secret at the heart of this thirtysomething gothgirl’s teen years is that I was sort of a raver.  Yep I went to raves. In fact Former Candy-Raver Amanda Harper reporting for duty, Sah!  I never expected to find myself loathing modern dance music.  And I do loathe it, you see with one or two very rare exceptions, it’s tripe.  Instead of an MP3 player filled to bursting with roof raising beats, I have an MP3 player filled to bursting with rock, punk, industrial, metal, neo-saxon, hell there’s even some classical music in there.

Basically if you can fly a destroyer and slaughter other players in EVE online to a mind ripping guitar riff, that piece of music is on my playlist.

You see now I get it. I finally get the power behind really hard rock music. It’s aggressive, sometimes violent, virtually always uplifting, fist clenching and oh damn it all, let’s just say it ROCKS and leave it at that.  I still adore the dance music from my teens and Queen are and always will be the Daddy’s of Rock.

Anyway in the end the point of this post is that just because you don’t get a type of music now, doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. Just enjoy the music you like now and be open to other forms. A few years ago I hated Jethro Tull, now I’ll actually admit, under torture admittedly, that they actually had one great album (1982’s Broadsword and The Beast) and a shitload of mediocre ones. Oh who knows maybe someday I’ll even start to enjoy Elvis Presley, though after thirty years of feeling ill when I hear his voice I really kinda I doubt it.  Here’s hoping time doesn’t make me eat my words…

25/08/2011

Hey, that’s smurftastic

And so it came to pass that a granny, an intrepid blogger and a Force of Nature did travel to Liffey Valley.

And there the intrepid blogger did purchase three tickets for the Smurfs, and it was good.

But we should start at the beginning.  You see the whole excursion began with the Force of Nature asking me if I would ask her granny if we could all go to see The Smurfs.  Now to be honest, being myself a true child of the 80’s, I kind of wanted to see the new, modern interpretation of one of my favourite childhood cartoon shows.  I mean in all fairness who could have guessed that Hollywood would take Alvin and the Chipmunks, add some CGI and give us comic gold, complete with two squeakuels to date.  So I figured a few quid spent on The Smurfs might not be wasted money, and better yet it would distract the Force from another battery of what I like to think of as the “Awkward Questions Game”.

Still, Granny of course said, yes.  So this afternoon (yesterday afternoon by the time you’re reading this) we all bundled in to Baby, my partners pretty Ford Puma, and took a drive to the nearest cinema, which happens to be in Liffey Valley Shopping Centre.

Now this blog is technically supposed to be a review so I perhaps a little reviewy (yes it’s a real word, I just used it therefore it’s real, don’t make me kick the smurf outta ya) stuff should now creep in.  The cinema in Liffey Valley is run by Vue. The cinema itself is pretty nice.  The seats are comfy, the popcorn is both hot and nicely salty and most importantly you don’t worry about being glued in place by sticky floors, because they’re not. Sticky, that is.  However Vue have a website where you’re supposed to be able to buy your tickets, with nice deals, and so save yourself the hassle of queueing with the Luddites in the entrance.  Nice theory, except for the fact that they charge €2.50 to allow you the privilege of paying them with your credit card. This would be a “so what?” situation, if it didn’t mean that it would have been at least that much cheaper to buy my ticket in the cinema itself…guess which I did? I don’t like nastiness like that.

So yeah, lovely cinema, no sticky floors, but avoid the website unless you don’t mind paying extra for the chance or it’s to get that must have ticket for the first ever screening…yadda yadda.

And, back to The Smurfs.  We arrived about an hour early so a little shopping was in order.  For myself copies of Mass Effect, Assassins Creed and Dead Space were purchased from Game, so there goes my free time for the next three months.  Meanwhile Granny and the Force were busy mooching around New Look.  Mooching is apparently best defined as ” in depth window shopping with intent to actually shop later”.  So I arrive delighted with myself for getting a great deal on three games, while they’re mid-mooch. The Force however is not impressed.  She wants her goddess damned Smurfs and she wants them NOW! She communicates this wish my informing me in a loud voice, that we’re not to look in anymore shops.  Each word is of course accompanied by its own individual foot stomp.  How cute. We, that is Granny and I, of course spend an extra 15 minutes in New Look for absolutely no reason what-so-ever.

Fast forward to the movie.  Usually watching a movie with the Force is an exercise in the application of supreme patience, as she asks “What’s happening now?  Who’s he?  Why are they doing that?  What’s happening now?” and of course the classic “Can I go pee?” over and over and over, until your brains have reached the consistency of overcooked semolina, and drain out through your nostrils.

Today though the Force was amazingly good.  She didn’t ask anything. She just sat there and watched The Smurfs with a big happy grin on her face.  No, it was all the other kids that had  me wishing for a bastard-sword, some space to swing it, and the rapid passage through Parliament of new legislation. Legislation legalizing the use of extreme late-term abortion…you know, between the 12th and 25th trimesters when the potential abortee is annoying me in the cinema.

That should tell you something about the movie.  I was actually enjoying it.  Sure, it has Doogie Houser in the lead human role.  And yes it has that annoying redhead from the equally annoying Epic Movie as his wife.  But the Smurfs, oh gods the Smurfs.  They’re everything I remembered from my childhood.  Cute, funny, quick-witted, brilliantly rendered by CGI and blue.  The story is surprisingly fun, and putting the little blue ones in New York, actually works.

The producers also achieved something disturbingly amazing.  Somehow, they managed to make Smurfette, the only female Smurf, a creature who is – and I quote, “Three apples tall”, sort of sexy. It does help that she’s voiced by Katy Perry, who singing talent or lack there-of aside, does have a sexy speaking voice. But…well let’s put it this way, Avatar made me want a tail, or at least a girlfriend who has one.  The Smurfs and Smurfette in particular, will almost definitely lead to a new large outbreak of size related, well let’s called them adult cartoon drawings, on the internet.

So now the last review bit. The Smurfs, it’s a good movie. It’s not going to win Oscars, but it’s fun, sweet, funny and well worth viewing.  Oh and it has the approval of the Force of Nature.  She said she enjoyed it.

And then went looking for some ice cream, one scoop of bubblegum, one scoop of mint.  Well ain’t that just smurfelicious.

23/08/2011

Now’s the time to prepare for the rapidly coming Winter.

When some people read this they’re going to find themselves thinking, “What the hell?  It’s only bloody August!”  And only a few years ago they would have been absolutely right to think that.  After all, less than a decade ago, the idea of three white Christmas’ in a row would have been almost unthinkable.  Well for the last three Christmas’ I’ve found myself staring out at a cold, miserable country blanketed in white. So it is perhaps time for Irish people to grow up a little and admit to one simple truth.

We no longer have what was a temperate climate.

That being the case, and considering the chaos sown by the last three years of snow, ice and other forms of cold based insanity, let’s grab the bull by the horns and get ready for it all now. Not like the last three years where as a nation we ended up scrambling to play catch up, when it was already too late.

So what do I feel we need to do to prepare?  Well here is a list of what I intend to do over the coming weeks.  This is far from an exhaustive list, and is one I formed over Christmas of last year.

1. Buy a snow shovel.  While they’re still almost impossible to find in the average Irish hardware store, they’re quite easy to find on Amazon.com.  These are lightweight shovels designed specifically to move large amounts of snow from a driveway both quickly, and efficiently.  Yes you can use a heavier garden or builders spade, but remember you’re going to be clearing a relatively large area of snow, and that spade is going to feel like it weighs a tonne by the time you’re done, and then you still have to get into your car to go to work.

2. Start buying grit, or at a pinch sharp sand to mix with salt now.  You want to get this when there’s little demand, and thus no shortage of supply or inflated prices.

3. Get your car serviced, buy anti-freeze and put it in at the first warning of even a hard frost.  Oh and how about getting a cover for it as well?  Last Winter I remember frantically brushing huge amounts of snow off of a car, then an equally frantic ten minutes of scraping at least half an inch of ice off of the front and rear windscreen.  All that could have been so easily avoided by just covering the damn thing.  There are car covers made specifically for snowy conditions and while you will still have to sweep off the snow at least you won’t end up with grazes and sore hands from scrapping the ice off.  On another note, do clear all the snow off your car before you drive away, all the extra snow is extra weight which will only increase your fuel consumption.

4. An extendable pole with a right-angled blade at the end.  This is for safely knocking icicles off of eaves.  Seriously, I’m not joking about this.  People are frequently hurt by falling ice when a thaw sets in, and I truly intend to not be one of them.  So an extendable pole with something like a windows wiper on the end is our friend here.  Just be very careful to knock the icicles away from you and anyone else.

5. Falling hard in to soft unpacked snow is funny, falling on ice really isn’t.  That is unless you’re exceptionally well padded it hurts like hell and could even lead to serious injury.  So why not get something to put over your shoes that will add some grip while you walk?  Or alternatively a pair of budget trekking poles.  They’re not overly expensive but they may well save your ass from being in a cast for the rest of the Winter.

6. If you’re a pet owner make sure that your pets bedding will be warm enough for them.  House pets are soft creatures, we’ve made them that way.  So give them the same consideration you would give a young child, after all they can’t make their home warmer themselves due to a shortage of opposable thumbs.

7. Get your heating system checked out now, when you don’t need it at all.  I don’t even want to imagine how horrific last Winter would have been without working heating. It probably would have been made more horrific still if the heating had cut out randomly in the middle of the cold spell.  Better to have any problems sort out now, while it’s still warm when a week or three with no heating will mean little, or no trouble for you and your family.

There are probably a thousand and one other things which could be added to this list, and please feel free to add anymore you think are important.  But regardless, what is most important is to be prepared for the worst, and not get caught flat-footed by another white Winter.  After all we’ve had the coldest Summer in 50 years this year, that following the coldest Winter on record.  So it seems rather likely we may well be in for another bloody white Christmas, whether we want it or not.

20/08/2011

And now the pulling out of hair begins.

So that’s it.  It’s been four years of hard slog, four years of teaching myself new skills, four years of learning to truly loathe my own creation due to massive, over exposure.  But finally my first novel Strawberry Kisses is ready for submission to agents and publishers.  Great, but what now?

Well let’s start with how sick I am of hearing the question, “Have you a publisher yet?”  No I don’t. I’m not kidding when I say it’s taken me four years ’til this day to write my first novel.  And it took that length of time for one simple reason, I didn’t know how to write anything beyond an essay.

Before now I had never written anything longer than 10,000 words.  Strawberry Kisses however comes in at a hefty 127,000 words, that’s the writing equivalent of running a mile a day, then deciding to run a marathon with no further training.  You simply don’t know if you can do it, until you’ve done it.  But discovering if you are in fact able to, at best takes a long time and at worst is a painfully, disappointing experience.

Worse still writing a novel requires some really surprising skills.  Well for me it does anyway.  Not least is the ability to write with no paper, no pens, no keyboard.  The ability to write long passages in your head while you wash the crockery, walk the dog, even while you sit on the toilet, and then to remember those passages precisely as you “wrote” them when you finally do sit down to your prefered medium.  That skill alone took months for me to master.  How about using a word processor efficiently?  I thought I could until I started writing a novel.  I very quickly discovered I couldn’t. That too was a skill that took time to learn.

Then there’s the skill of laying out a novel, planning each scene, each character.  Laying out your chapter plan, with enough detail that your final destination is reached in a consistent and believable fashion, while allowing yourself enough wiggle room to incorporate new ideas.  Writing dialogue, writing both location and character descriptions. learning to make your language consistent.

All these skills and dozens more take a lot of time and almost herculean mental and physical effort to first learn and then to even vaguely approach mastery.

Hell when I started I didn’t even know what “double spacing” meant.  And no it doesn’t mean what you probably think it does.

Four years.  Four years of having to care about every aspect of my characters.  Four years of worrying if my descriptions of any given location were consistent.  Four years of going over my manuscript again and again and again and again.  Four years of really thinking about very little else.  Four years of well-meaning people asking me the same questions over and over.   Making me feel worse about myself and my work with each repetition.  Why?  Because the answer was always another “No”.

But the worst part comes now.  Now I have to sell the damn thing.  And somehow get the best price I can for four years of hard work.  And while I do that I have to get my next book down on paper.  I can’t stop writing and wait on a book deal, because that deal may never come.  In fact statistically it’s unlikely to ever come.  The horrifying fact is that no matter how good your work is, most authors never get published.  They write a single book and bank their whole literary future on that one roll of the dice.  Worse still it could be my fifth, my tenth even my twentieth novel that finally gets me that longed for book deal.

The last four years have taught me to be a writer.  The next four will probably revolve around learning to first be a better writer, then an author and then finally, with a great deal of luck, a published author.

How do I define the difference between those three?

Simple, almost anyone can be a writer, it’s a physical and mental skill set that allows someone the ability to put their thoughts on paper.  That’s not to say that simply having the skills means that they will be a good writer.  Like with anything else, being good at what you do comes only with time and intense dedication to your craft.

An author is the person who writes one book, then another, then another.  They find themselves unconsciously writing every spare waking second of every day.  If they’re staring into space then odds are they’re writing.  If they’re doing the daily chores, odds are they’re writing as they do them.  Writing, literary creation comes to them in the same way as breathing does.  Again all based on the same learned skill set.  But usually an improved set, that improvement based on determination to perfect, and excel beyond what they initially believed was perfection in their craft.

The published author, well she’s simply the writer who became an author, who somehow found the sheer tenacity to keep on beating her head off of a brick wall, until the wall eventually crumbled and finally gave her the shot at success her hard gained skills have earned her.

So four long years gone and what have I to show for it?

A manuscript that is as close to perfect as I can make it with my current skills.

The knowledge and experience to be able to write my next novel, perhaps in as little was an eighth of the time my first took.

The confidence to know that I can write something substantial.

And more than anything the will to be successful in my chosen art form.  Even if it does end up taking me twenty attempts to break into the pubic eye.

18/08/2011

Being a Ukulele bad-ass, or how I discovered a love for messing about with a teeny guitar like object.

So my adopted lil sister, the Pyxie, went to Spain for a few weeks.  Along with the nagging worry I always have when she’s out of the country, she also left me with her ukulele.  A really sweet lil Ohana SK-10S.  So out of curiosity and large dose of chronic insomnia I picked it up one night, and a Google search led me to website Ukulele Hunt.  After about 2 hours of learning to tune it, and pluck a few simple exercises I had come to four surprising realisations.

1. The Ohana SK-10s comes pre-strung with what I can only assume is knicker elastic.  That first 2 hours session I found myself tuning it again every ten minutes.  Though it did improve with time, I believe the C string is still an inspiration for serious swear word creation.

2. I really like the ukulele as an instrument. It’s very light and easy to handle, which makes it an ideal instrument if you, like I, suffer from a lot of physical pain and weakness.  What’s more, you can pick it up and 2 hours later with some serious effort be picking out a couple of nice little tunes.  Or put another way, it’s an instrument that’s fun and easy to play, but I suspect will prove a right bugger to master.

3. You don’t have to strum the lil bugger.  When you see a ukulele played on telly, it’s usually strummed, rarely do you see it plucked.  But this instrument can sound almost harplike if you pluck it just right.  And it’s a wonderful thing to learn to play melodies on.

4. And finally, it’s spelt “Ukulele”, not “ukelele”.  Yeah I know!  I was kinda shocked too.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks of some semi-serious messing about on the Pyxies ukulele I was hooked.  I say semi-serious because it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when your best two pieces to play on it are “Popeye the Sailorman” and “It had to be you.”

Then the Pyxie came home and bought me my own one.  I was kinda stunned.  I mean ukuleles aren’t crazily expensive instruments, but if you want even a vaguely good sounding one they are defiitely not cheap either.  She got me a gorgeous Mahalo Les Paul electro-acoustic model.  Very pretty, kind of sexy in a bad ass sort of way and a little larger than her own.  The latter a very good thing as Mother Nature did not bless me with petite fingertips, and on her Ohana I had serious problems not hitting a second string by accident.

Isn't it so pretty? And it even sounds as good as it looks.

So after a couple of practice sessions I am now even more hooked on my own ukulele than I ever was on hers.  And I learned another important lesson.

5. Aquila strings are the shit.  Seriously, they sound so much better I simply can’t get over it.

So yes, this is meant to be a review.  Well here it is.  The ukulele is not a toy instrument, it is a serious piece of musical kit.  It can be strummed, plucked, made to sound almost like a harp and even tapped with a finger to make a reasonable lap-drum if you feel like it.  I would definitely recommend one as a first instrument for a young child or even a young hearted adult, simply because you feel that you’re making progress the whole time you practice, from the very first minute.  They make a great instrument for someone who is physically a little frailer than average, because they simply don’t take much physical strength to use.  They come in several sizes, meaning even the Incredible Hulk could probably find one to suit his oversized hands.  Aquila strings as I have already mentioned are quite simply, the shit.

Oh and The Uke Bad-ass as far as I’m concerned is Alistair Wood, owner and writer of UkuleleHunt.com.  For creating probably the best online source for ukulele knowledge and being the author of Ukulele for Dummies.

P.S. Thanks for the mini-axe Pyx.

16/08/2011

Ever get the feeling someone, or something is watching you?

You’re lying in bed.  It’s so warm and snuggly.  Well in fairness you’ve been lying there asleep for the last two hours so it should be.  But now suddenly, with night still wrapped around you, a most unwelcome feeling has crept in, disturbing your well deserved rest.  That’s right, you have to get up and pee.

It’s probably just an unavoidable part of getting older. But where-as a couple of years ago I could sleep for twelve hours without having to use the bathroom, now I can just about get three or maybe four hours of blissful dreams.  Usually that’s fine.  I mean I’m not exactly happy to traipse bare-foot across this apartments cold, wooden floors (often to a muttered litany of inventively used expletives) at Oh My Goddess O’clock.  But hey, whatever, I get up, use the en-suite bathroom and a few minutes later a slightly chillier Amanda is climbing back into her still nice and warm bed.

Unfortunately though sometimes I don’t get to sleep in the bedroom with the en-suite.  It might be because the Force of Nature has come to stay and has to sleep with her nanny.  It may be because my own health has hit such a low ebb that it physically hurts when someone moves even the smallest amount in the bed next to me.  Or then again, it could simply be because I’m in the middle of a truly epic case of insomnia.

So I’m lying asleep in my own room, surrounded by my books, tools, random computer components, and of course my drawing table.  And suddenly I’m awake with that feeling of urgent pressure I’ve come to know and dread.  Right then guess I better get up and go to the bathroom.  So off I wander to the main bathroom, somehow avoiding stepping on the sometimes numerous, random often painful things scattered liberally on my bedroom floor.  Out into the pitch black hallway and finally safely through the door into the equally dark bathroom.  Weirdly I usually forget to turn on lights when I wake up at Oh My Goddess O’clock, no idea why, it’s just one of those things that make me, me.

So panties down, bum on toilet seat and get on with the job at hand.  Then out of nowhere this freezing cold, damp, squidgy thing touches my leg.  It’s at this particular moment that being already enthroned on porcelain is a very good thing, because otherwise, I would definitely end up standing in the center of a slowly spreading pool of warm, yellow liquid.  So yeah the cold, damp, squidgy thing, it is of course Winters nose, the main bathroom usually doubles as her bedroom, (except for when the Force of Nature is staying, then she sleeps at the Forces feet).  Or thanks to Terry Pratchett’s turn of phrase, what I think of as “The Cold Nose Of Dog!”

I don’t know how many of my readers have had the experience of warm flesh meeting doggy nose, while being mostly still asleep.  Well suffice to say there really are very few, more effective, or more horrifying ways to be brought fully awake. And that experience is so much worse when you experience it while sitting on the porcelain throne at Oh My God O’clock.

But as bad as it is being brought to full consciousness by cold liquid puppy mucus, if you’re me something worse now happens.  You remember that the average dog has night vision four times more acute than a humans.  You realise that if even in the dark of night you can see well-defined shadows, well then your dog is staring right at you in glorious sepia-tone, while you sit there trying to pee…now that’s the moment that tests the purge setting of your bladder control.

I just felt I should share that little thought, so you can carry it with you into sleep.  You’re welcome.

13/08/2011

“…as the bishop said to the actress!”

I’m sure all of you have heard, or at least read the classic punch line “…as the bishop said to the actress.”  It’s the punch line to a joke that never really gets started purposefully.  I literally can’t begin to count the number of times myself, or a friend has ended an unintended double entendre with that phrase.  So I thought I would do my top ten favourite set ups for this classic sort of joke.

To take part simply recite “…as the bishop said to the actress!” at the end of each example.  Hope you enjoy, and of course, please feel free to comment and add more.

10. I was having blood taken and the nurse said “Ah sure, it’ll just be a little prick.”…

9.  Oh I was walk in the woods and I fell arse-first onto a tree root…

8.  *speaking of a small pet dog* Oh don’t way any attention to that little prick…

7.  …and they were the plumpest, juciest plums I ever sank my teeth into…

6.  …and they were the biggest, firmest melons I ever laid my hands on, even if they were a wee bit veiny…

5.  Now look, it’s far more scared of you, than you are of it…

4.  I bet you’ve never held one that big before…

3.  So how do you use one of these properly?

2.  …so there I was with it half in me pocket and half in me hand…

1.  Get your lips around that and it’ll do you the world of good…

So now it’s your turn.

11/08/2011

What do you really need from a gaming console emulator?

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a new netbook.  Nothing unusual about that, and as I had said at length in a previous post, my old 701 model EeePC was in the long drawn out process of dying an agonised death, due to a profound loss of smoke containment.  So having saved what little I could  each week over the course of a couple of months, and having borrowed the 60 Euros I was short, I stepped into PCWorld and got a good deal on a new Acer Aspire One 522.

I quite simply love my new netbook.  Three simple comparisons will show even the least technologically savvy of my readers why.

1: Screen Size.

EeePC 701         – 7 inches

Aspire One 522 – 10.1 inches

2: Hard Drive.

EeePC 701          – a 4 gigabyte solid state memory hard drive.

Aspire One 522 – 250 gigabyte SATA hard drive.

3: Operating System.

EeePC 701          – a now unsupported, largely extinct distribution of Linux.

Aspire One 522 – Windows 7 Starter .

In every way my new netbook is a huge leap forward for my day-to-day  computing life.  Everything from surfing the internet to wordprocessing has been simplified by the larger storage capacity, the significantly larger screen, and an operating system, for which it is easy to find up to date, stable and above all else simple to install software.  Which brings me nicely to emulators for now extinct games consoles.

One of the numberous reasons why I wanted to update my netbook, was to have a machine capable of running emulators.  I travel reasonably often to visit my mom and friends in Cork.  But like most hardcore gamers, I hate to be without access to some form of computer gaming.  Now unlike, what seems to be the vast majority of current gamers, I have a great fondness for what I suppose must be described as classic games.  Regular readers will have no doubt come across my reviews for games such as Elite and Starflight.

But playing those classic games on modern PC’s usually requires an emulator, unless of course you can find and afford to buy one of the few surviving, functioning examples of the original machines.  Well I can’t, and even if I could afford a collection of old consoles, many of the original cartridges, or CD’s containing the games I am most interested in playing often go for almost obscenely astronomical prices online.  So that leaves me with emulators and Roms.

Now, up until my recent Acer purchase, only my main PC was capable of running emulators.  Well, to be more accurate, I was only able to get them running on my PC.  My little Asus may have been a nice machine to type on, but it was an outright nightmare to run anything Windows-based on.  And yes I know there are usually Linux conversions of the most popular emulators, but in the 701 EeePC, we are speaking of a machine which had to be beaten repeatedly with a digital stick just to get it to run the programs it came installed with. So today I have two machines more than capable of running any emulator I wish.  But since I don’t like running emulators on my PC. my netbook is now doubling up as both my word processor and gaming time machine.

But regardless of which computer I, or indeed you use where we run into problems is which emulators to use?

Which machines to emulate is a simple enough decision for me.  After all I was a child of the 80’s and a teen of the 90’s so that means the Nes, Snes, Megadrive/Genesis and of course the big daddy of the 90’s the Playstation 1.

But there are multiple emulators for all of them, and to put it simply not all emulators are created equal.  To be frank some of them suck, some are incredible works of programming, while others are over engineered to the point of insanity.  And while the former ones are easy to discover, they simply won’t run many Roms successfully, the great and over-engineered  ones can be a much tougher creatures to identify.  So since the worlds geeks have had a lot less time to make its emulators run well, let’s take the Playstation 1 (PS1) as our example.

If like me you were a teen in the earlyish 90’s, you probably had, or at one point or another played on a PS1.  At one point, next to hydrogen, they seemed to be the most common arrangement of matter in the known universe.  But they were for my generation a wake up call, gaming we discovered could be a far more eye and ear pleasing affair.  The PS1 today is essentially extinct, and while many of the games have been ported to the newer Playstation Portable, the original machine, being 3 generations out of date, is no longer developed for.  But its success wound up leaving behind a huge legacy of games, many of which still cry out to be played.

But on which emulator? There are after all, shedloads of the things. It can be hard to believe but strangely most PS1 emulators tend to be very different, which seems crazy when you stop and realise that they’re all intended for precisely the same purpose.  But they all vary widely in terms of how stable they are when they’re running, how well they run any given game rom, how much in the way of system resources they use, how well they make use of the computers graphic processing capabilities, and not least in how user-friendly they are.  It’s rather like comparing the many different breeds of dogs.  They’re all dogs, but some are more fit for a given purpose than others.

So after a great deal of experimentation, and the invention of several new swear words, I finally settled on either the PSX or ePSXe emulators.  The first because it is incredibly user-friendly, the latter because it seems to run just a touch smoother, but that smoothness I found, comes at a cost.

While PSX just runs your Roms reasonably well, the ePSXe runs them slightly better but gives the user options to change a truly vast array of settings.  While I’m sure this sets the sort of person who could have gotten my EeePc to run any program drooling.  I find that it increases hugely, the possibility of someone less adept completely screwing something up, and thus at the very least losing any progress they may have made in their games.

It really comes down to a question of what you personally need from an emulator.  The ability to use cheat codes, monkey around with display settings (I mean beyond the necessity of fixing resolutions and screen frequency), and even changing what sub-program is used to generate the sounds or graphics, is I’m sure, a great addition for those with that sort of mind.  But to those who just want a program with the minimum of clutter, that will simply play their games, save their progress properly and leave the player with a happy glow, those overly complex emulators are just a recipe for future problems.

After all even if the user doesn’t accidentally drop a spanner in the works, we all know little kids who will scream to be let play their game, and then screw something up while trying to turn up the sound.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now I went in the end with the PSX.  I am techie, at least where hardware and Windows XP is concerned, but in an emulator I just want something to play my damn games with.  That’s all.  What you will decide is of course up to you, but I would like to make a few suggestions.

1: Try as many emulators as you can, for whatever games console you want to use.  They really are not all the same.

2: Read the documentation for each.  Yes I agree it’s annoying and time-consuming, but often emulators have unique quirks which can be a pain in the ass when you try to use them at first.  Forewarned is after all forearmed.

3: When you find the emulator you want to use, save constantly, and make a back up of your save files as often as you can stand to.  Even the best emulators are prone to instability and it’s not uncommon to have to completely uninstall and then reinstall them.  Which can be a real pain if you forget to back up all your progress to date.  Especially if like me you adore that type of 60 hour plus role playing game.

4: Buy a joypad to use with your emulators.  Yes I know you can use your keyboard, but you’re playing games which were created with a joypad in mind.  Fighting games like the Tekken series are virtually unplayable with a keyboard.  Look, it is simply a more enjoyable and less wrist destroying way to play you favourite games.

5: Finally whether you go the uber-techie route or stick with the simplest to use emulator, remember why you wanted to one in the first place.  To play the games of your youth, to play the games you couldn’t afford or find when you were younger.  But mostly to just have fun.

So now with those thoughts firmly in mind, I find myself still remembering but also now reliving just how wonderful the opening movie of Soulblade was to watch, and the treat of the game itself being supremely playable. I still personally rank it as the best two player fighting game of that era.  Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was mindblowing, an action game where stealth, carefully thought out movements, and flawless executed, brutal attacks were the only way to progress through the game.  Breath of Fire 3 and 4, took the classic Megadrive style of role playing games to their zenith, and opened the door for the rightly lauded Final Fantasy 7.

Yes just like their Nes, Snes and Megadrive precursors they are old games, often with graphics which compare poorly to modern games. But those old machines and their huge back catalogues of games now played on emulators play host to so many wonderous games from a golden age of gaming.  The age when games often told an occasionally decent story.  Games which offered huge challenges to even the very best of gamers.  Games which are still true classics in their own genres.  But most of all they offer huge doses of fun, an aspect of computer games which too often seems to have been forgotten by many modern games developers in their mutual headlong race to the zenith of mediocrity.

I say long live emulation and the classic game rom.  So slap some Led Zeppelin on the media play, crank up Immigrants Song and cry out Kings Field I am coming!

09/08/2011

Nothing like a delicious cup of stealth lesbian tea.

I’m sure everyone reading this will at the very least know a tea drinker.  Many will in fact live with a tea drinker, it is after all very much the ubiquitous drink of our age.  But I wonder how many of you live with that oddity of tea drinkers, the ninja trained maker of stealth tea.

So how does it manifest?

Imagine you’re sitting in the kitchen, some how the ninja tea maker manages to boil the kettle, make themselves a cup of tea, a snack and sit down next to you.  But incredibly, the first knowledge you come into possession of that cup of tea being made, is when they start to drink it.  By some fantastical means they have managed to hide the entire process from you, while doing it right in front of you.

My partner is one of those rare people trained in this semi-mystical culinary art.  She can literally make a cup of tea, a sandwich and raid the biscuit tin,and the first thing I know about it is when the cup of tea lands on the coffee table.  I should point out that we live in a small apartment with a kitchen/living room combo.

Of course the use of this wonderous stealth art is not what gets to us poor victims of its application riled up.  No, it is the fact that the stealth tea maker manages, in addition to forgetting to make any sounds, not to consider that we ourselves might enjoy a lovingly made cup of delicious lesbian (for lesbian read fruit) tea.

That said, of course nothing tastes better than that delicious cup of lesbian stealth tea.  You know the one we untrained practitioners occasionally draw forth from the aether, right under the nose of the unsuspecting in-house mistress.  Pay back is a bitch, and she sure tastes sweet.

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