Saturday, December 02, 2006

It's All In The Game

Anyone who knows me will know I am a keen game player. I've always liked strategy games such as the Civilization series and the Age of Empires series, as well as role-playing games such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. One of my all-time favourites is Diablo II, as I love the hack-and-slash RPG style of it.

Considering my back catalogue of games it seems bizarre that up until last week I had never played World of Warcraft. "How can this be?" I hear you cry. Well, to be honest, I don't know quite how either. I think it might have been because I didn't think I had the time to spend on playing it. Perhaps the reputation the game has as a life-sucking addictive hit that keeps you locked in front of your computer for months at a time kept me away. Whatever the reason for my absence, I'm certainly making up for it now.

This game is incredible! It takes all the things I loved about Diablo II, brings the wonderful fantasy setting and history from the Warcraft series, kicks it all up a gear with beautiful graphics, an equally beautiful soundtrack, before grabbing you by the throat with some of the most incredibly engaging pick-up-and-play gameplay I've ever seen. It can be as casual or as involved as you need, as easy or as difficult as you want. It truly is a phenomena, fully deserving the ratings is has received over the past year.

Unfortunately, I was right about not having enough time to play it. Time is at a premium at the moment because of various reasons which I won't go into here. But when I do have time to play, I've found wandering around the Dark Elf forests very relaxing. Being so immersed in a fantasy world really helps to relieve the pressures of real life. I can understand why virtual worlds such as Second Life are so popular. Every now and then we need to escape to somewhere less dangerous than the real world.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Apathy Epidemic

What's wrong with the world? It's a rhetorical question, but I just can't stop asking it. Every day some new outrageously idiotic event occurs and I'm left speechless at the complete lack of sense displayed by those involved.

I think what's wrong with the world is apathy. Nobody cares any more. You go into a store and show interest in spending large amounts of money there and all you get is a blank stare. You ask a specific question about a product they carry and have undoubtedly sold hundreds of in the last week and they can't help. If you badger them enough they may eventually retrieve an answer from their computers, but you'll find most of the details are actually wrong anyway.

We went to IKEA this week to buy two floor lamps. We chose the ones we wanted from the display, and when we couldn't find the appropriate boxed product we asked an assistant. 'We don't have any. We won't get any for at least three weeks.' I expressed my surprise and dismay, and then asked if they were available at another store. The nearest was 150 miles away, and they can't order them in or have them transferred to our local store. 'So, why are they on display if people can't buy them for the next three weeks?' I asked. 'Not my call,' she says. Great. Really helpful.

We went to Curry's to buy a digital SLR and a high-end laptop. They didn't have either in stock. They had them on their website and the laptop was on display in the store, but we weren't able to spend our money on either. Same story as IKEA, they couldn't get them in for weeks. Why are they on display? They didn't know.

So, shops display their wares and tempt us with their offers. When we go in and wave our money in front of them they don't have anything to give us. They can't even be bothered to put a little tag on out of stock products informing customers of their availability. Pure apathy. They just couldn't care less.

To the people who work in these places I think the customers are just a nuisance. An ideal day for them would involve opening up in the morning, having several cups of tea, standing around chatting for a few hours, then going home. No work, no sales, no bother. Pathetic. Why are these people working in retail? Surely the idea is to sell, sell, sell?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm old-fashioned. I do tend to argue with staff if I don't get what I expected when I went into the store. I suppose I still believe in the old adage 'the customer is always right.' I argue with telesales people and customer service reps too. Nothing gets my goat more than having to call a customer care line to get something fixed that should have been done right in the first place, then find several days later that nothing has been done, and having to call again. Rinse and repeat. We've been going through that cycle over remedial works to be done on our home for three months now. There's still a list of about fifteen items needing attention. Do I think they'll ever finish them all? Not a chance. We've bought the house now. They've got our money, so to hell with the customer service. Thanks Persimmon.

So what can we do to stem this tide of apathy that's turning the world to grey slush? I say we fight back. Next time a sales assistant fails to deliver the service you expect, give them an earful, kick their ass and call for the manager. Make a formal complaint if the service is bad enough. The same goes for telesales, customer service, bank staff, local government officials, politicians and all the rest. Don't sit back and take it - stand up and demand the respect you deserve.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lunch is Served

I really shouldn't read news articles. They only get me riled up. Readers will have noticed that several of my posts have been born out of news articles. It's hard not to read them when they're scrolling past me on my browser home page, though.

This time the article itself is just the final straw. The camel's back is well and truly broken. You see, specifically, it's bad parents that have drawn my ire. For a while now I have been convinced that if time travel were possible then the most moral use for it would be to go back and sterilise the Mothers and Fathers of certain unlucky children. There are some people that should simply not be allowed to breed.

Television is full of shining examples. Programmes such a Super Nanny and The House of Tiny Tearaways display an incredible level of stupidity on the part of the parents. The children are in complete control, demanding anything they please and doing what they want, when they want. The parents, instead of chastising their little ones and encouraging them into decent behaviour, acquiesce to their demands at every step.

What's wrong with them? They feed their children nothing but yogurts at mealtimes because the children 'don't like anything else.' Excuse me? If one my our two little darlings ever refused to eat the meal they had been served, they were given a simple choice: eat it or eat nothing. Of course they choose nothing the first time. Fine. No problem. They're not going to suffer malnutrition after skipping one meal. Simply remind them why they're so hungry when they wolf down their breakfast the next morning. Then when the next evening meal comes along, remind them of the choice they made the night before. Rarely will a child make that mistake twice.

We have two beautiful children who are happy, healthy and enjoy trying new and exciting foods. They are vegetarian (one by his own choice, the other is too young to know what's on the end of her fork) and they have a list of foods they dislike that could be counted on one hand. No damage has been done and televised counselling has been avoided.

Of course, it's not just food. The bad parenting that is being so excruciatingly performed for our viewing please includes hopeless bedtimes where the parents are forced to lie with the children for hours on end, children who swear, self-harm to get attention and attack other children and adults alike when they don't get their way. All these things are so simple to get right. If your child misbehaves, remove them from the situation, explain to them that what they have done is wrong and will not be tolerated, then find a suitable punishment. I'm not talking about smacking, which is wrong, just common sense. Using a naughty step or naughty corner works wonders.

The most important thing is to explain the situation to the child. Even very young children can understand what you are saying to them, even if they can't communicate back yet. Get down to the child's level and try to get them to understand the feelings of other people involved. Don't shout or get angry, just firm and no-nonsense.

Anyway, I'm not trying to write a parenting book here; I'm just trying to illustrate how easy it is to bring up a child. Why so many parents can't manage it is beyond me. It's just common sense.

The article that triggered this post is about the publishing of a leaflet for parents who make packed lunches for their children to take to school. It seems that there are so many parents sending their kids off with crisps, soft drinks and chocolate that the government feels it needs to step in and give advice. How can parents think that it's acceptable for their children to eat junk for lunch? What kind of message is this giving them about health and the kinds of things they should eat as they grow up? No wonder obesity is such a growing problem.

The bit that most worries me is that they want to provide more cooked meals in schools because it will be "the only hot meal they get to eat in a day." What do they have when they get home then? Nothing? Some cold chips and a slice of bread? Are we the only family left in the country who eat a proper family meal each evening where we all eat the same?

It's the same story with breakfast. Apparently an enormous number of children skip breakfast each morning. How? Do they sneak out while their parents aren't looking? We have provided breakfast for our children every single morning of their lives. When they're old enough to pour more milk over their cereal than the floor they will be encouraged to make their own breakfast. But having none at all, well, that's just stupid. After a good night's sleep, one of the first things the body needs is nourishment. It's the most important meal of the day, after all.

So, these children we keep hearing about skip breakfast, snack on rubbish on the way to school, eat rubbish for lunch, snack on more rubbish on the way home and finally get served cold rubbish for their evening meal. Unbelievable. The parents should be shot.

Anyway, I think I've ranted enough for now. Just know that if I ever build a flux capacitor and wire it into a DeLorean there will be a sudden unexplained rash of vasectomies appearing across the country.

Back for More

I told you I wasn't reliable. I'm like an old Morris Minor: rotund, unfashionable and exhausted, with only a ten percent chance of starting in the morning. Three months ago I said that it might be 'a couple of weeks' until I make another post. Oh well, the best laid plans of mice...

The reasons for my absence are many. Primarily it has to do with not having a phone line connected for about six weeks, then not being able to get broadband, then dispairing and refusing to lower myself to using dial-up. After a week of waiting I gave up and lowered myself.

However, it had been so long since I posted on here that I'd lost the 'Blogger Buzz' and couldn't think of anything to say. I kept thinking about posting but never got round to it. The next post is proof that there's nothing as motivating as something that pisses us off.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Truly Moved

The day has finally arrived. The house is ready, the keys are waiting and we're taking the first step into our new future. We've fought all the way and gone through an incredible amount of stress to get this to work, but it looks very much like it's all going to pay off.

That's the idea, anyway. One of these days I'll post the whole chain of events leading up to this day, but for now I'll just have to say: it's incredibly complicated. Hopefully no last-minute problems will crop up and my next post will be from my (sorry, our) new home office.

Don't hold your breath though; the next post could be a couple of weeks away. Due to everything happening at the last moment, our telephone line won't be connected until the 15th or some ridiculous day. No phone, no ADSL, no posts. Damn.

I'll make a note of anything extraordinary that happens so that the tiny number of people reading this won't miss anything exciting. As if...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Freedom For Your Mind

I've decided that I have to make some changes around here. This blog is supposed to be a place for my personal thoughts and musings, but if I post what I was planning to post here today it will have become more than that. I don't want to let too many sensitive topics invade my personal space. This is supposed to be a light-hearted page, not somewhere I air all my grievances.

To make sure everything stays in its place I'm going to start a second blog dedicated to the issues that most provoke me. The core issue will be 'free thinking'; the practise of applying scientific reasoning instead of traditional, superstitious or religious dogma.

So, from now on this page will keep the discussion of issues like this to a minimum, and anyone who is interested in knowing more about these issues and my opinions on them should go to my new blog, Loose Neurons

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Innocent In Their Own Eyes

This is one I've had to work up to. It's an issue close to my heart and one I'd gladly fight over. There aren't many things in life that get me this angry. In case you hadn't guessed from the picture, I'm talking about animal testing.

If I had any say in the matter, almost every animal on this planet would be given full 'human' rights. In my view their lives are of equal value to ours. If you consider the calibre of some of the people currently rotting away in prison, I consider most animals' welfare to be more important than theirs. So why can't we test drugs on them instead?

Ok, I'll admit, that's never going to happen. I honestly don't think it's a good option or a solution to the problem, but it does make you think. If we're unwilling to test drugs on the scum of society, what gives us the right to test them on innocent animals that have never done anything to hurt anyone?

Many of the scientists who carry out the testing have recently said that they hate doing it and wish there was an alternative. If they're so opposed to animal testing, why don't they do something about it? There is a lot of evidence showing that animal testing doesn't actually help, as the human body is so radically different from other animals, but if the scientists stood behind those findings and put pressure on the government, I'm sure things would have to change.

Not many people realise how pointless animal testing is. Many drugs and chemicals react differently in other animals than they do in humans. A simple chocolate bar will kill mice, rats, rabbits, cats and dogs within hours, so how can we trust the results of more complex chemicals when tested on these animals? The truth is, we can't. Most of the tests are done to satisfy the law.

A couple of months ago a human drug trial showed the dangers of animal testing. Six men were given a new anti-inflammatory drug and collapsed almost immediately in excruciating pain. They suffered multiple organ failure and were in intensive care for several days. Luckily none of them died, but they came very close. The makers blamed it on "unexpected biological effect." The new drug had already been successfully tested on animals before the human trial began, so it just proves that animal testing is no indication of the safety of a drug.

One day, far in the future, everyone will be vegetarian and animals will have similar rights to humans. I doubt I'll see that day in my lifetime, but as far as I'm concerned it can't come quickly enough.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

And Justice For All?

Is Justice blind? Or is she just stupid? I can't help thinking that there's something seriously wrong with this country. It seems that every few days another flaw in the system is exposed in the media. In the last week a violent and dangerous paedophile who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a three-year-old girl was sentenced to life. However, due to our fatally flawed criminal justice system he could be back on the streets in just five years.

People are absolutely outraged, and rightly so. This man should spend the rest of his life in prison. He is obviously a danger to the public, and that's what prison is for: to protect the rest of us from dangerous criminals. For some reason the law seems to see prison as a punishment only. If it's supposed to be a punishment, why are prisoners given satellite TV, video game consoles and various other forms of entertainment? How is that a punishment? The vast majority of these people are probably happier in prison than out of it. The whole system's gone mad.

It's not just the judges that are the problem either. At the beginning of this month 250 Police Officers raided the home of two innocent Muslim brothers, shooting one of them in the process. Luckily he survived, or it would have been another Jean Charles de Menezes. The Police involved in the raid seem to have had very sketchy information and have so far refused to reveal how reliable it actually was. These heavy-handed tactics certainly didn't win them any friends in the largely Muslim area where the raid took place.

I'm sure there are very competent Police Officers out there, doing their best and making sound judgements. We only get to hear about the things that go wrong on the whole, so our information could be biased towards the negative. Still, from where I'm sitting, I don't think I trust the Police any more than the average politician.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

They Shoot Whales, Don't They?

Goddamn Japanese. If it's alive, they'll kill it and eat it. Especially if it's an endangered species. Luckily, not everyone in the world agrees with them. The International Whaling Commission is so far blocking the Japanese from restarting commercial whaling.

I've got nothing against the Japanese in general. What I can't understand is why they have these obsessions with eating or drinking bizarre bits of weird and wonderful creatures. I mean, what's a dried tiger's penis in your tea really going to do for your sex life? Don't you think it would be better left on the tiger, and that tiger left to go on with its life?

I should point out that anyone who kills animals and thinks it's just fine and dandy is an idiot in my book. Those who feel guilty and wish it didn't happen, but decide that there's nothing they can do and go along with the crowd anyway, are probably right - but that doesn't make it any better. In this day and age there's absolutely no reason for humans to eat other animals. I say 'other' because of course, humans are animals. Just because we've invented loads of crap doesn't make us the Lords of the Earth with an open invitation to do what we want, when we want. Everything has a right to life, and when you take that away it's called murder.

Murder of a single life is bad enough, but when you're planning on wiping out a species that's called genocide. That's exactly what the Japanese want. They want the freedom to hunt whales until there are none left. They don't give a damn whether the 'stocks' are rebuilt or not, they just want to make a fast buck at the expense of the largest and most extraordinary creature this planet has ever seen.

Whaling should be stopped completely; absolutely no commercial whaling. No scientific whaling either. What can that possibly achieve anyway? The Japanese have been killing hundreds of whales for 'scientific' reasons. Like what? To check they're still whales? Give me a break! I say we send the Japanese, the Norwegians and the Icelanders out across the North Sea and hunt them. See how they like it. After all, they're not exactly an endangered species!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Habit Of A Lifetime

Looks like I'm slipping into bad habits again. I have to force myself to keep writing entries in this blog. Part of the reason why I haven't posted for a couple of months is because we've moved 227.6 miles north. We're living in Scotland now, close to the Forth Bridge. Anyone who's ever seen this wonder of engineering up close will agree that it is an incredible sight. Every day it looks different.

So why have we moved up here? What possible reason could we have for uprooting our lives, leaving England and our families behind and cutting all ties with everything familiar? Well, why not? What's the significance of location anyway? I've lived in 11 different houses in 8 different towns over the last 27 years and it hasn't affected me. I can't understand these people that live their whole lives in the town they were born in. No imagination, that's what it is.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Terrorist Threat

I find it hard to say anything really constructive on this subject, but it's something that makes an impact on me and my family. It makes an impact on all of us, whether we realise it or not. It's just such a difficult thing to write about. I am going to try though, because there are things that need to be said and opinions I need to express.

I suppose the real issue is trying to understand the people who commit and intend to commit terrorist acts. I'm a peace-loving man who respects all forms of life, so the idea of purposefully destroying it is abhorrent to me. I can't imagine a cause being so important that innocent lives are expendable in the pursuit of it.

I was shocked by an article on the BBC News web site that I read today. The part that shocked me most was the attitude of the defendants in the case. It seems these men discussed killing and maiming innocent shoppers in the same way one might discuss computer game strategies, and felt completely justified in planning to kill people in a nightclub simply for "dancing around".

What is wrong with these people? They don't go into the nightclub, they don't mix with the people who visit the nightclub, yet they want to kill as many of them as possible. Why? Just for dancing? I'm sorry, but in this country we can do pretty much anything we want, as long as nobody gets hurt. This is what we call freedom. Other countries and/or religions may feel differently, but they have absolutely no right to dictate to us what we do here.

Besides, these men live in the UK. From what I can tell they are British Citizens. They have prospered from being part of our society. They have been accepted and supported by our government, yet they want to destroy it. It's something I cannot begin to understand. Is there no sense of gratitude for the benefits they have received? If they hate our country so much, why are they still here?

I'm sure there are many peaceful, civil Muslims in Britain, but the news reports appear almost daily of Muslims who basically want to kill anyone who doesn't follow Islam. It seems they are a pretty big group, even if they are a minority. It's hard to stop yourself from branding all Muslims as terrorists when that's all you see.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Intelligent Design

There are big questions that all of us must ask at some point in our lives. Things such as "where do we come from?" and "what's the point of it all?" There are no easy answers to these questions. I like to think of them as unanswerable questions, things to which we can never truly know the answer. I think we're probably better off this way. After all, if we knew all the answers, life would be pretty boring.

One thing that really gets my goat at the moment is so-called ''Intelligent Design'. This is basically Creationism wrapped up in non-religious, easy-to-swallow sheep's clothing. There is a persistent minority out there trying hard to integrate this 'theory' into our lives and to teach it to our children.

This particular rant has been triggered by an article on the BBC News web site. The article basically says that there are proposals to include Intelligent Design in science lessons where it will be discussed along with Darwin's Theory of Evolution. To me this seems like the wrong place to put it. I don't have any objection to children learning about Creationism and the idea that a supreme being brought the world into existence, but it is pretty clear that the correct place to be discussing this is in Religious Education lessons. It is an idea based upon religious belief, not science.

Many supporters of Intelligent Design try to point out that Evolution is 'just 'a theory. It seems these people were not listening in science class. The word 'theory' in scientific terms has a slightly different meaning. has a useful definition. Basically, a scientific theory is something that can be shown to be true, can be used to make accurate predictions, but which cannot be created in practise. Thus, the Law of Gravity is called a law because we can create and manipulate the forces involved and precisely observe the effects. The Theory of Flight is something we can explain and demonstrate, but we cannot directly create flight. We can only take advantage of its properties.

The same holds true for the Theory of Evolution. We can explain it, demonstrate it and predict it, but we cannot directly create it. Time and environment are the only things that can do this. Thus it is called a theory. This doesn't make it any less valid, it is simply a way of labelling it. Flight is a theory, but that doesn't stop us from jetting off to Florida with the kids for two weeks.

There has been quite a controversy over Creationism in the US in recent years and I'm not keen for it to spread over here. We're lucky to live in a largely sectarian culture in Britain, where religion is quite separate from the rest of our lives. Those of us who have chosen to think freely can do so without encumbrance. I hope this will be the way of things for many years to come.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New Pet Peeve

Ok, before I launch into this, you have to understand I'm a computer geek. I was raised on them almost from birth. That might explain my bias on the following issue...

Anyway, I was reading about DVD book types (-R, +R, etc) and came across a 'problem' that seems to have passed me by. It appears that many people don't understand that 1GB = 1024MB, not 1000MB. A lot of non-geeks (i.e. normal people) are getting in a fluster as they feel the terms kilo, mega, giga, etc should refer to round numbers, as they do in scientific and engineering fields.

The confusion has arisen over the way DVD and hard drive manufacturers have labelled the storage capacity of their products. DVDs are advertised as holding 4.7GB but users quickly discover that they can only fit 4.38GB of data onto them. This is because the 4,700,000,000 bytes of space on each DVD is calculated in base 10 (move the decimal point) giving 4.7.

However, since this is binary data we are talking about, any calculation has to be done in binary, or base 2. This calculation is 4,700,000,000 ÷ 1024 = 4589843.75 ÷ 1024 = 4482.27 ÷ 1024 = 4.38. This is the value that Windows and all decent PC software will give you. People think they are losing data capacity somewhere and are being ripped off.

The problem I have with the whole thing is that the manufacturers are claiming higher capacity products than they are actually supplying and misleading customers. Hard drive manufacturers have done this for several years now. I'm quite used to buying 200GB drives and only seeing 186GB of free space.

The solution put forward by some in the industry is to create a new acronym for computer-based binary storage. Instead of GB, MB and KB, we now have GiB, MiB and KiB. Gibibytes, Mebibytes and Kibibytes. I'm sorry, but I find that hard to swallow, let alone pronounce. "I'd like a 500 Gibibyte drive please." Ridiculous. If the manufacturers hadn't taken advantage of purchaser ignorance in the first place and realigned the definitions, we wouldn't have this problem. I'd like to say we should put everything back the way it was, but it's looking increasingly likely that GiBs, MiBs and KiBs will become the standard in the next few years.


I've decided it's finally time to release my ravings on an unsuspecting world. After several abortive attempts at keeping a regularly updated site of my own and ending up spending most of the time redesigning it, I've gone for the simple option and started this blog. It may not be interactive or pretty, but I'm more likely to add actual content to it more than once in a blue moon.

I'll add information to my profile as time goes by and as time allows. I very much doubt that anyone is interested in who I am anyway. If you do feel like finding out more about me check out the relevant section to see if there's anything there to enlighten you.

I'm almost certain to start fiddling around with the design of the page. I can't stand templates designed by someone else. Hopefully my options will be limited, otherwise I may be some time.

Anyway, check back occasionally if you like what you see. There are sure to be plenty of bizarre mumblings, nuggets of wisdom and heated opinions as time goes on.

Be excellent to each other.