Friday, May 28, 2004

RSS = Really Simple Syndication. Really?

Nimrods used to have a nice RSS feed provided by a free service called BlogMatrix. When BlogMatrix folded I didn't notice for about 6 months, but I recently got round to setting up a new RSS feed with BlogStreet. It's free, that's plus point. But it's not automatic. In other words, every time I post to the weblog I need to remember to login to BlogStreet and refresh the RSS feed. More often than not, I don't bother for a few days, which means that you the reader get my trivial news later than you need to.

So you geeks out there - if you know of a more efficient alternative RSS provider, please let me know.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

My kids worry - especially Phil - if I don't post so I suppose I had better give you an update. I wonder if anyone has written about this yet - blogging as a way of keeping your family together?

Workshop last weekend was very tiring due to shorthandedness on the team, but very satisfying too. I had to act in a Victoria Wood-esque sketch at one point, and needed to dig deep to find my inner Northennness.

Yesterday Dave drove all the way over here from Amesbury to play Europe Engulfed, the 1942 scenario. I let him take the Germans, of course, and in spite of not knowing the rules he promptly smashed a hole through the centre of the Russian line and took Moscow. By the end of the evening there was nothing much left at all in the way of resistance in central Russia, and I was organizing a scratch defence of Stalingrad and the Caucasus. However the Americans have made their appearance in North Africa so I have at least a fighting chance of conquering Italy by the end of the scenario.

This has happened to me so many times that it's almost a law of nature - if you teach someone a game he will stuff you at it.

Meanwhile at work I seem to have become the department's Excel expert. How did that happen? I know nothing about Excel!

I'm off to the Arts Centre tonight to watch Touching the Void. The sun isn't shining tonight so hopefully there will be less light leaking onto the screen than there was last week!

Sort of looking forward to The Valkyrie at ENO on Saturday. Will just have to shut my eyes and ignore the urban gangster-themed production and concentrate on the music. I am also planning to visit Camden Lock before the performance and seek out a rumoured game-shop in the area.....

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Sign outside the El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery:

"No lecturing allowed in the exhibition rooms"

Nevertheless I overheard several people droning recycled banalities at their politely bored spouses/companions, who clearly hadn't noticed this sign on their way in.

The pictures were overwhelming and stunning. Frankly, the only sensible response to them was awed silence.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I have been soloing Europe Engulfed in preparation for teaching Dave the game when he visits next Tuesday. This is the second time I've had a run through the game and it's starting tio make sense now. I'm playing the 1942 scenario, which is a much better place to start than the full game. Most of the fiddly political rules are all in the past by 1942, so you can concentrate on the combat rules and knocking ten bells out of each other in Russia! I'm also starting to realize how important the special actions are. They can massively increase the dynamism of your war-effort if they are used aggressively. I'm realizing that you should be using them as a matter of course, not saving them for emergencies. They might seem expensive at 5 WERPS each, but a well-timed "retreat from contested area" for example can rescue units that might cost you far more than 5 WERPS to rebuild.

The Axis are not doing very well so far. They got off to a disastrous start with a failed offensive in Voronezh, lost loads of units, and have been slowly walking backwards ever since. Meanwhile North Africa is almost cleared, although the 8th Army have just had a dismal turn spending 2 special action to eliminate the last Italian unit to no effect!

This is a great game. It's everything I hoped Barbarossa to Berlin would be (but turned out not to be) and more. The only drawback is that it's a two-mapper and so takes up quite a bit of room. Really looking forward to playing a live opponent next week....

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I went to see "Lost in Translation" at Farnham Maltings last night. What a beautiful film, all about ageing and loneliness and longing. Poor old Bill Murray, he meets this beautiful young woman and impossibly, they fall in love. But in the end, all he can hope for is to say goodbye properly. Really sad, and touches me right where it hurts at this stage in my life.......

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sashinka: The best thing you can learn in the twenty-first century is (1) how to categorise sensibly, (2) how to pack a small bag, (3) how to talk to anyone, (4) how to write a list. Everything else is so much commentary, white noise, ephemera. Do those four things, and you can do anything.

In the same posting she also has a gripe about the new Blogger interface, but I won't quote that for fear of offending some of my readers.....
U2 beat the Hives 3:1 yesterday. Experience shows the youngsters how it's done. I'm still optimistic we're going to see them in the finals.Phil's Spin Off: U2's surprise drubbing of the Hives puts them back in contention in Group B.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Prodigal Sons Update

Gavin is on holiday in Slovakia this week with "the Baron". I expect he is being extremely prodigal over there. Latest text news indicates that "all the women are shit hot".

Phil returned home, as prodigal sons traditionally do, for the weekend. He cooked two fantastic meals for me, drank all my wine, and encouraged me to do a lot of "chilling", which was just what I needed. Only blot on the weekend was that he refused to play any boardgames with me, and stuffed me at Close Combat 2 instead. Highlight - sitting outside the Hawkley Arms in the sunshine with Phil and a pint of Thwaites Mild, two ideal companions.
When Mikko Saari, the Finnish game blogger, has a Weekend gaming session, the activities include a sauna. And who says geeks have poor personal hygene?
Over at LawPundit there's a long rant about how useless the new Blogger interface is. Most of which I agree with, sadly:

The old Blogger interface by Pyra Labs was a work of art which was apparently designed by bloggers, or at least programmers who understood what the needs of bloggers were - speed, efficiency, and simplicity. The old Blogger interface was highly intuitive and simple to use FOR BLOG POSTING, with all the necessary commands - and OVERVIEW - located conveniently on one page. There was no needless clicking and searching.

This morning we were surprisingly and unexpectedly faced with the new Blogger interface being forced upon us, the unsuspecting users ('never ask your users' seems to be in vogue these days). From a practical point of view, this interface is a disaster for blogging. It may be great as the initial interface required by beginners just starting out, but it is nothing for the frequent or experienced blogger, as it takes at least twice as much - valuable - time to do things with the new interface as it did with the old interface.
The flashing of headlights can have so many different meanings:

1) I'm really angry with you, you just cut me up!
2) It's fine to pull out in front of me
3) Thankyou
4) I'm a lorry driver and so are you!
5) Do you realize that your boot is open?
6) There's a policeman with a radar gun up ahead

What is spooky is that you can nearly always tell what is meant from the context. It's like some weird oriental language with only one word, which means loads of different things depending on the way you say it.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Lots of fun going on at the moment over at Phil's Spin Off, where music is being reimagined as football: Yesterday's games in the Music World Cup were both absolute scorchers, settled at the last by a controversial vote by Mr Nimmo. The scores then:

U2 4 - System Of A Down 4
The Hives 4 - Daft Punk 4

The results mean that the group is still wide open.
But I like them. NME: Keane, it's fair to say, are not the reason Hendrix first doused his axe with petrol and frantically soloed amidst a ball of flames. They're not the reason Sid phlegmed up his first ball of gob. And no, Kurt Cobain definitely didn't die for this. To all intents and purposes, Keane represent everything there is to hate about rock'n'roll.
Another very tempting pre-order from GMT. Wellington: In adapting his award-winning* The Napoleonic Wars system for the Peninsula War, designer Mark G. McLaughlin creates a furiously paced, card-driven and battle/siege-intensive strategic/operational game of Wellington's campaign to drive the French from Spain and invade France itself. With a maximum three turns in length, with sudden-death endings possible - and quite common when one side is 'on the ropes' - at the end of the first or second turns, Wellington is a game easily played to conclusion by two, three or four players in an evening or an afternoon.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I'm suffering with the opposite of a hangover this morning, whatever that is called. You know, when you don't have anything to drink in the evening and next day you feel lousy. That's probably a really bad sign isn't it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I went to Taunton at the weekend to visit my crazy friend Jo. One of the craziest things he ever did was to start a small charity (in 2000) called Street Children of Peru. Every year he takes a work party of 15 or 20 people to build accomodation at street kids' homes in Lima and Iquitos. I haven't been on one of these trips (yet) because I have a suspicion that swinging a shovel for two weeks in Amazonian heat would probably kill me. But I'm deeply impressed by what Jo is achieving year by year, and my visit to Taunton was for the purpose of meeting the other trustees of SCOP and signing up as one myself.

My first task - don't laugh - will be to redesign their website. I wonder if I can manage that before my 30-day Dreamweaver trial expires?! Or maybe I shall just handcrank the HTML in Notepad. Or maybe I shall pinch someone else's HTML - all in a good cause you see.

The other thing I'm excited about is growing the Education Fund. At the moment SCOP is supporting three ex-street kids through higher education. A degree! What an incredible opportunity for a young man who spent his early years struggling to survive on the streets. And this can be done for such a tiny amount compared to what education costs in the UK. So I would love to see more people sign up as sponsors. Email me for details!
I can't think of much worse than spending a lifetime doing something that isn't what you want to do. --Neil Gaiman

I saw that today on a mailing list, and I thought "ouch!" What an indictment of my life, here I am wasting my life in an office when I should be out there doing something - writing wonderful books for example like Neil Gaiman does.

Then I thought again. Tell that to the refugee, Neil. Tell that to the unemployed guy in Delhi with a hungry family. Tell that to the street kid. There are many things worse than having a dull if comfortable job - not having one for example.

Monday, May 10, 2004

A good way to start a book about web design:

HAVE YOU HEARD of the World Wide Web? If so, your understanding of this exciting new medium has probably evolved somewhat over the past few years. Here is a common evolutionary trajectory:
    1. What is this Web thing?
    2. The Web is just a flash in the pan.
    3. The Web is actually pretty cool.
    4. Hmmm, maybe we can make money on the Web.
    5. The Web is the cornerstone of the New Economy.
    6. There is no New Economy.
    7. What was that Web thing?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Have you ever noticed how strange some women's magazines are? You know, the ones with a photo of a beautiful cover girl with her happy, gleaming smile, and right next to her, in big bold letters as if it's a caption: "I PULLED MY BABY FROM THE WRECKAGE - WITH NO HEAD!"
Multiman Publishing have finally produced their long-promised ASL Starter Kit: ASL Starter Kit #1 is a self-contained module which will let players start playing Advanced Squad Leader almost immediately. A liberally-illustrated rules tutorial teaches gamers ASL using a conversational style to teach the concepts of ASL.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Flumph, flumph. Flumph, flumph. Flumph, flumph.

When I walk nowadays, that sound drifts up to me from somewhere between my legs. It's my new jeans from Next, where it was impossible to get anything less floppy than "Boot Cut". It's the sound of denim flares rubbing together with every step. Last time I heard that sound, it was the Seventies......

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Greg Costikyan feels - quite strongly - that games are not literature: First, it is true that many games are tightly bound to story (I've written on this subject elsewhere), but it is equally true that many games are not. No story in chess. Nor in Europa Universalis, Civilization, or Tetris, not unless you stretch the meaning of 'story' beyond reason. As I have said before, and will doubtless say many times again before I die, games are their own artform, and while analogies to other forms are sometimes useful in understanding games, it is a rank and obvious error to attempt to perceive them solely through the lens used to understand a different form such as, say, literature. To make an analogy to a wholly different form: Music is not a storytelling medium. Many musical forms are indeed tightly bound to story--opera, the musical, the ballad--but many others are not--symphonies, the classic 3 minute rock song, house. Just so with games.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I actually played games with a local group on Sunday. Yes I know the sun was shining like the first day of creation, but I was locked firmly indoors with Neil Duncan - grand old man of the postal Diplomacy hobby - and 5 other people playing boardgames. I got to play Serenissima - which I enjoyed a lot more than first time, mainly because the rules were explained to me properly, and people didn't whine whenever they got attacked - and Vinci - which suffered from less whining than it usually does in Salisbury but still had an overanalysis end-game problem.
I'm not much given to making snap judgements, but the new Blogger interface is crap! Crap! CRAP!
Contact lenses - argh! No! No! No!

It was OK while I was at home, everything under control, putting them in for an extra 2 hours every day, fine. But as soon as I got to work, I don't know if it was the extra stress, running around talking to people, peering at the computer screen etc but after an hour it was "I have to get these things out of my eyes NOW!"

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I love my digital camera. I love Adobe Photoshop Gallery. And I love my broadband connection. They let me make things like this.