Friday, January 30, 2009

Sports rec challenge

I have recently acquired myself a sports rec membership. Coming in at a hefy 97 pounds, it gives me free entry to the southampton sports facilities, and thus inspires me to use them and actually make it worth the money. To do so I will need to go swimming 36 times. I have swum three times so far, and intend to keep up a similar pace for the rest of the year, thus making the membership 4 times over. In theory, this should make me a trimmer, and more importantly, fitter Kieran.

The main issue with swimming, which is a sport I am reasonably adept at, is that you're often not allowed to choose your own pace. The southampton pool is not huge (I was spoilt somewhat by the olympic swimming pool in Bath. Which I might add was free to all students... admittedly they got a lot of money out of olympic atheletes training in their facilities, so that probably explains things. This is a long bracket), and most swimming is in lanes. I have the problem that I swim slightly too slow for medium, but too fast for slow. This means I'm either the jerk overtaking in slow, or the jerk going too slow in medium. While I can go slower in slow, that is boring, and would not really give me much of a work out, while going faster in medium, at this stage in my laziness, would tire me out too quickly. I could switch to a faster stroke, but I am miserable at doing front crawl, as I time my breathing wrong, and doing back stroke I tend to crash into people. So I am stuck with a dilemma. It's not the end of the world, but it mostly makes me hope that I can find some time when the lanes aren't full of people...


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Teenage Dirtbag

I was, at the time, quite a fan of that song by Wheatus, which got played endlessly for some reason- it wasn't THAT good. One of the most curious things about it was the video. The song was made for the film Loser, starring Jason Biggs and Mena Survai, and the video showed clips from the film. At least... it appeared to. In the video, the plot closely followed that of the song, so when I finally got round to watching the film I was somewhat surprised that the plot... was nothing like the video. Indeed, some of the clips weren't even in the bloody film!

The film itself was entirely forgettable and not particularly funny stuff, so perhaps this was all a cunning ploy, but it makes me wonder... did they film those scenes especially for the music video....

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Nation is Terry Pratchett's first non-discworld novel in a long time. I have never really read anything other than his Discworld novels, and was interested to see whether I would enjoy something a bit different. The result was certainly a success.

Nation is set in a slightly alternate universe to our own, in th 19th century where Britain dominates the seas. However, the focus is set on a small island in the middle of the pacific where a boy, Mau, is about to become a man, only to be met with a tidal wave, destroying his civilisation, and leaving him the only survivor. What follows is an enjoyable study of loss as he discovers the results of the wave, followed by the main theme of the book, belief in the face of disaster. Wonderfully, and a little bit unusually, Pratchett lets each side have their say- a priest soon appears, who, while initially coming off as unlikeable, is quickly shown to be very human.

The value of belief is questioned throughout, and Mau, now a newly declared atheist, realises that sometimes people need to not have their belief crushed by what he believes to be the truth. There are some elements of the supernatural in this book- the voices of the dead play a small, and somewhat humorous part, and death itself, voiced by the rather unpleasant Locaha plays a role in many of Mau's conversations, but the gods themselves do not get a voice.

While this book is definitely an ode to science in many ways, it certainly seems to argue that science can co-exist with faith, although doesn't explicitly say how. There are many Pratchett stand bys in this book. There are certainly characters who exist to be reviled and defeated, and great pleasure will be had in their departure, but on the whole most introduced characters are allowed to be human rather than the villains often portrayed.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, and I hope Pratchett makes some more non-discworld books of the same level of quality.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Dark Heresy: Session 2

The acolyes were tasked to build train lines across America. Unable to build in the same areas, they were also given secret missions to attempt to link some cities together. Failure to do so would result in demerits being given to their mission evaluation. Higher credit was given for those acolyes who managed to join far apart cities, and kept their trains in a continous route, so as to not force passangers to switch trains. Trantor proved adept at this task, performing several extremely difficult secret missions, and even managing to take on a few more along the way.

Following this task the acolytes played poker.......

OK, there wasn't a session this week....

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dark Heresy:Purge the unclean. Session 1. Sort of

The acolytes, having dealt with the daemon on Iocanthos, left to take the long journey back to Scintilla. Sadly, upon arrival they were dealt with... some suspicion, seeing as the acolyte supposed to be with them was no longer present. Subjected to an ever so pleasent interrogation, they were finally considered to be telling the truth, and were called up for a new assignment, along with a new recruit, Stilgar. Globus Varaak wanted them to inquire into a cult called the "Joyous Choir", a new cult of the Emporer that had appeared on Scintilla. The cult was for some reason using xeno technology to conduct it's affairs, although it was unclear what the tech was intended to do.

To help them accomplish this, the players were sent to live with an old friend of Globus', Laurent Strophes, and pretend to be nobles. Arriving on Scintilla, they were escorted by the bubbly and bored Julia Strophes, who proved to be ever so excited to have new visitors, whom she delighted in dressing in some... rather odd fashions. The majority of the next day was spent drilling in the various customs of the nobility, to prepare them for mingling in the circles, leading to an evening encounter with a mercenary, who promised to sell them a data slate, hopefully holding valuable information about the choir.


I enjoyed running this session. The initial part, where the party were interrogated, was not mentioned anywhere, but it felt right- the inquisition would find it hard to confirm the story by going to iocanthos, which isn't overly reachable, and would be much more inclined to thoroughly interrogate the party. I also like the idea of their own organisation giving them insanity points- it seems utterly appropriate given the Inquisition's nature.

I also enjoyed playing dress up with the party, primarily because the idea of dancing tech priests tickles me on a level I can hardly even explain. No combat this session, which will change in future. The session ran quite quickly, and I probably could have got away with running the party as well, but I hadn't really prepared, so decided to save it for next time.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More inanity

I have the desire to find a wall that is about to be declared a graffiti wall, and write the first piece of graffit onto it. It shall say



Friday, January 16, 2009


I have a strong desire to flyposter posters saying "no flypostering" with a sign sayign "no flypostering". This is because I am odd.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I recently read Frankenstein for what is technically the first time. I actually read a young adult version while I was... a young adult... but I decided that I wanted to read the real version. I seem to be going through a classic horror kick recently, in the last few months I've read Dracula, the Invisible Man, and now this. Of these, Frankenstein is superior to my mind. As with all books that are a little older, the language can be hard work sometimes, simply becaus the expressions used those days were far more descriptive- I doubt you would find any horror book these days that would spend pages describing the mountainside Frankenstein is wondering through. However, despite these barriers to entry, I found the book compelling reading, the narrative dragging me in quite easily.

Frankenstein is not really a horror- while some horrific things happen, they usually happen off scene, as part of the monster's revenge against Frankenstein. The interesting thing, reading this book, is wondering about authorial intent. Throughout the book Frankenstein is described as a kind and gentle soul, and while Frankenstein is teling the story, the book is framed in the device of another character writing a letter ABOUT the story Frankenstein is telling, and the author of that certainly thinks highly of Frankenstein.

Yet Frankenstein is not a great person. Obssessed with the notion of creating life, he cuts himself off from friends and family, working on nothing but the moment of creation. The book itself is extremely vague on this. While it is clear Frankenstein has got his parts from cadavers, there is absolutely no mention of the method which Frankenstein uses to animate the body- no strapping it to a table and waiting for lightning for him! As soon as he creates the creature, he is disgusted with himself, and abandons it, leaving it to fend for itself. Frankenstein has created a hideous thing, 8 foot tall and disgusting to look at, it wakes with no understanding of why it exists, and what it is meant to do, and wonders into the wilderness, confused and persecuted by all it meets.

There is a clear ambiguity as to whether the monsters actions are driven by some innate evil, or the circumstances it was created to. The monster certainly thinks it is a product of environment- cursed to be alone, shunned by it's creator, it claims all it wants is a mate, one to share it's life with. Yet it claims this having already committed horrible acts of violence and vengence, leading Frankenstein to believe that even with a mate, it would eventually plague mankind again.

It's not clear who is right, indeed it is not meant to be, but to me it is clear that Frankenstein himself is most definitely a monster. Obsessed with the notion of creating life, but not considering the consequences which that would involve, he hides from responsibility, and is punished for it.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fun logic puzzle

Catch that cat!

Monday, January 05, 2009

New laptop!

So I brought my laptop which was broken for the millionth time, into John Lewis. After a slighlty annoyed complaint- nothing shouty or anything- the assistant got me a replacement! It's bigger, better, and has ANOTHER two year guarentee attached to it. I LOVE John Lewis! They've certainly ensured my loyalty for the future!


that classic catchphrase moment Is just brilliant....

scared of santa

Weren't we all? Frankly this is kind of a weird tradition anyway.....

Dead Rising

So, as my role as a public service to no-one, I thought I'd review a game thats about 3 years old. Dead rising is an xbox 360 game, one of the earliest releases, and full of promise. It got pretty good reviews at the time, although most reviewers did note the flaws I'm about to point out. For them, however, these were forgivable. Note that most of these flaws were not really a result of the limitations of not knowing the system- in many cases these flaws were deliberate design features, which serves to make them even more frustrating.

Dead Rising was based on a concept which gamers were bound to love- 72 hours in a mall filled with zombies, and you. In many ways, it delivers on this promise- the mall is packed full of zombies, and there are many ways to kill them. Chainsaws, pistols, uzis, baseball bats, coat hangers, the list goes on. There are even amusing items one can use on the zombies for giggles- giant foam heads, paint cans, these can be placed and will usually ensure a chuckle. The combat system is quite simple- you just mash to hit, although different weapons will attack at different speeds, and one can throw items if one wishes. To shoot you must aim first, which can be frustrating- wild shooting will invariably miss, and while this is somewhat realistic, it can be painfully slow to get a shot off, making guns not as useful as you might have thought. The complete lack of ammo (and the inane inventory system, which we shall get to), makes them even more of a waste of space.

Additionally, during the game you play a photographer. So part of your mission is to take photos, which earn you points. Touching moments between survivors, brutality from the zombies, comedy moments mentioned from before, all these will earn you big points. The photography is done in real time, so you have to take your snaps quickly or risk getting mauled.

So far so good. So whats the problem? Well there are multiple issues this game possesses, and they all seem to revolve around the game wanting to take your fun away. The game is set to a main plot, which is fine- a sense of direction is often appreciated- but to follow that plot you have to get to certain points within a time limit, or fail it FOREVER. Thats right, if you don't reach a certain point within a certain time, you will never get to do the plot. Not fun. I understand the challenge inherent in forcing oneself through zombies to get to a particular point, and making that as a MISSION might have been enjoyable, but to style the entire game around it? Unforgivable. As a result, a lot of the free roaming fun is drained as you are constantly aware that you need to be in certain places for certain times.

Next of all, the missions attached to the main sections often involve bosses, frequently shoot outs with other humans. These are awful. The control system is simply not complex enough to allow you to obtain fun out of these, as you have to stand on the spot and point slowly in the direction you wish to aim at. Bullets do ridiculously small amounts of damage to others, meaning fights drag on for ages, with you perforating your opponent full of gunshots. Inevitably, having suffered this, they run away! Also, theres no guarentee you will have the tools for the job- you don't know how much ammo you will need, and running out of ammo in a fight is not fun- I once tried to take a sniper down using a hockey stick firing pucks at him. Things did not go well for me.

To be fair, one can utterly ignore the missions, and simply get on with the game. You miss out on certain elements, but never mind. Still the game wants to drag your fun away. The health system is fine, if a little punishing, with you starting, at least, only able to take about 4 hits, but combine this with an incredibly harsh inventory system- you start off with only 4 slots to carry, bearing in mind you need to carry both food (which heals you) and weapons, and it starts to get worse. It would make sense if your health could slowly regenerate if you stayed away from zombies for a while, thus meaning that if the player got in a tight spot they could hole up and heal for a while, rather than having to push through a mass of zombies on only one health bar. Adding this pressure is weapon decay. There was a lot of irritation in reviews at this system- weapons usually survive only about 10 kills before becoming useless, but this actually makes a lot of sense- you are beating these creatures to death, so this isn't surprising. However, the fact that you have such little inventory space means it's quite easy to be left short and surrounded by the undead.

Which brings us to our next points. Save points. If you die in this game, there are no such things as check points, only very infrequently placed save points, where you will have to restart and travel ALL the way again. This is not fun, and could have been dealt with much better. While the ability to save at all times may have been too much, the option to save when leaving or entering a different area would probably have worked (with automatic restart points for each area additionally!)

Another issue which reduces fun are the missions. Along with the main story, you can get escort missions on your radio. This brings two frustrations. First of all, when you answer the radio you are defenceless, and if you cut off to fight, Otis (the man on the other end), gets mad at you! This is EXTREMELY annoying, and could have been avoided once again. The missions themselves annoy. Escorting people is never fun, especially these slow idiots. You can arm them with your hard won weapons, of course, which will make them slightly more effective, but once having done so you have to traipse ALL the way to the safe room. This can be a massive amount of distance, and will take most of your time and patience: I would be impressed if anyone following the story missions would also have the time to do more than a handful of these. Once again, it would make more sense to set these as rescue missions- you fight off some zombies from them, get them up, lead them to the exit to the area, and then they claim they can make their own way from there.

The main problem throughout is the feeling the game has that you need to be challenged, while the player is mostly there to have fun. This is nowhere more accentuated by the extra enemies. After certain time points, new enemies turn up. In the park, a place you will have to cross frequently, a car full of convicts who delight in shooting you down (where on EARTH they got this stuff from, I have no idea), control the land. It's possible to kill them, but extremely hard work, especially earlier on when you are not particularly well equipped. While they can be avoided, later on enemies appear everywhere- psycopaths and special operatives, who are far less fun to fight than zombies, and are really unecessary.

There is a version being made for the wii now apparently. Hopefully it will avoid the pitfalls this game managed to sink into, and create something that is genuinely fun.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

To battle, brain!

Apparently, I am only capable of once a month posts. As one of those listed below was called appalling by a former commenter, I clearly better increase my quantity or my quality to make up for it! And it's unlikely to be the latter, I'd better make more posts! In this spirit, I start the new year with a post only two days in.

A year engaged, and much has changed. I am now studying a PhD, living in a rather grander flat, and have developed super powers.

Now I have the joint stresses of planning for a rapidly approaching wedding, and a rapidly increasing in pressure phd... Yay? As I expected might happen, christmas was a time which involved very little work, seeing as I was busy seeing a whole bunch of people I had not seen in a very long time, a consequence of having very good friends in random geographical locations. This means, joyfully, that I get to work nice and hard over the next few days, puzzling over some extremely tough mathematical challenges. While I enjoyed the course I went on, and felt I learnt many things, apparently I did not pick up enough to slay the questions set me with my mind powers. Hopefully this will change tomorrow morning, when I begin again afresh.

An issue when you get stuck on a question is that often there isn't anywhere to go- if you cannot think of an avenue of approach which might yield a solution, it's quite difficult to find one. There are extremely large differences between doing and understanding a question, and it's often the latter that is the hardest, which was what I struggled with today. Still, I shall persevere, and possibly even succeed, given luck and searching on google for help....

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