Saturday, 24 January 2015

Jane Eyre

I have read this novel at least five times. Maybe it is starting to wear thin on me. That's not to denigrate it: it is still an accomplishment to write any book which I would read more than once.

I won't reiterate the plot, we all know the lives and loves of a governess and the manly Rochester. It's got some great lines. One of my favourites was: "And with that answer he left me. I would much rather he had knocked me down."

** spoiler alert **
The co-incidences used as plot devices sometimes stretch credibility too far. The worst offenders:

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Extra Money

I registered for PLR last year. I didn't expect much to come of it for a few years yet but I have just received my annual statement, and based on loans of my books from public libraries I will be receiving some money. I won't be celebrating too lavishly since it is just enough for a pint of beer and a bar of chocolate, but it is a start. As before, if you requested my books from public libraries, I am very grateful!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fin / The End

Have any of you seen the Spanish film "Fin / The End"? Or read the book by David Monteagudo?

I saw it last night: naturalistic acting, lovely cinematography, nicely understated style, good music, and well directed. I didn't know what to expect when I chose this on a whim, and was pleased to find myself engrossed. I was therefore a bit dispirited to see some negative reviews for it.

Some of them seemed put off by the film being in Spanish. I don't understand the prejudice some people display about subtitles. You soon get used to them. And they open up a new world of film: great films you'd never see otherwise, and better in the original than any second-hand Hollywood remake. Also, you never wonder what is being said during action or mumbling - it's all there!

Maybe other people were confused about the type of film it would be, and expected an effects-laden apocalyptic film. Don't go in expecting that - it's a thoughtful and tense drama.

Friday, 16 January 2015

23 Librarians

A nice way to start the weekend: I've just been included on the 23 Librarians site. Each post explores the role (and sometimes "a day in the life") of a librarian in Wales. Appropriately enough, I am number 13.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Hello? Hello?

The dangers of being self-employed and working from home... The other day I had various spam callers pretending I was entitled to money "from my car insurance claim". I used some of the classic methods:

  • Asking to be put through to [fake name] on extension [fake number] - "He told me you would ring, and said I should speak only to him". (Play with this for a while, causes them lots of confusion as they make up excuses about the fictional contact not being in work that day etc).
  • Whenever they give a long spiel wait until the end, then say, "Sorry, the line is bad, can you repeat that please?" Do this 2-5 times. Check email while they talk.
  • Say you need to go to another room for a better signal. Put the phone down and do something else for a minute.
  • Say you need to get the paperwork from downstairs, put the receiver down on the desk, play a level of Kingdom Rush so they can hear all the little barbarians and wizards blowing each other up. I managed to leave the caller for about four minutes and they were still on the line when I finished the level (I got a perfect, three stars to spend on upgrades) and picked up the receiver again.
  • After all that I said: "Sorry, I've just remembered: I don't own a car, and have never had one. I use public transport or cycle." Then hang up.

Monday, 29 December 2014

My Obsession With Horror

In my teenage years I devoured King and Koontz books.

I discovered Dean Koontz when I was given a second hand copy of Phantoms by my grandmother. I was gripped from the very first page, and although I'd read scary stories before, I'd never read anything so absorbing. I curled up in an armchair and just kept reading. In fact, I think Phantoms and Midnight are my two favourite Koontz novels (though others such as Intensity are great at "doing what they say on the tin", an impressive match of form and theme). I loved the way Koontz novels would open with either action or tension, then ramp them both up along with the stakes throughout the novel. The ideas also grabbed me. Ever-living protoplasmic beings of unstoppable power? Human-computer interfaces for emotionless killers? Wow!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs

I recently finished playing Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs (which came after Amnesia: The Dark Descent). A criticism I'd heard was that A Machine For Pigs was "less of a game" than The Dark Descent; it's true in part. A Machine For Pigs focusses much more on telling a story, to the extent that it removes many gamey elements such as the need to light candles; oil supplies for your lantern; injuries and healing; and physics-based puzzles. In their place is another disturbing story, but the tense way it unravels and the nature of it more than make up for the loss of some of the interactivity. It's the story that kept me playing, made up of many elements, some of which resonated more strongly with me.

I'll avoid specifics but there are strong and as-relevant-as-ever themes of suffering, treating other beings as resources, cultures of inhumanity, loss, mechanisation and industrialisation. I can't really talk about some of the most upsetting parts for me without giving away spoilers, but the premise is discovered fairly early on: it's the very end of the nineteenth century; you wake in a bed with a cage around it worried about your children; your mansion seems to be unoccupied, but you don't feel like you are alone, and there are strange red stains in some areas; and the house is part of a compound that includes a sausage factory. There's enough there to make you uneasy, and believe me, the game's reality is worse.

Friday, 12 December 2014

That Time Of Year

I last celebrated xmas about 20 years ago. As such, I recommend this article The Gift of Death by George Monbiot. And this poem by Benjamin Zephaniah, performed here. And if you wore a jumper for Save The Children, consider this.

You want more? Here's a silly story I wrote back in 2000. It's not one that'll ever published, just a bit of unedited whimsy, but what do you expect for free? :-)

The Importance Of Being Humbug

December 22nd. Magnificent golden light shone horizontally across the silent library in the burg of Hushingdon. Peace was settled on that little place dedicated to the gathering of knowledge and dust, which swirled and danced in the shafts of light. The only sound was the turning of pages.
The Librarian sat at the Enquiry Desk, deciphering the Holy Trinity of mysteries that were Dewey, USMARC and XML. He knew that there was only one other person in the library – a trendy-looking blonde girl who had asked where The New Statesman was kept. Since then she had been sat in the centre of the reading room, surrounded by a dead forest of empty desks. She was intent and intense, and The Librarian couldn’t help but look over at her, for indeed, she was beautiful. Beautiful in a cold way – the beauty of a bright Winter’s morning, or the Ice Queen. Austere and something to worship, but possibly unforgiving.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Amazon's Kindle Fire

I have a Kindle Fire HD - it was a gift from someone, since normally I wouldn't be keen to support Amazon. The Kindle Fire mostly works well as a simplified tablet but with irritations, including:
  • Regularly refilling the carousel with music I had deleted.
  • You can't get rid of nagging "Customers Also Bought..." icons.
I don't care what they bought!
  • You can't put a lockscreen image of your choosing up, such as one with a visible contact number if lost.
  • It has a cluttered top menu with options trying to sell you things which you can't get rid of even though you don't use them such as Audiobooks, Newsstand, Videos, Shop.
  • Some clunkiness - I made new documents in a word processing package and the Kindle could see them and open them, but they didn't show up when I connected the Kindle to my PC - it turned out I had to reset the Kindle before they showed up.
  • I remove docs (pdfs) from the device after I have read them, using the hold>menu option, but when I look at the Kindle's storage space directly by connecting it to my PC the documents are often still there, invisible to the Kindle but taking up loads of space (with altered filenames). I have to delete them a second time manually. The Kindle seems to duplicate and rename pdfs, and only delete the originals through the OS shell options.
  • Amazon support.
  • It gets confused by smilies:
How they look on my PC

How the same email looks on my Kindle
  • Some issues specifically about the keyboard and typing:
  • I think I have turned off all the autocorrect options but it still manages to make typing a pain e.g. as I type each word it underlines it - if you tap anywhere else on the screen before pressing space, the whole word disappears.
  • Words are underlined in red if kindle doesn't know them, which is distracting.
  • I type in landscape view for bigger keys, but it still wastes a line displaying words you might want, leaving an unnecessarily narrow window.
  • There is no easy way to move the selection cursor. I end up tapping loads of times trying to get the pixel-perfect placement (especially between narrow letters like i's or l's), which takes ages because a fingertip is bigger then the point you're trying to select. The answer would be to zoom in: but you can't zoom in on the text box on a Kindle. My phone has a button that acts like a mousepad, ideal for finetuning cursor positions, but the Kindle (and more recent smartphones) don't have an option like that.
  • When you switch to typing in numbers there is no option to add a full stop/decimal point. You have to jump back and forth between screens to do numbers with decimals, classmarks etc.
The number screen, lots of symbols, but no full stop

There are nice features too, such as the ability to email documents to a special address and they then appear on the Kindle (though copies are also stored on Amazon's servers by default: a setting I recommend changing).