Monthly Archives: May 2010

A Confession of Rubbishness

My blogging habit’s a bit rubbish at the moment. I’m writing the entries late at night, when I’m pretty tired and have little of note to say. If you take a look back through my posts, you’ll see just how many are time-stamped very close to midnight, and it’s noticeable (to me, anyway) that the ones written earlier in the evening are much better.

A change of emphasis is needed, then. I’m going to try to make posting this blog the first thing I do when I come home from work, and I’m going to at least attempt to think about what I want to write beforehand. Too often recently I’ve sat down at the keyboard without the slightest inkling of what I want to say. Once again, the entries that I plan beforehand are much better. I know how to get the most out of this blog, it’s just a question of not being a lazy bastard and actually doing it. There seems little point in just going through the motions of One A Day, so I need to sort myself out. Pep talk over. I’m going to make every effort to get this blog back up to scratch, starting tomorrow.

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The Extra Day

The Bank Holiday break is great for one very good reason: a three day weekend feels so much longer than a two day weekend. It’s much more of a “proper” length of time off before going back to work. I’ve always found standard weekends too short. Friday night’s usually a write-off because of tiredness, and then a lie-in on Saturday leaves you with a far shorter day. Before you know it, the weekend’s half over and you haven’t even done anything yet. And then, knowing that you’re on the downhill stretch, time seems to pass much more quickly, and a few seconds later you’re back in the office again, trying to fathom just where the weekend went.

What I’m saying is that I think it’s about time to introduce an eight day week. Five days on, three days off. It’d be much better. Everyone would be much happier. Who’s with me?

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Failure

This is one of THOSE blogs. You know, the ones produced under the influence of alcohol, late at night, when any reasonable subject idea seems far too complex to write about. These entries happen occasionally. They’re the ones which wouldn’t appear at all if this blog wasn’t always updated daily under pain of… well… feeling rubbish at having broken the sacred vow of One A Day.

But failure isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it’s something to be explored in 250 words or less. When considering a whole year’s worth of entries, it’s inevitable that some will be less than rubbish. Think about your favourite TV show. Was every episode perfect? No, of course not. Some were written in a hurry, others were full of ideas which worked on the page but sucked when filmed. I can point to hours of Buffy, 24, Lost, Fringe and even Chucklevision that left everyone pining for the following week’s installment, just to forget the previous week’s embarrassment.

So let’s forget that this blog entry ever happened and move on to tomorrow’s, which I’m sure will be mind-bogglingly amazing (may not be accurate). Holding pattern activated.

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The Late Shift

The twenty four hour news channels are brilliant late at night, as the work experience guys are firmly in charge. The interns. Maybe even members of the public who’ve randomly got in there, pissed, to twiddle with knobs. The proper staff, the guys who know what they’re doing, take one look at the request that they might want to work after midnight, and laugh hysterically as if such a thought was the biggest joke since Eurovision. It’s the only explanation for the car crash that emerges.

Late night news is a strictly amateur operation, a testbed for stars of the future. At least, that’s the theory. More often than not, it’s a story of autocues not working, reports refusing to appear, presenters having all the skills of a hyena trying to keep a straight face, and the wrong captions appearing beneath interviewees (all endless fodder for the following week’s edition of Have I Got News For You).

Tonight’s sports bulletin on the BBC News Channel was a perfect example, featuring as it did a simple report on Andy Murray’s match in the French Open tennis. It seemed to go fine: a good link, followed by a comprehensive round-up of the encounter. The only problem was that Murray had just played his THIRD round match, while the report shown was about his SECOND round. I thought the score was a bit weird, because only five minutes beforehand I’d read the real match report on the BBC Sport website and it bore no relation to what I was seeing!

When the item ended and they cut back to the studio, I could tell that the presenter knew something was wrong (producer screaming into her ear, maybe?), but she waffled about the sports bulletin “overrunning” rather than apologising for showing a blatantly out of date report. But that’s late night news for you. Not even in the same bloody time period.

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SickPod

My iPod Classic is sick. And that’s sick as in ill, rather than the American version of the word. It keeps crashing intermittently when I try to add music to it. I’ve tried restoring the factory settings, but sadly that’s had no effect. I’ve had a reasonably good innings with it, though – two and a half years, which is longer than my sister’s iPods have managed. When I first got the Classic, it was such a revelation. Finally being able to carry around my entire music collection on one device felt so empowering. I no longer had to take a Discman or equivalent with me (which, due to the bulk, I rarely did), or load my car up with CDs whenever I took a trip. I sought out new music all the time, forever finding new albums to add. Videos, too: full concerts by the likes of Radiohead, Muse and Portishead. I went to sleep every night with my iPod on, listening to podcasts. Wherever I went, it went too, always along for the ride.

Now I think it’s jealous of my new iPhone, of no longer being my favourite gadget. It’s like I’ve left an old stalwart for a younger, sleeker, prettier model, and it’s reacted by going into a deep depression. I’m trying to resuscitate it, but have a horrible feeling that I’m not going to succeed. I want to promise it a future as my go-to device for custom soundtracks on my 360 (I won’t mention that the… er… iPhone won’t actually work in that regard), but maybe rather than trying to re-add all my music back onto it, I’ll be more gentle and just put my favourite albums on there. It deserves a graceful retirement for its years of faithful service, after all.

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Cowboy Builders

In recent years, an increasing number of videogames have implemented morality systems, where your actions throughout – good or evil – affect things like your overall standing, the way that other characters in the game treat you, and even the appearance of your avatar. Usually these are implemented with about as much subtlety as the average episode of Holby City, with your choices being very black and white, often amounting to simply either killing or sparing a particular adversary. Let them go and your good/light meter increases. Shoot enough of them, and you go all dark and emo.

In Red Dead Redemption you play John Marston, a cowboy in the Old West, just as that celebrated era is coming to an end. Described simply, it’s Grand Theft Auto by way of Clint Eastwood, and GTA’s mission structure makes it across to the new game pretty much wholesale. It has a morality system which, in the main, is just as binary as examples in other videogames, but an encounter today made me feel something I very rarely feel while playing (unless I’m avoiding doing the washing-up): guilt. To put this into context, over the years I’ve killed more people than Harold Shipman, Ted Bundy, The Yorkshire Ripper and Alan Carr combined. This week, probably. Luckily the only victims have been little virtual people. They’re not real. This is fantasy. It literally doesn’t matter. It’s not going to warp my tiny little mind, only Keith Vaz’s. Due to this, I don’t usually feel bad at all about shooting any combination of Nazis, aliens, ducks, or anything else. But I did today.

A stranger that I met randomly on a horseride to one of my regular contacts in the game set me the task of obtaining a property deed for him. The old man who owned the land didn’t want to sell it to him, and the stranger hoped that I could persuade him (or PERSUADE HIM, if you see what I mean), for a fee. So off I trotted, to discover that the old timer wanted $200 for the deed. Unfortunately I only had $66 on me. I therefore faced a choice – did I wait until I had the money, or obtain the deed by force? I’d been a pretty good boy up to that point in the game, and so I wanted to see what would happen if I did it the bad way. I didn’t, though, want it to affect my honourable standing, so I rode away from the land, set up camp to save my game, and then returned, knowing that after I saw what would happen if I was a bastard, I could reload the save with my reputation untarnished. Brilliant, eh?

So when the old man asked if I had the money, I lassoed him to the ground and “hogtied” him, taking the deed. He started to berate me, and my honour level in the game dropped by 100 for my naughty action. But just as I was about to reload, the word “Saving” appeared in the top left hand corner of the screen. Noooo, the autosave! It was too late to do anything about it – I’d been taken by surprise. But I’d always thought that the autosaves were overriden by real campsite saves, so I reckoned this would only be a temporary setback. Just before turning the console off, I took out my shotgun, blew the old guy’s head off and immediately pressed the Xbox Guide button. It wasn’t as if I was going to carry on from that bit, after all.

When I reloaded, I was gratified to see that I had re-emerged at the camp where I’d made the original save. Hooray! Unfortunately I then noticed on the missions screen that the task I had just accomplished was marked as complete, and the game had recorded that I’d used force. Still, at least I’d only hogtied the old man when the game saved, so I went back to the guy who’d asked me to get him the deed in the first place and proudly handed it to him. But the deed was covered in blood! The old man’s blood! Nooooo! It had managed to save again somehow! “Jeez, Marston, I didn’t tell you to kill him!” complained the stranger. He went on to inform me that the dead man had a son, and that I’d better hope he didn’t find out about my actions, unless I get my “kicks from killing entire families”.

I left the scene quickly, ashamed, my clever plan having fallen to ashes, worrying about what will happen later in the game if I ever come across the son. “Er… yeah. Didn’t mean to kill your dad. Was just experimenting. It was the game’s fault!” Somehow I don’t think I’ll get the chance to explain. The feeling of guilt was tangible. I did a bad thing. If I had it over again, I’d pay the $200. But I don’t. And while I’m exasperated that my clean record has gone, this whole episode proves that a decent game can invoke an emotional response. And isn’t it much better really that I can’t go back, that now I’ll have to live the rest of my time in Red Dead Redemption knowing about the blood on my hands?

One thing’s for sure: from now on, I’m going to be the Mother Theresa of the Old West. Until the next bastard tries to steal my horse, of course.

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The End

Just a short blog entry tonight because I’m tired and emotional after watching the final ever episodes of 24. Combined with the tear-jerking goodbyes to Lost and Ashes To Ashes, TV fans have really been put through the ringer over the last few days.

While Jack’s final hours didn’t feature the badass action moments of the previous few episodes, the character drama was upped and more than made up for it. It was a bravely bleak conclusion too, which felt true to the show’s history.

It was appropriate that 24 was the last of the big finales. I’ve been watching the show since early 2002, starting only a few weeks after I met my wife, when BBC2 ran a catch-up of the first 4 episodes after they knew they had something special on their hands. I was hooked from the word go – it was such a cinematic show, so unlike anything else on television. It’s quite a thing to think that we’ve been sitting down to watch it every week it’s been on since then – all 192 episodes, and the thing with Begbie too – and that we’ll never have that opportunity in quite the same way again. Not under those circumstances. Sure, there are the boxsets, and the passage of time has dulled my memory of the early seasons so I would enjoy going through them again. But it won’t be the same. Jack Bauer has been an ever-present throughout my relationship, and so it seems very strange to say goodbye. Maybe that’s why I’m so sad that it’s over, beyond the programme’s obvious quality.

Thankfully the second half of season 8 proved to be a worthy send-off, though – arguably the only time throughout the entire run of the show that the final 12 episodes of a season were better than the first 12. And so in a way 24 has come full circle, finishing as strongly as it started. Goodbye, Jack. We’ll miss you. We really, really will.

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