Archive for August, 2010

How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse

El Kay and I went to see How to Survive A Zombie Apocalypse at the Edinburgh Fringe last night, and I have to say straight up that I loved every minute of it. The show is presented in the style of a seminar by the noted zombologist Dr. Dale Seslick of the School of Survival. Dr. Seslick is an interesting character in himself with a Lloyd Grossman-esque accent and, most importantly, an encyclopaedic knowledge of how to deal with the walking dead. Nowhere else would you gain insight into the potential use of a hamster, hammered flat, as a weapon against the zombie hordes.

Dr, Seslick is ably assisted by three of his fellow experts from the School of Survival: Donald the survival expert, Judy the science expert, and Tristen the… well… they had a spare seat. Together these four experts have studied, categorised and prepared effective techniques to keep you safe from the zombie apocalypse.

I’m almost disappointed taht teh seminar only lasted an hour. The humour was excellent, and the subject matter both interesting and informative. I could easily have sat for another hour. The four player’s improvisation skills, despite the best efforts of some very persistent¬† audience members, were outstanding. Hell I enjoyed it that much I’ve even bought the book Dr Dale’s Zombie Dictionary: The A-Z Guide to Staying Alive.

In short: See the show, buy the book, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll survive the coming apocalypse.

The Orange Shop

After much faffing and indecision I finally set out to get my phone upgraded to an iPhone 4. I’ve already made mention of the fact that my current phone has been acting erratically, and it seemed the perfect time to update to one of Apple’s shiny new toys.

I’m on holiday I thought, so I won’t have to come up with an elaborate means to get the thing delivered. I can’t get a personal package delivered to my work as the facilities/mailroom folk have taken umbrage at the number of deliveries and started sending them back as soon as they arrive. It’s probably illegal for them to do that, but it’s difficult to stop them. Well not difficult, but when you set them on fire the survivors invariably complain incessantly.

I’m with Orange and they’ve got an online system for upgrading from within your online account. Sadly I can’t just go into a shop and get it upgraded because the online orange shop is a separate business wing from the high street stores. So they told me when I went into the branch on Sauchiehall Street, and given that they’re normally on commission it seems unlikely that they would turn away a sale for a made up reason.

The website of course started to malfunction the instant I decided to upgrade. When I first tried it on Friday the upgrade link refused point blank to load. So I left it, and waited till Saturday morning to see if it would be fixed. It seemed to work, and I filled in all the required details, and then it crashed at the bit before you confirm your purchase. So far, so sucky. It told me my basket was saved, but there was nothing in the basket when I tried for a second time.

I got throughout he whole ordering process on the second attempt, and everything seemed to go fine, but I’ve never received any kind of email confirmation. No money has left my account, and nothing seems to be moving at all. At first I was paranoid that I typed the wrong email address into the thing, but I’m 100% sure that I got it correct. So now I’m floating in limbo here. I don’t know if the thing has gone through, and I don’t want to risk putting in the details again in case I end up with two charges, two contracts and two phones. I don’t have any information to phone up customer services with, because I naively assumed that an email would follow on to confirm the order.

Looking back to the last time that I upgraded through the web shop, 11/07/2005 no less, I see that I did get a confirmation email, and fairly quickly after I had ordered it. In fact it seems to have been processed, and the phone was readied for dispatch within an hour or so of the order being received.

Now perhaps I’m naive to assume that in 2010 everyone running an online business will send out confirmation emails. Personally I don’t think I’m asking too much, but maybe orange would prefer if you phoned up their customer services where they can give you the hard sell on their phone insurance products and broadband services. The truly unforgivable sin in my eyes though is that their website lacks any form of account system. there’s no way to log in and see the progress of your order. I have no idea if the order is in the system, or if it’s lost in limbo. I’ve already seriously begun to reconsider the upgrade, and I’m on the verge of phoning up and telling them to stick their entire service up their arse.

You hear that Orange? Your online shop pisses me off so much I might ditch you entirely, and this is only the third time I’ve ever used it. Either drag it out of the 1990’s ASAP or I’m out of here.¬† I refuse to phone up your customer services because I shouldn’t have to. The information should be available to me without having to navigate menus and talk to someone sitting half asleep in a contact centre somewhere. This is the 21st century for feck’s sake!

Homebrew RPG Nostalgia

My annual summer trip to the distant wilds of Ayrshire often serves up odd bouts of nostalgia for people and events that are long since gone.  The dog days of early August tend to summon up memories of the last few days of the summer holidays, and the impending return to school.

They also remind me of The Dragon Lords.

It may sound like some kind of teenage club, but The Dragon Lords was, or perhaps I suppose is, a role playing game written by Martin Shaw who was a good friend of mine at school. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, mainly due to a falling out we had, and my own foolish pride.The whole thing was originally written out in pencil, by Martin, in one of those hardbound A4 notebooks that inexplicably cost about a fiver nowadays. I’ve no idea how long he had been working on it before I first laid eyes on it, but from the amount of writing in that notebook of his I would say a long time.

Mark Scott, another friend of mine, who I’ve also not spoken to in a long time, also contributed a large amount of the work. Mark was also the one that convinced a friendly, if highly strung, tech studies teacher to allow him to type the thing up over the course of the summer holidays. Unusually, but perhaps not at that time, it was written up on an Acorn A3000 computer using a clunky word processor/desktop publishing program that I can’t remember the name of. I’m not entirely sure when the thing was written as time does funny things to memory, but I’d hazard a guess at it being around the mid nineties. More than likely 1994 or 1995.

Between the two of them they did a lot of work, Martin especially, and I sketched up a few maps of continents on A3 stolen from the tech studies cupboard. I also slowly, but surely created a sort of encyclopaedia of monsters and enemies that I kept in a bulging ring binder. Most of them were taken and adapted from the pages of Out of the Pit the bestiary for Advanced Fighting Fantasy, but there were a few original ones in there. Honest.

The Dragon Lords as a game was heavily influenced by Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Not the more recent D20 style system, but the original version. Martin’s elder brothers were big RPG and table top gaming enthusiasts. It was through playing with them, and through reading their copies of the first edition AD&D rules that he first conceived the idea of The Dragon Lords. It was fairly rules heavy, but not as bad as AD&D itself, and relied on a lot of D100 rolls and other obscure combinations. There were, as was the fashion then, lots of tables and modifiers to determine the outcome of events. Mark contributed a list of spells, with quite a few that departed from the norm, and there was even a fully featured price list for adventuring goods.

In those days before desktop laser printers, and duplex printing, we had to print each page by hand in an inkjet printer. Seeing as we were using a school inkjet to print the book producing even a single complete copy was a major undertaking that had to be done through stealth and subterfuge. I think eventually we had to sneak into the tech studies class and print five or ten pages at a time between classes. Then when the ink suddenly ran out someone else would get the blame, and a new cartridge would be installed in time for us to print the next batch. It was a slow, and laborious process. Nowadays with the laser printer sitting next to me I could spit out the whole hundred odd pages of the book in about three minutes, and in much higher quality, but I don’t think it would have the same feel as the originals.

We never really had any specific plans for The Dragon Lords, but there was always that nebulous teenage naivety that we might be “discovered” and “make it big” through creating it. At one point we even tried to sell copies through a gaming shop in Edinburgh’s High Street. Mark took a few copies with him when he was going through for some reason, and he handed them in. I think we even managed to sell one to a curious punter, but we never heard any more from that. I don’t know how many copies Mark gave to that shop, but they probably cost us far more to produce than we would ever have made from selling them. It’s likely we would have fallen at the first hurdles anyway. The RPG industry was moving away from the rules heavy systems like AD&D in favour of more streamlined systems like Storyteller system that White Wolf used for their World of Darkness games. The industry was also undergoing a sort of collapse with many smaller companies going under, and a lot of larger ones as well. Even TSR, the giant of the genre, had been bought over and subsumed by Wizards of the Coast. It was like aspiring to be a computer game writer on the eve of the great Video Game Crash of the 1980’s. Worse, the name “The Dragon Lords”, proved to be an exceptionally popular moniker for fantasy related products as a simple Google search shows.

I’ve still got the only, to my knowledge at least, printed copy of the rulebook in existence. Carefully secreted away inside one of the wooden chests that I use to store a lot of my old stuff. It’s a bit scuffed, and the back page has gotten a bit mangled over time, but apart from a few cosmetic marks it’s still in excellent condition. I’m hoping to raid a scanner from somewhere in the near future and immortalise the game in digital format. It took up a lot of my time, especially during my adolescence, so it seems important to preserve it somehow.

I Like To Go A Wondering…?

The ever helpful pages of Wikipedia tell me that an accidental slip of the keyboard such as the one below is known as an “eggcorn”. Either way it’s amusing in the context of the article.


Ouch

I managed to crash my bike on Friday, and gave myself a couple of minor injuries in the process. I’m not entirely sure how I managed it, but I was heading down the cobbled part of North Woodside Road towards Kelvinbridge Underground when I just lost control of the bike. It happened fairly fast, but I think I somehow managed to hit a slippery patch of leaves at the gap between two cobbles. My bike went from under me, and I landed mainly on my right knee and wrist. Judging by the intermittent pain in my chest I think I was also poked in the ribs by the end of my handlebars. I managed to limp home, but my bike saddle was mangled beyond repair.

So, as a result of my unfortunate accident, I find myself in need of a new saddle. I’ve been up to Dales and Evans Cycles to have a look at what’s on offer, and I even managed to trick the sales assistants into letting me try out a few. I’m leaning towards something from Specialized’s Body Geometry range at the moment, but I need to investigate and see which ones are suited to the type of riding that I normally do. I don’t want to accidentally buy some highly specialised downhill seat, or worse some Tour De France ball sack bursting razor blade.

At the Mountains

I love the stories of HP Lovecraft. Their perfectly pitched combination of gothic horror, supernatural forces and the insignificance of humanity somehow appeal to me. I am however constantly disappointed at the fact that there have been very few attempts to adapt his stories into films. Sadly though the majority of the attempts have been just that: attempts. I can’t think of any that have genuinely captured the essence of Lovecraft’s mythology. It’s really saying somehting when the best version I can find, 2007’s Cthulhu, doesn’t feature Cthulhu himself and is actually a fairly sledgehammer subtle analogy on being gay in an insular American fishing village.

What outrages me even more than the lack of film adaptations though is that nobody has seen fit to make a TV series out of the whole mythos. I think, handled in an adult and serious manner, it would make an excellent show. Many of the protagonists are either detectives, or travellers, that seek to uncover too much about the hidden world that lies just beyond our own where they encounter mad gods, evil cults and unimaginable horrors. It seems like perfect fodder for a mystery/monster of the week show, but whit complex overarching story lines in the background. Sadly I think that’s already been fairly well done by Poltergeist: The Legacy.

How’s this for a quick pitch. Names subject to change, and if you write it me and old HPL get half the gross…

The year is 1921 and Professor Forename Surname an expert in obscure antiquities, cults and ancient legends takes the chair at the Miskatonic University in gloomy Arkham, Massachusetts. As the dean of the antiquities faculty he also inherits the leadership of the Miskatonic Society. This ancient society is dedicated to protecting humanity from ancient evil and sleeping gods.

OK Hollywood. I came up with that pedestrian idea in less than two minutes. I’m sure with focus groups, a team of talented writers, and a big budget, you could easy makes something much better. Just don’t make it in 3D. Please.

Oh Why 810i?

I’ve got a Sony Ericsson W810i that I’ve had since Christmas 2006 which is a phenomenal length of time to hang onto the same mobile in this day and age. It’s served me well over the years, but now it’s starting to show signs of senility. The phone goes through sudden bouts of turning itself off, sometimes in mid call, and always without any warning.

In general Sony Ericsson have always made good phones, but there’s one specific thing about them that has always bugged the life out of me: limited SMS storage.Every Sony Ericsson I’ve owned has had a very limited capacity for storing messages. This is always about 250 messages, and the limit is shared between the sent items, saved items and the inbox.It isn’t a limitation of the internal memory either, because there’s no way that 250 SMS messages take up 32MB of space, and even if they did the phone has a micro-SD expansion slot

Now I’ll freely admit that I’m a lazy man when it comes to clearing the memory of my phone. I let the messages pile up in the sent items, and in the inbox long after they’ve lost any relevance. What I hate far more than the limit however is the fact that the phone won’t send, or receive, messages once it’s been reached. You’ve no idea how annoying it is to send off a quick message or reply to something, wander away for an hour, and then return to discover that the phone hasn’t sent the message because it’s “full”.

It’s not full it has a 1GB micro SD card plugged in with over half a gigabyte of free memory! GAH!

In short I need a new phone. Time to have a word with the mobile company and see what they’ll offer me.