Snowpocalypse? Nopocalypse.

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At the end of what is best described as a changeable week for plucky Brits, it’s good to know that some things are always the same.

The threat of a couple of inches of snowfall is sufficient to plunge the UK into a frenzy of addled speculation about the dire consequences of of a wholly predictable spate of wintry weather, with even the likes of your self-flagellating blogger having to confess to frequent F5’ing of his weather site of choice despite common sense indicating that nothing much is going to happen.

At present, Sheffield is witness to a couple of inches – tops – of snow, with more light flurries predicted during the weekend – not exactly the new ice age which most UK tabloids would have us believe is inbound with extreme frosty prejudice.  I imagine Canadian readers of this post must be chuckling into their Tim Hortons cup at the very idea of our January snow panic and wondering just how we would react to an actual outbreak of real weather.

As always, when it comes to scenarios like this, I have to think that Charlie Brooker said it best…

 

The Mysterious Case of the Sickly Laptop

Well, sort of.

Posts have been slow (well, non-existent) on this blog since Thursday because our lovely laptop was not happy.  A rather unpleasant, grinding sound had begun to emit from my dependable internet conduit on Wednesday of this week, rendering extended usage an unpleasant prospect.

Starting up the machine was a trial, downloading my regular tranche of podcasts was an exercise in ignoring constant background noise and on top of that, my wife now works from home, so a dead or dying laptop was a total non-starter.  Action had to be taken, dag-blast-it!

Dusty, dying computer fan - Flickr image via user R. Berteig.
Dusty, dying computer fan – Flickr image via user R. Berteig.

My first fear was, perhaps naturally, that the hard drive was on the way out and that I was due for a serious wallet-depleting repair session with the attendant data recovery costs which that would imply.  Duly prepared for bad news, we packed up our laptop and took it with us to our nearest PC repair joint and steeled ourselves for bad news.

Bad news, believe it or not, which didn’t actually come.

Our problem was connected to the picture above – the laptop’s fan had died on us.  And why had it died?

You adorable, kooky, computer-killing goof, you!
You adorable, kooky, computer-killing goof, you!

Yep, the computer’s best friend, animal fur.  Our tame computer repair chap rang us before proceeding with the fixes to show us the state of our laptop and it was like a scene from grooming day at a dog styling salon – it really doesn’t help our favourite digital devices to live around two very furry dogs and to have to cope with the shedding and general doggy detritus which accompanies life with a fluffy pal.

Thank the Happy Computer Sentinels for their overwatch duties on our laptop, who’ll soon be back home with us.  This post, in fact, is being written on an old XP based desktop machine which has more than proved its mettle during this weekend and been a real help in a jam – a machine that, ironically, I cracked open to look at in the last year and did some remedial work on.  #

Including cleaning and sorting out its dusty old fan…

 

 

 

Multi-player Madness?

Money spent on Xbox Live membership by Fluffrick in 2013? Zero pounds!

Microsoft have recently been keen to remind gamers that Xbox Live has been around for a decade – hence e-mails like the one above, which I received this morning.

I might rather have received one of these, but as I live in Europe (and we don’t matter to Microsoft), I’ll just be happy that they deigned to send me an e-mail which has reminded me of something crucial – my Xbox Live Gold membership is the nerd equivalent of the gym membership that I don’t use.

My taste in games has always skewed towards the solitary and offline – a good percentage of the Role Playing games that I spend my time with don’t really bother with online modes and competitive functionality – and so it really doesn’t make that much sense for me to spend the price of a new game on a service which I don’t actually use.  Sure, Mass Effect 3 has a suite of multiplayer options but it’s not really the kind of thing which appeals to me – plugging wave after wave of NPC’s in the company of some random dude who doesn’t speak/plays music down his headset or regale you with his unsolicited neo-Nazi views is not my idea of happy-happy fun times, truth be told.

I’ve tried “Gears of War” multi and “Call of Duty” online (see my previous neo-Nazi comment) and found the experience profoundly wanting – and it’s not just a problem with the 360 audience, as Uncharted 2 on the PS3 had more than a few highly vocal 12-year-old nitwits ready, willing and eager to demonstrate their bigotry and stupidity to all and sundry in matches and lobbies.  I find myself actively wanting to disassociate myself from many of the people who play online on consoles, as this gaming generation has exposed me to people so acutely unpleasant and unrepentantly objectionable that their stupidity can surely only be explained away by being a stunt or deliberate tactic of some kind – gamesmanship employed by people for whom winning is the only goal.

Testify, Wonka – testify!

Yes, we can mute and report people to the enforcement teams on the respective platforms but the point to me is that by the time that you’ve done that, the very last thing that you want to do is venture back online and play against people – I’m fairly soured on the whole notion of competitive play against people who I don’t know.

When my Gold membership expires in a month or two I am pretty certain that I won’t be renewing it. And, you know what?  I’m totally okay with that.

 

Behold – Old Age!

Oh, Norwegian Black Metal – you make everything funnier…

Huzzah – it’s my 40th birthday!

And to celebrate this momentous transition from the joys of youth to the inexorable call of the grave, my teeth have elected to cause me nominal (but omnipresent) pain.  This, I rather suspect, is a herald of things to come – not that I’m being negative or having the first vestiges of a mid-life crisis or anything…

Mrs Rolling Eyeballs was kind enough to obtain the new Devin Townsend album, “Epicloud” for me as a birthday present and I’m going to be listening to that later on.  I also received “X-Men First Class” on Blu-Ray (I suspect that Rose Byrne‘s presence in the latter might help me forget my grumbling gums for an hour or two) and various vouchers from folk and nice cards, so it’s nice to know that people were bothered enough to celebrate with me (particularly as I didn’t do much shouting about the fact).

If it’s your birthday today too, have a great day and share it with people you love (it makes all the difference…)

(Not) Lazy Sunday…

How to confuse and bewilder a simple mind with one easy device…

Every family has their resident, unpaid technology whisperers – the one, uniquely calming soul who speaks fluent gadget, effortlessly tweaks new mobile phone settings and performs that most essential of modern miracles, making the internet work.

In my family, I am that unfortunate soul.

The major problem with that, of course, is that I’m entirely self-taught and nowhere near being a network engineer, so the major stuff which goes wrong is absolutely beyond my ken.  Power-cycle a router? Can do.  Install software and do updates?  No problem.  Reinstating an internet connection which is shown as being connected but fervently resisting any attempt to allow any device in the house to connect to the internet?  Utterly bewildering.

After the best part of two hours on the phone with my ISP’s technical support team (and three hours of shutting down, starting up, plugging in ethernet cables and grimacing before that), we finally got the damn thing working again by jiggling a pin in a small, hidden port to reset the device entirely.   It feels insulting, somehow.

Yes, I have tried turning it off and on again…

I’ve had better Sunday afternoons, let me assure you.  But everything appears to be working now and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs has been able to blog again and work so I feel as though my wasted hours of first world problems, switching on and off again, obtaining ethernet cables and obsessive tea drinking were all worth the dubious pleasure of chatting with outsourced call centre staff who couldn’t understand my not especially difficult to understand Northern British accent, wouldn’t accept that my PC’s settings were not located where they expected them to be and the sudden, inexplicable collapse of my laptop battery.

It sounds like a horrendous cliché, but it’s true – you really don’t miss the things you take for granted until they’re snatched away by the dread faeries of soul-crushing tech fail…

Paralympics for the win!

T54 5,000 metre Gold Medallist, David Weir, winning a thrilling race at the Olympic Stadium in London on Sunday September 2nd. Image via Guardian.co.uk/picture by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

If you’re anything like me – a bitter old cynic, possessed of a smoking husk where his heart once was – this summer has been the proverbial game changer.

I started the year not caring a jot about the Olympics and wishing that the hype would go away – I had no intent of watching the Games and intended to spend the event self-consciously shunning it in a pointless and self-aggrandizing one man protest.

Then the Olympics began.

Picture via Guardian.co.uk/ Image taken by Julian Stratenschulte/EPA

To say that the spectacle, competition and atmosphere won me over is something of an overstatement.   My wife, always a fan of athletics and pretty much any sport which isn’t football, played some part in that conversion by knowing what was going on and explaining the significance of individual races, events and seemed to have a running Team GB medal tally on her person at all times.

The Games ended and I found myself wondering whether the same countrywide fervour and open-minded embrace of all things sporting would extend to the following Paralympic Games – because history seems to indicate that people who’ve just enjoyed the quote-unquote ‘main event’ seem to find their attention wandering when Paralympians converge to compete on the world stage.

Rather brilliantly, and in a way which actually has me slightly tearing up as I type, it would appear that my worries about a mass exodus of interest have been comprehensively quashed as viewing figures in the UK for Channel Four‘s coverage are high and the various stadia for the individual events are attended by enthusiastic fans whose love of Team GB has extended to this utterly inspirational and fantastic display of athletic endeavour.

Without wishing to offend any American readers, I’ll take the exhilarating spectacle of wheelchair basketball over the US ‘Dream Team’ steamrollering their competitors any day of the week.  Similarly, as exciting as it is to watch Usain Bolt routinely smash through the established wisdom of how quickly a human being can run, I found the 200m duel between South African ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorious and Brazilian Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira an utterly riveting race, not least because of its unexpected conclusion.

“Don’t focus on the disability – focus on the ability” was Pistorious’ request to the media (and by extension, the World) prior to the Games opening ceremony and , after nearly a week of fiercely fought and utterly compelling sport, who would argue with his assessment?  That these athletes face unique physical challenges before ever getting to compete is obvious a key factor in the existence of this competition but the obvious thing to take away from the Paralympics is that this competition is every bit the equal of the Olympics in terms of quality, thrills and inspiration.

I find myself wondering why we don’t get to see this kind of competition on a more regular basis on TV – Channel Four have been doing a brilliant job in the run-up to London 2012 of positioning Paralympians and their sporting disciplines into their schedule and making sure that we knew the Games were on their way but I now wonder whether this commitment to athletes with physical challenges will extend beyond the end of this Summer.

Isn’t this the kind of sport which belongs on Channel Four – whose remit has traditionally been to offer perspectives on the world which are outside the norm?  I like to think so and I really hope that they continue to bring us more of this brilliant, life-affirming sports coverage long after the glory and ceremony of the London Games have faded from memory.  Give me real athletes like those of Paralympic Team GB rather than the overpaid, talent-light, half-wits of the Football Premiership any day of the week

God of Thunder

A mystery bag - but what could it contain?

Right on schedule, as I hurtle towards my 40th birthday in the Autumn, comes the opening salvo in what promises to be a truly HILARIOUS mid-life crisis.

Whilst I have so far resisted the urge to buy an absurd sports car and a questionable pair of leather trews to accompany it, I have rather caved in on the ‘living out your teenage musician fantasies’ aspect of that regrettable, middle-aged bloke’s triumvirate of woe and bought…

Behold, my mighty axe! And weep in awe as you gaze upon its affordable curves and single pick-up!

A bass guitar.  Yep, I’ve resisted the urge to believe that I’m going to buy an entry-level guitar and be transformed, overnight, into Joe Satriani and instead plumped for an instrument which is, frankly, far more in keeping with my disposition.

Les Claypool of Primus - knows his way around four (or more) strings...

Just a pro-tip for anybody out there of a similar age who’s thinking about taking up music in your dotage – don’t go to YouTube and check out videos of Les Claypool from Primus in full-flight – it’ll only depress you.

Nope, with the best will in the world, I would love to keep going and learn as much as I can on the instrument, but my goal is to be able to play along to songs that I love and maybe jam with mates at some point – musical virtuosity is a boat which may have sailed, I fear, but musical competence is the middle-of-the-road goal that I’m setting out to reach.

If I could play like anybody?

Melissa Auf Der Maur - formerly of Smashing Pumpkins and Hole, now very much of herself.

I’ve been to see Melissa Auf Der Maur, and on top of being the most glamorous and unflinchingly eccentric Canadian arty space viking that I’ve had the pleasure to encounter, she’s also a kick-ass bass player and quietly distinguished and singular stylist to be reckoned with.  If I can get to approach being as rhythmically solid and cool as she is, I’ll be quite chuffed.

More progress reports will be with you as and when I, you know, make some actual progress…

 

Meet Hagrid

Part Greyhound, Part Saluki, all besotted energy and doggy madness

We said goodbye to our beloved Minnie last Saturday morning and still miss her terribly – anybody who’s ever had a pet become a real part of their family in the same way can appreciate how the sense of loss carries on for weeks and months afterwards when being abruptly reminded of small things which you used to do together.

Time moves on and new dogs come along to do their best to fill the void – to that end, meet the lovely and utterly insane Hagrid, a two-year-old Saluki/Greyhound cross who is best described as a Lurcher who thinks that he’s a lap dog.  It’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that this dog wouldn’t disgrace his J.K. Rowling created namesake’s bestiary of  unusual creatures – there’s certainly something magical about his ability to stand upright and nearly leap over the garden wall or to displace the water from his bowl everywhere but his mouth…

No, I'm not ready for my close-up - fetch some kibble, if you please...

He’s come to us on a weekend visit, but I’m probably not breaking any family confidences in telling you that he’s hopefully going to be staying put and filling the canine-shaped gap in our life from this point on.

Hagrid is an endlessly curious two-year-old who loves to say hello to any dog that he meets and can currently be seen dragging me around various woodland walks in my city – he seems to know where he’s going and it would be rude to correct him (yes, he and I will be going to training classes – but if you’re in my area for the next few weeks, I apologise in advance for the daft, white furball running amok and sniffing your pooch’s behind without so much as an introduction).

Welcome Hagrid – may your time with us be long and happy.

 

 

 

My Dog’s Life.

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Minnie, our lovely terrier, had to be put to sleep yesterday.

She had been gamely battling multiple health conditions since the Summer of last year and had finally run up against the limits of treatments which our vet could administer – as her quality of life had deteriorated so much, we took the difficult and absolutely heart-breaking decision to end her life quickly and as peacefully as possible.

A sign of her decline was provided by her last visit to the vet – where the waiting area normally made her tense and eager to get the hell out of there as soon as possible, this time around we couldn’t help but notice that she wasn’t reacting in any way to the place.

We feel that she may have been much older than our best guesses for her age – as she was a rescue dog and previously a stray, there’s so much about her history which we were never privy to, and her previous medical history was a complete blank.

Though we knew little about her, we fell in love with her from our first meeting with her.   She came to us from Rotherham Dog Rescue, an animal charity in the town adjacent to Sheffield, and was the skinniest little thing we had ever seen – one of the first joys of our far too brief time with her was to see her gain weight and muscle tone.

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She loved to run, as all dogs do, and changed so much when out walking with us and our other dog, Golden Retriever and Occasional Diva, Ella.  Initially, Minnie was quite protective of us and herself – when another dog tried to sniff her or play with her, Minnie would give her sternest growl and warn the other pooch off in no uncertain terms.  Over time, she mellowed and allowed other dogs around her and around us.

There is no easy way to approach days like the one we had on Saturday – there’s a little comfort to be taken from knowing that your beloved pet is no longer experiencing pain and is at some kind of peace.  Being an atheist, I can’t really take succour from God or an afterlife, so I have to derive comfort from memories of Minnie at her happiest and from the absolute delight and glee that her simplest sneeze or wag could give me.

I think I will remember her best this way – waiting behind the kitchen door for me when I came home of an evening, her tail zipping rapidly and merrily from side to side, delighted (a little bit) to see me and overjoyed (a lot more) because she knew that she was about to have her tea.

We miss you little girl – but we thank you for the utter happiness that you gave us.

Same moral panic, different day.

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Read the fricking label?

As we haven’t had one of these stories for at least two or three months now, let’s all be united in our shock and surprise as somebody else calls for action on the negative impact of video games on the fragile minds of young people.

Quel surprise.

Putting aside glibness for one or two minutes, the points made by Alison Sheratt of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are not wholly without merit.  Kids are being allowed to play unsuitable, age-restricted video games by their idiot parents and teachers are seeing the result of this in their classrooms.  They are understandably upset by this – this does not, however, permit them to presume to stop the rest of us from playing video games intended for adult audiences in the comfort of our own homes.

Puffing yourself up and demanding that the government introduce ‘stringent legislation’ to restrict access to video games, internet content and television programmes is going to do absolutely nothing to end this problem as the responsibility for children’s exposure to media ends squarely and solely with their parents – the self-same group who invariably allow their wee darlings to play Modern Warfare 3 because it’s a game like Wii Sports and couldn’t possibly be harmful to little Kyle and Jade.

Let’s state some undeniable facts, shall we?  Kids have no money – their parents buy games consoles and TV’s, give their children laptops and mobile devices and purchase the software which runs on them.  The software which they buy for these home systems comes with the industry’s self-policing certification system (see the PEGI graphic above).

This means that parents, so keen to scream, shout and bully their way out of being held accountable for anything that their little darlings do, have no excuse about being unaware that the latest Saints Row” is totally unsuitable for their offspring.  If they choose to ignore ratings, certificates and guidance aimed to help them make informed choices about their children’s entertainment, its a parent’s fault and nobody else’s if their delightful kids then go to school and, through actions and words, make them look like the negligent, incompetent and careless half-wits that they so frequently are these days.

If we need to start doing anything in society, it’s to make feckless and lazy parents own the behaviour of their children and be held legally and morally accountable for their inaction and, let’s be honest, frequent corruptive influence.  Everybody shouldn’t have to suffer because some parents can’t be bothered to, you know, parent.