On This Day In 2004

A little bit tongue-in-cheek, this one.

Looking Back

On this day in 2004, I’d just finished my first marathon session of playing Half-Life 2, a spectacular new video game that quickly became one of the best-selling computer games ever. Despite New Year celebrations and other distractions, I managed to sit and play the game for a couple of days and finished it very soon after.

The launch of the game was delayed – I’d pre-ordered it 17 months before it eventually got released – after being plagued with development difficulties. One of the many delays to it’s launch was blamed on the theft of part of the source code: I remember joking, after the thief had been caught, that now that they’d got the code back they’d be able to release the game, right?

Meanwhile, Paul swore that he would have nothing to do with the digital distribution platform – Steam – that remains the only way to get a legitimate copy of Half-Life 2. On his blog – then on LiveJournal – he listed all of the many problems that he saw with Steam, and I countered a few of them in an argument in the comments. For years to come, he’d go on to refuse to play some of the most fantastic computer games to be released on principle.

Looking Forward

Things change. I can’t remember the last time I saw Paul playing a video game that he didn’t buy on Steam, for one (except for a handful that he bought from Good Old Games – which is well worth visiting, if you haven’t already).

Some things stay the same: Half-Life 2 remains one of the best first-person shooters ever made, and has been followed by two spectacular sequels (Episode 1 and Episode 2) and a number of spin-offs (including the mind-blowingly awesome Portal, which stole my life for a while, although not for long enough to make my 2007 list of life-stealing games). We’re still all waiting on the much-delayed Episode 3, though…

This blog post is part of the On This Day series, in which Dan periodically looks back on years gone by.

Dan Q found GL4WVX47 The Circus

This checkin to GL4WVX47 The Circus reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Found it immediately by thinking “yeah, that’s where I’d put the cache” and the co-ordinates were spot on. But I still had to be quite sneaky while my co-cacher provided cover in order to get this one.

Log needs archiving. Somebody’s added an extra roll of paper stuffed into the tiny cannister but it’s challenging to get both rolls back in afterwards: the old one should be removed and filed away somewhere.

Great cache!

Dan Q found GL4WVWZM Going Underground (not anymore) #2

This checkin to GL4WVWZM Going Underground (not anymore) #2 reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Paced up and down the street quite a few times before we found this beautifully-hidden cache. Then had to stand around looking like lost tourists while we waited for the area to clear so we could grab it without attracting suspicion!

TFTC: my first in a long while!

Dan Q couldn’t find GC1KKT8 Flonopoly Cache 12 – Piccadilly

This checkin to GC1KKT8 Flonopoly Cache 12 - Piccadilly reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Co-ordinates seem to point to the wrong side of the street (based on the clue), but even armed with the clue and the logs of those people who eventually found it on their second or third attempt, we couldn’t get this one despite an extended search. Based on the frequency of DNFs, I’d suggest that 1.5 isn’t a high enough difficulty for this evidently-well-hidden cache!

The Wedding – Unanswered Questions

The photos from Ruth & JTA’s wedding are coming soon, I swear. In the meantime, here are a few questions that I’m still puzzling over:

What kind of chord do I think I’m playing?
What does my mother think smells so good; and why does Becky disagree?
Why is Fiona kissing me?
Why is Chris saluting in this picture?
On what subject is Bryn pondering? And did his mighty brain come to a conclusion on the subject?
Why is Owen carrying Robin around? And is this truly the happiest day of Robin’s life?
Who choreographed Matt P and I’s dance moves? And why do we look so awesome?
Who’s just hit Matt R in the back of the head with a snowball?
To whom is Liz threatening fisticuffs? And does anybody other than Finbar even use the word ‘fisticuffs’?
What does that look on JTA’s face mean? No, wait… I know this one…
If Robin is interviewing Tom, why is he using an invisible microphone?
What has startled JTA so badly?

Some or none of these questions will be answered in time (and, perhaps, when you see the whole picture). Keep an eye on the wedding blog for updates just as soon as Ruth and JTA find the time to update it! And I’ll look forward to hearing your caption ideas for some of the “sillier” pictures.

Meanwhile, if you’re among the people who took photos at the wedding and who hasn’t yet given me nice, hi-res copies, please get in touch!

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The Wedding – Feedback

Ruth & JTA haven’t gotten around to blogging about their wedding since it happened, yet, and I’ve so far failed to make available copies of many of the photographs I’ve been sent (although you can find a link to a few photos on this page) – although, in my defence, I’ve only just gotten the chance myself, this weekend, to see the official photographs. All of this will happen in time, I promise. In the meantime; here’s some of the feedback that I collected from around the web in the aftermath of the wedding:

Alec tells Facebook that he had a great time.
Alec tells Facebook that he suffered afterwards.
Ele tells Facebook that it was “Wedding-tastic.”
Before the wedding, Harriet tells Facebook that she’s enjoying being one of only two Trevor-Allens, before Ruth becomes a third.
Harriet looks back on the weekend, on Facebook, and answers comments asking about her journey home.
Matt P tells Facebook simply “wow. that was amazing!” Andy K, who couldn’t make it to the wedding, replies to ask if Matt was talking about University Challenge!
Sian tweets simply, “Aww, I love weddings me!”
Selina gets back to the land of bacon, Lego and beer, and congratlates the happy couple via Facebook.
Sarah, who couldn’t make it to the wedding, thanks Becky for delivering her wedding cupcakes.
Ruth gets back from her and JTA’s mini-honeymoon and tells Facebook about how many sugared almonds she’s eaten (ultimately, she made herself quite unwell).

You might also be interested in the following things that people have been saying around the interwebs:

I’ll try to keep this list of links up-to-date, so if you’re aware of anything that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll add it. And needless to say, you’ll hear a little more about this from me when I get the chance.

What’s that you say? You’re wondering about the strange parcel?It turns out it was an Amstrad CPC 464 that my mother found on eBay. More on that later, perhaps.

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When we woke up this morning Oxford was caked with a blanket of snow, about two inches thick and growing fast. Ruth, JTA and I thought that we’d make the most of it and go for a walk along the Cherwell, and by the time we were heading back the snow was ankle-deep. Reaching the corner of the street where we live we helped a few stranded motorists whose vehicles had taken one look at the hill near our house and said “fuck this for a lark.” Specifically, we helped them by pushing their cars off junctions and out of the way of other cars. It didn’t take long to realise that the chaos that was the series of junctions on the main road was only getting worse, and, caught out by our own sense of social conscience (and perhaps at least a little inspired by a recent story we’d read), we decided that we could be doing more.

We trekked back to Earth and collected hardy boots, hi-visibility jackets, shovels, and brushes, and made our way back to the junction. And, for the next hour or two, we worked at clearing the road and rescuing motorists. Before long there were others coming out of their houses and workplaces and helping: pushing cars up hills and clearing snow and ice from troublesome parts of the road. Highlights included:

  • Rescuing dozens of motorists who’d otherwise have been completely stuck.
  • Shoveling clear an escape road for vehicles that couldn’t make it up the hill.
  • Giving directions to motorists whose routes were blocked, to pedestrians whose buses had been cancelled, etc.
  • Stopping all traffic in order to prioritise ambulances, as we’re on a hospital approach road. You’d be amazed how many motorists will do what you tell them when you’re wearing a flourescent jacket.
  • Getting thanked by a great number of people.
  • Getting complaints from a minority of people who were angry that we were shovelling and not salting/gritting: presumably they thought that we were employed by the council.
  • Meeting like-minded helpful people who came out of their houses and workplaces to lend a hand.

We returned to Earth and drank mulled wine with Hanna, a woman who lives up the road from us who came out and helped. She’d been expecting her boyfriend (who’s visiting for the weekend) but he’s among the thousands of people stuck out in the snow, and even five hours after he was expected he hadn’t yet arrived. Then we made snow angels in the garden.

And because karma doesn’t believe in us, the universe repaid our kindness by having our boiler break down again (but in a different way) this evening. So now we’re sat in blankets in the living room.

A Very Confused Courier

I’ve just had a phone call from a very confused courier. My mother (who many years ago for reasons both too long and silly to go in to I nicknamed “Crusty Pasty”) texted me last night to say that I was to be delivered an early Christmas present that would arrive today, and that she’d given the courier my phone number so that he could ensure that I was in when he came around. My mobile rang:

Me: Hello.
Hi, is this Dan… Q?
Me: Speaking.
Him: Hi: I have a delivery for you from a… I just want to make sure I say this right: Crusty Pasty?
Me: That’s correct. I’m expecting it.
Him: I think there might be something wrong with your landline: I called and got a strange robot voice.
Oh, that was you? That phone is never answered. Best to call this number.
I just wanted to double-check the address: [number] Corpse Lane?
Me: Copse Lane.
Him: Oh yes, sorry. Just my bad handwriting. I’m on the M4 right now; I’ll be there in about an hour: is that okay?
Me: Yes, I’ll be at that address all morning.
Him: Okay. See you at about 11.

Codenames? Mysterious parcels? Phone numbers that always go unanswered? Yes, that’s right: I’m about to be treated as being part of some kind of terrorist cell. If my “early Christmas present” is something that can be used in the construction of an explosive, then the jigsaw will be completed and this will probably be my last ever blog post… until I’m released from Guantanamo Bay.

Leslie Nielsen was admitted to hospital earlier this month

You: To Hospital? What is it?

Me: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

Sad to say, he died yesterday. The world has lost a fantastic actor and comedian.

Just a short post, here: the wedding this weekend was amazing, but I’ll be writing about that at a later point, once I’ve caught up on all the work and email I’ve neglected over the last week or so.

Action Stations!

It’s the morning of the wedding. Somehow I’ve found myself only the smallest number of tasks to be responsible for between now and the ceremony itself, at 10am, but I’m sure we’ll find some way to make that balloon soon enough! My primary mission in the meantime is to act as a communications hub in the lobby of the hotel at which most of the wedding party are camped. Nice and easy. Might even find time for a second rehearsal of my (rapidly-adjusted, yesterday night) speech.

Sounds like some of the bride & groom’s more-distant guests are on the road, too, from places like Oxford and Cardiff. How do I know this? Because they’re letting me know how bad the traffic is! Don’t yet know if any of this is a result of ice and snowfall: we were told that Telford would be unaffected and Rowton Castle (where the reception is) would be cold but clear, too, but looking out of my window this morning I saw small amounts of snow laying on the grass and pavements even at this low altitude. Drive carefully, folks!

Right: where’s Matt P: I need a crevat tying…

Off to a Wedding!

Ruth, JTA and I are on our way to Telford where, tomorrow, they’ll be married. Ruth is bouncing with excitement. The car’s chock-full of suits and dresses and cases and wedding favours. It’s been a crazy few weeks and a crazy morning, but the ball’s rolling now.

I’m feeling really energised about the whole thing. Bring it on.

(just let me finish writing my speech, first!)

Hectic (so let’s look at Paul, instead of writing a proper blog post)

Between SmartData work, Three Rings work, freelance work, strange new bits of voluntary work, and the rapidly-looming wedding between Ruth & JTA (along with handling all of the crises that come with that, like the two mentioned on the wedding blog and the threat of rail strike action on the weekend of the event, which may affect the travel plans of guests from Aberystwyth), things are a little hectic here on Earth. And I’m sure that I’ve not even got it the worst.

So in order to distract myself from it during this 5-minute moment-to-breathe, I’d like to share with you some photos on the subject of “living with Paul“. As usual, click on a picture for a larger version.

Paul in a supermarket under a sign that reads "Single Lemons".
Paul – Single Lemon

Our shopping trips have become in different ways both more and less organised, thanks to Paul (seen here posing under a “single lemon” sign). More organised in that Paul does a sterling job of making sure that our shopping list whiteboard is up-to-date, and less organised in that we’re even less likely to comply with it… not least because it’s cute the way that his little head explodes when we deliberately and maliciously make minor deviations in our shopping plans.

WALL-E holding a "just plain gone" sign.
Paul’s current status, according to WALL-E.

Well-known as somebody who outright rejects Twitter, Facebook and the like, Paul’s come up with his own mechanism for sharing his current status with those he cares about: the low-tech alternative – note cards. Held up by a WALL-E figurine at the door to his room, Paul keeps us up-to-date with a series of about half a dozen pre-written messages that cycle in accordance with what he’s up to at any given time. They’re quickly out of date (right now, it says “In. Please wave.” but he’s clearly not here), limited in length, and mundane, just like the vast majority of Twitter posts… but at least he’s not attempting to subject the world to them. I’m still not sure, though, whether this tiny protest against social networking (if that’s what it is) is sheer genius, complete insanity, or perhaps both.

Yorkshire pudding!
Yorkshire pudding!

Paul is now officially in charge of all Yorkshire pudding production on Earth, after we enjoyed this gargantuan beast.

Right: my break’s over and I need to get back to my mountain of work. If you’ve not had your fill of Paul yet, then I point you in the direction of a video he’s just uploaded to YouTube

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Favourite Firefox Four Feature FAIL!

I’ve been playing about with the beta of Firefox 4 for a little while now, and I wanted to tell you about a feature that I thought was absolutely amazing, until it turned out that it was a bug and they “fixed” it. This feature is made possible by a handful of other new tools that are coming into Firefox in this new version:

  1. App tabs. You’re now able to turn tabs into small tabs which sit at the left-hand side.
  2. Tab groups. You can “group” your tabs and display only a subset of them at once.

I run with a lot of tabs open most of the time. Not so many as Ruth, but a good number. These can be divided into three major categories: those related to my work with SmartData, those related to my work with Three Rings, and those related to my freelance work and my personal websurfing. Since an early beta of Firefox 4, I discovered that I could do this:

  1. Group all of my SmartData/Three Rings/personal tabs into tab groups, accordingly.
  2. This includes the webmail tab for each of them, which is kept as an App Tab – so my SmartData webmail is an app tab which is in the SmartData tab group, for example.
  3. Then – and here’s the awesome bit – a can switch between my tab groups just be clicking on the relevant app tab!

Time to do some SmartData work? I just click the SmartData webmail app tab and there’s my e-mail, and the rest of the non-app tabs transform magically into my work-related tabs: development versions of the sites I’m working on, relevant APIs, and so on. Time to clock off for lunch? I click on the personal webmail tab, look at my e-mail, and magically all of the other tabs are my personal ones – my RSS feeds, the forum threads I’m following, and so on. Doing some Three Rings work in the evening? I can click the Three Rings webmail tab and check my mail, and simultaneously the browser presents me with the Three Rings related tabs I was working on last, too. It was fabulous.

Firefox 4 app tabs

The other day, Firefox 4 beta 7 was released, and this functionality didn’t work any more. Now app tabs aren’t associated with particular tab groups any longer: they’re associated with all tab groups. This means:

  • I can’t use the app tabs to switch tab group, because they don’t belong to tab groups any more, and
  • I can’t fix this by making them into regular tabs, because then they won’t all be shown.

I’m painfully familiar about what happens when people treat a bug as a feature. Some years ago, a University Nightline were using a bug in Three Rings  as a feature, and were outraged when we “fixed” it. Eventually, we had to provide a workaround so that they could continue to use the buggy behaviour that they’d come to depend upon.

So please, Mozilla – help me out here and at least make an about:config option that I can switch on to make app tabs belong to specific tab groups again (but still be always visible). It was such an awesome feature, and it saddens me that you made it by mistake.


Googling for Suicide, Part II

You may remember that earlier this year I wrote a letter to Google suggesting that they ought to publicise the number of Samaritans to people searching for suicide-related topics: sort-of like a free Featured Link, but just advertising the phone number of a support service that, in particular, provides emotional support to those who are having suicidal thoughts.

Well, it seems that now they’ve done it (click on the image below to see a larger version).

The top of the search results when performing a Google search for 'suicide' in the UK.

I’d like to think that I played a small part in making this happen. Thanks, Google.


A Video Game Movie I’d See

Video game movies are notoriously bad, no matter how awesome the game that inspired them. Wing Commander took a classic video game series and completely ruined it. Doom was incredibly dull, even though it was based on one of the most popular game series that have ever exited. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time had so much potential and the chance to draw from the multi-rebooted Prince of Persia video games, but in the end its only redeeming feature was that it co-starred Richard Coyle, whose earlier appearance in hit comedy series Coupling lead Ruth, JTA and I to rename the film after his character from that series, calling it The Legend of King Jeff, which would honestly have been a better film.

And let’s not forget the truly dire Street Fighter: The Movie, which ultimately lead to the short-lived arcade game Street Fighter: The Movie – The Game, attempting to cash in on the film before the developers realised that this wasn’t actually a very good idea. And it’s only the eighth-worst video game movie of all time, according to this video on GameTrailers. Let’s face it: video games don’t convert well to films.

That said, I’ve had an idea for a video game-inspired film that I think could really be good. Or, at least, so awful it’d be good.

Asteroids: The Movie

Don’t you dare tell me that you wouldn’t go to the cinema to see Asteroids: The Movie: CGI like this just has to be enjoyed on the big screen.

The plot is as follows: Earth governments have been secretly tracking an enormous asteroid for many years. Under the cover story of satellite launches, they’ve been firing nuclear weapons at long distances to try to destroy or deflect the mass, but all they’ve managed is to break it up into many hundreds of smaller (but still devastatingly-huge) rocks, many of which are still headed towards our planet.

We’re introduced to our main characters: a cocky ace fighter pilot who’s just been expelled from his wing group for being too cocky and ace, a young and immature geek who spends his life playing retro video games, and a love interest who spurns both of them and is probably employed by the shady government agency. Early in the film, she acts professionally and doesn’t approve of the other main characters’ respective aggressive self-confidence/childish behaviour, but eventually the three become closer as they work together (and probably save one another’s lives a few times).

Recruited for their various “talents” they’re recruited to pilot an experimental spaceship right out into the asteroid field and fire their cannons to destroy them. All is going well, but there are occasional sightings of fast-moving metallic objects around the edges of the field. These turn out to be aliens (in flying saucer like spaceships) who had originally propelled the enormous rock towards Earth in an effort to wipe out humankind, who they – as a result of their warlike culture – perceive as a threat to their galactic dominance. Earth has been on the brink of cracking faster-than-light travel for a while now, as evidenced by secret test flights of the ships which preceded the vessel used in the movie, and this makes the aliens twitchy.

There’s a fight, and it momentarily looks like the aliens stand to destroy the human ship. “This isn’t a video game: we don’t get extra lives!” shouts the love interest character, at one point. “No,” agrees the geek, “But we do have this…” He engages the highly-experimental “hyperspace jump drive” and the ship disappears just seconds before the alien missiles destroy it.

While drifting in hyperspace, the crew find evidence of the aliens’ culture and history, and the other planets they’ve destroyed. They also discover a possible weakness. They’re just beginning to understand what they have to do when they reappear in normal space, apparently only a split second after they disappeared. The chase is on as the aliens pursue the humans through the asteroid field in an exciting chase scene. Finally, the humans discover what they need to do to penetrate the alien shields, and fire upon them. They rush away as the alien ship explodes, vapourising the remaining asteroids as it goes.

The crew return to Earth as heroes.

Now: isn’t that at least as good as whatever Hollywood would come up with? And it’d certainly be far better than the Super Mario Brothers movie.

Hmm. Further research indicates that this might be already going to happen