Friday, December 11, 2009

Schengen Visa

Today I collected my Schengen visa from the Italian consulate in Cape Town. That too was pretty simple, and I'll post how I got mine. Though we'll be staying in many Schengen states on our trip, we're in Italy the longest (4 days, 2 in Rome, 1 in Venice and 1 in Florence) so that's the consulate we had to go to.

The documents required are the same as the UK visa and the fee is slightly cheaper, at R709 per person. The process is pretty much exactly the same, except that you have to fill out a form by hand rather than online. You can download the form here, and book your appointment here. You'll need your passport for the last few digits as your reference. You get to choose your appointment time and date as well. When selecting your date, a separate window pops up with the times available. You need to click on the save button on this window, and once done, click the "Make Appointment" button on the first window. I forgot to do this first time round, and my appointment wasn't made, so when I showed up at the consulate for my appointment they looked at me like I was stupid.

Once you click the "Make Appointment" button, an email is sent to you confirming the time. You then go for your interview on the day. The consulate building is here:


And it's a fairly painless process. Make sure you have all your documents, and make sure you have copies of everything. The consulate doesn't make copies, so you need to provide. Also, they don't return any documents, so if you give originals in, you won't get them back. Another thing to note: they only accept cash, so make sure you draw enough cash before hand.

As a timeline - after I discovered I hadn't clicked the "Make Appointment" button first time round, I went straight to work and went online and booked another appointment for the next day, Wednesday, at 11:10. I made the appointment for 2 people, so we both went in and gave our docs in and paid. I collected our passports with visas in this morning, Friday, at 10:00. So it took 2 days, nice and easy.

Next step: buying train tickets to get to Liverpool and back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

UK Visa

So, as a South Africa, you now need a visa to get into the UK. It's a fairly simple and painless task, if you have all the documents and a valid passport. Here's how to get a UK visa in Cape Town:

  1. Go to the VFS website: http://www.visa4uk.fco.gov.uk/ and click the "Apply for a UK visa now" button
  2. Click the "I have read the above information and the relevant guidance notes" checkbox and then click "Continue"
  3. A new window will pop up, which is the application form. Enter all your info in here.
  4. If at any point you don't have any info, you can just click the "pause" button, that looks like so:
  5. Once you've entered in all the information, choose your appointment date and save.
You can also pay online with a credit card, which is what I did. Make sure you have all the necessary documents with you when you go for your visa appointment, as you don't want to be in a situation where you are missing something. Also, make copies of everything, just in case - that's what I did. They should send back the originals with your passport, but be safe.

I had the following documents:
  • flight ticket
  • travel itinerary, with names, contact details and addresses of hotels
  • travel insurance
  • latest payslip
  • proof of address (I had a copy of my lease)
  • letter from my company stating that I work there and will be required to return to work at some date after my trip
  • latest bank statement (I simply printed a statement for my credit card from my internet banking)
  • passport
  • passport photo
The visa costs R938 (or did, at the time, it's dependent on the exchange rate I believe) and I paid an extra R120 at the consulate for sms notifications and courier services. The consulate / VFS place is in Cape Town on Riebeeck street, at the Absa building. Map here:



I think it's on the 23rd floor. I arrived about 10 minutes early, and once the place opened the security at the building gave me an access card and I went up to the place. They searched my bag, told me turn off my cellphone, and in I went. There is a ticket machine at the entrance where you press a button and it issues you a ticket with a number on. I was number 004, and my number was called pretty quickly by the electronic woman.

At the counter, I just handed in all my documents and paid for the courier and sms service (card only, no cash). I was then directed to the biometrics queue, where I waited for about 3 minutes before being called. They took my photo, and fingerprints (electronically) and then I was done.

That was all on Thursday morning. On Friday I got an sms telling me my application had been processed, and was being couriered to me, and on Monday morning my passport, documents and visa arrive. Nice and easy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Killers

We arrived at Val de Vie Wine and Polo Estate at roughly 14:00. We went and queued in the golden circle queue shortly thereafter, buying overpriced cool drinks and biltong, and sat in the sun for 2 hours until they opened the gates at 16:00. We then made a headline for the beer tent where we purchased some much needed cold alcohol, and grabbed some waters from the coca cola tent, and then squeezed through the masses at the golden circle entrance and parked ourselves about 10 rows from the front of the stage. We made alternating trips to and from the coca cola tent and Spur tent (Spur burgers - ingenious idea!) whilst waiting in the baking hot sun, listening to crap spewed out over the loudspeakers while Zebra and Giraffe and The Killers either sat in traffic with the masses, or sat in the shade drinking cold beverages (not sure which is more truthful).

At roughly 19:00, Z&G graced the crowd with their presence, and played a good opening to the show. At this point, the sun stroke ridden and boozed up crowd proceeded to crush ever closer to the stage, throw rubbish around, sweat on their very close neighbors, and be generally discourteous and unmindful of those around them. Some clever pricks near the front decided it would be a good idea to make a massive beer-cup stack, and so hundreds of helpful folk threw their mostly empty beer cups at the stack makers, pelting nearby crowd-members with cups and splattering sticky beer on those in between.

At roughly 20:30 The Killers made their entrance, played their show, did the encore, and left. At 22:45, we had purchased our Killers and Z&G merchandise from the stand, and made our way to the car (being some of the lucky few to actually remember where the car was at this stage) . By 02:00 this morning, majority of the cars in our parking lot had not yet moved. At all. A whole host of people had slept in their cars, us included, to wait for the crazy traffic. Eventually, by 02:30, we started our car and began the trek home, through much traffic still on the dirt road providing access to Val de Vie Wine and Polo Estate. We collapsed into bed at 04:00, exhausted.

All in all, we payed R1052 for 2 tickets to watch the Killers, spent over 12 hours at the venue doing mostly nothing, 5 of those hours being in the achingly hot sun, and a further 4 of those hours waiting for cars to move, and the remaining few spent being crushed and sweated on and bumped and elbowed and groped. And you know what? It was TOTALLY worth it. The Killers absolutely kicked arse, rocked out, and drove the masses wild. Brandon Flowers is one hell of a front man, a great performer, and knew exactly what we wanted and how best to give it to us (I never thought I'd take such pleasure in a man asking me if I was ready to receive it as hard as I can). The stage setup was phenomenal, and their use of lighting amazed me. I've never seen anything like it, and I'm guessing that the hordes of screaming fans around me felt the same way. The Killers absolutely blew me away, and that day is one I will never forget, thanks only to a few hours of sheer awesomeness.

Killers - you guys rocked hard. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

FIFA 10 Review

In the weeks and days leading up to FIFA 10's release, my waking moments were gradually taken over by the usual build up of excitement. I had read every preview, watched every trailer and tutorial and preview video, and wolfed down any offering EA Sports had in the way of glimpses of the game to come. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I stuck the disc into my Xbox 360, and found the gameplay to be chunky and uninspiring at first attempt.

I had read all about the 360 degree movement, and could not wait to get started. I had glazed over at the mention of more physicality and improved manager mode - all I wanted was the 360 degree movement. At first play, the 360 degree movement is hardly noticeable. I did notice that smaller players are easily pushed off the ball, and if you are not particularly quick when in possession, it can lead to you losing the ball easily to thick bodied oafs with lots of strength and little skill. The game was a little frustrating at first, and I was secretly disappointed.

I had been talking about this for weeks, my girlfriend had already expected not to see me for a week or two as I immersed myself in the world of FIFA 10, and here I sat, feeling like I should play The Sims 3 instead. However, I had also read that one should play FIFA 09 to get a real feel for the difference in FIFA 10. I didn't do that, but I took it to mean that the improvements are subtle and take some time to surface. So, I stuck to it, and played another game. And another game. And another. By the 5th game, I was rooted to my chair, that wild, childish look of glee plastered to my face, and my absolute joy and love for FIFA 10 was founded.

It takes a while to get into FIFA 10, but once you start playing, you begin to realize that this is without doubt the best football game to have ever existed, ever. When you get the hang of it, and play enough to see its subtle uses, 360 degree control is a godsend. Dribbling is much better, you keep the ball more often, and gameplay with the ball at players' feet is incredibly realistic. Slide tackles and challenges are realistic, the animations are excellent, and the physical side of play is a welcome relief to FIFA 09's inability to cope with speedy attackers - in FIFA 10, Fernando Torres is required to beat the defender to the ball using his pace as well as his strength, whereas in FIFA 09, his pace alone left defenders for dead, and many long ball goals could be scored that way.

The passing is much improved as well - lofted passes no longer hang in the air like golf chips, rather they move accurately depending on how the pass was played. If struck with the inside of the boot, the ball curves naturally as it would on the real pitch. If struck more solidly, the flight is flatter and the ball zips across field to make a 40 yard, Xabi Alonso-esque pass a viable and realistic option. It is much easier to play passes over obstructing defenders than previously, and with the improved ball control, it feels far more natural and realistic than ever before.

The goalkeepers are better, and react quicker, the commentary is much better and varied, and the graphics are awesome, with most players represented accurately (Jamie Carragher looks like himself, for once, and some shots of Pepe Reina are scarily lifelike). The soundtrack is a good mix, as always, and I could happily leave the game spinning and the speakers on in the house for some good musical ambience.

I am mostly a manager mode man, so I don't usually wander too far afield of this mode. It has been greatly improved, and the main point for me is the player growth system. Previously, you could assign points for your players individually if you wanted. If you simple made all your players incredibly fast, the game became far too easy. It was never really realistic to have a team full of superstars. In FIFA 10, player form plays a large part in their growth. In form players will show green arrows next to their name in the squad view, out of form players will show red arrows. Respectively, in form players will have a rating higher than their usual rating if they are in form, and out of form players will have a lower rating. A nice addition to the commentary has been added - Martin Tyler and Andy Gray will make mention of a player's current form as well.

Fitness of your players plays a much bigger part as well, if you have not upgraded your fitness coach to max - and there is a welcome assistant manager option. The assistant manager will pick your weekly squad and automatically rotate players for you - keeping your players fit and raring to go at all times. Bare in mind, however, that he may not be 100% aware of the calendar at all times, and so you may need to tweak his selection here and there to ensure that you have your best squad fit and available for the big games.

I do have some irks, as with any game. Notably, I was sacked from my job as Liverpool manager quite unjustly. I had been playing on the professional difficulty to start with, to get a feel for the game and get the goals flowing. Once I became bored of hammering sides 6-0 every game, I changed up to World Class difficulty. Leading the table late into the season, I found myself facing two weeks of cup semi-finals - an FA Cup semi against Aston Villa, followed immediately by a League Cup semi against Chelsea, both now on my new World Class difficulty. The manager mode in FIFA 10 now has a screen that shows your reputation, and the board's assessment of you. Winning games will gain reputation and improve the board's assessment (and job security) and losing games will do the opposite. At the time of semi-finals, I had gained reputation to require one more win to move onto the next star rating. The board were in love with me, and, leading the table, I was the man of the hour. I lost my first World Class game against Aston Villa 2-1, and found that my reputation had dropped by 9 points, and the board were dangerously close to giving me the boot. I drew the game against Chelsea 1-1, not bad at Stamford Bridge, and found myself immediately without employment.

I found that a bit unrealistic, but I guess it's something I could live with. On the plus side, rather than having to start the manager mode again (as would have been required in FIFA 09), I was offered a job with Hereford in League 2 (appropriate to my reputation) which was quite nice.

The other major change is the virtual pro. In FIFA 09, you could create a player and then use him in the be-a-pro mode and assign points to his skills based on the experience points gained in matches. In FIFA 10, your virtual pro goes with you wherever you are. He followed me from Liverpool to Hereford, and he is also available in all other modes. Instead of assigning points to his skills based on experience, points automatically go to his skills upon completion of certain tasks. There is a sticker book of sorts with "challenges" to complete - for example, juggle the ball 5 times in the Arena and unlock some skills. Score a volley and get some points to the volley attribute. Score with your weaker foot and gain some points to weak foot ability. It's a welcome change, and gives you reason to play with your virtual pro across all the modes.

All in all, once I got into it, FIFA 10 was a revelation. 360 degree control makes life so much easier, fluid and more realistic. The physicality is great, and the graphics and gameplay overall are awesome. FIFA 10 is without doubt the best football game, ever, hands down. If you don't own it, then I suggest you get to a store and buy it, because it will rock your world.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hermanus

So, I went to Hermanus for the first time this past weekend, and let me tell you - it is awesome. I definitely recommend it!

We stayed in a guest house called Walker Bay Manor. The host, Desire, is an artist, and so her paintings adorn all the walls. It's very cool, the breakfast was great, and the views from the windows we stayed in were excellent. I managed to spot a whale from one of them, which was great!

The highlight of the weekend, though, was the sea kayak adventure we went on. A group of 14 people all signed up, 4 from our group that went along. Our 4 got the single kayaks, and the rest got doubles. If you've ever kayaked before, the sea kayaks were plastic, brightly coloured, and quite long and incredibly stable - they had holes in to allow water to seep in and that makes it more stable. If someone were to tip one of those over I'd be highly impressed.

We went out of the old harbour, past some rocks into a bay. The sea was calm but there were some waves, and it was quite cool to feel the difference between kayaking on a river or dam and on the sea. We headed out and saw some whales a distance a way, very cool. As we came into the bay around the corner, we spotted a baby whale quite close to the shore. We all stopped and watched.

At this point, it's worth pointing out that 14 people were at the mouth of the bay, watching a baby whale inside the bay, closer to the shore than us, with our backs turned to the open sea. Quite a scary thought! Anyway, whilest watching this baby whale that was about 100-150m away from us, another, definitely adult whale popped up and did it's blowhole thingy about 35m away from us! It was magnificent! Of course, most people reacted in terror, and Vernon the Kayak Man yelled "LEFT! LEFT! PADDLE LEFT!", at which point we all obeyed (excepting the annoying foreign tourists, naturally, who paddled closer to get some good photos).

We saw several more whales throughout the 2 hour trip, and when we got back to land, as we were packing our kayaks away, a whale started breaching just beyond where we had been kayaking. It was awesome, and the crowd on the cliffs all around cheered. It was a superb weekend.

All in all, I'd definitely recommend a trip to Hermanus if you haven't been, especially during the whale season. You won't regret it!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

World War I Poem

I found a really cool poem (I think) on the blog of someone I follow, Spookannie. Check it out, there is a youtube video and links to other similarly animated poems (this poem is animated).

The poem was found in the pocket of a dead British soldier in World War I:


When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me,
I want no tears in a gloom-filled room,
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little – But not for long
And not with your head bowed low,
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me – But let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take,
And each must go alone,
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to your friends that we know,
And bury your sorrows in doing good works,
Miss me – But let me go.


I don't know why, but I love this kind of thing (I mean specifically that it was found in a dead soldier's pocket, not the poem. But that's cool too.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Secret

I almost immediately switch off when I hear people mention The Secret. For those of you that have bothered to read past the first sentence, let me elaborate: my main problem with The Secret is its title. Because it's not a secret. Not just in the sense that almost everyone has heard of The Secret, but that its contents are the same positive thinking mumbo jumbo that have been hippie-ing along for years.

Surely it's common knowledge that positive thinking and the like actually work? How many happy people do you know that continually wallow in their failure? I read a blog post recently by a fellow co-worker, about balance and the power that the word holds. It's a good concept, and it all means well and for someone who is down on their luck and not feeling very inspired and looking for a change, it would no doubt hold some value, but I just can't help but feel annoyed by this recent spate of motivational topics aimed at "enlightening" us.

Perhaps it's because I read books, or that I was brought up by a woman who believed in such things, or that I was plain lucky to come across such terms at a young age, but it still surprises me to find out how few people actually know about subjects like positive thinking and "following the bread crumbs", as my co-worker terms it.

I place such things in the same category as I do religion, in that I don't necessarily subscribe to the mainstream view of the Big JC and hold religious beliefs like some people do, but I understand that some people need something to hold on to and believe in, and Jesus represents that for them so they cling to it. It doesn't matter whether He was not the son of God (thanks for that one, Dan Brown) or not, and it also doesn't matter whether The Secret has been around for a billion years in some form or not, but some people's lives are greatly affected and made better by it, so it is a good thing.

I just think, that at some point, maybe in guidance class in school, we should list these things and make kids aware that such things exist. If these magical secrets do in fact make miracles for normal people, then everyone should be partaking in their dark and mysterious rituals.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wesley's Yummy Lamb Curry

So, I'm a big curry fan. My gran did a lot of living in Durban, and while there she learnt how to make a decent curry. It was always pretty plain, a standard lamb off the bone kind of curry, and not too hot (to protect us young uns), but it was always oh-so-good. Her secret was to burn some of the curry powder - though I'm not too sure of the benefits.



After some growing up and conditioning my tongue to hotter spices and tastes, I decided I wanted to learn to cook my own curry. While eating dinner at a restaurant on Long Street (Maharaja, overpriced but excellent food) with some work colleagues, Wesley mentioned that he was learning to cook different curries and Indian meals from different parts of India. Naturally, I asked him for a standard lamb off the bone recipe. He obliged, and even threw in some spices for me (what a nice guy!), and so the recipe follows:

Ingredients:

  1. Half a large onion, finely chopped
  2. 2 t/s curry powder
  3. 2-4 green chillies, chopped
  4. 2 t/s garlic / ginger paste
  5. 1.5 t/s dhanis jeera spice
  6. 3 medium tomatoes, pureed
  7. 0.5kg lamb cubes
  8. Salt to taste
  9. Olive oil

Instructions:

  • Add the chopped onions to a suitable sized pot that has been preheated with olive oil.
  • Leave the onions to braise for a few minutes, then add the chillis.
  • Let the onions and chillis fry for a couple of minutes until the chillis are golden in colour, then add all the spices in one go (dhanis jeera and curry powder).
  • Stir thoroughly, expect drool inducing aroma.
  • Let the spices braise for about 4 minutes, then add the meat and garlic / ginger paste. Add salt (I use about half a t/s) and stir.
  • Cover the pot and allow to cook for 10-15 mins, stirring and making sure the curry is not burning.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, and cover again and allow to cook for 15-20 mins.
  • The curry should now have a thick gravy, add water to thin if required.
  • Salt to taste, and serve!

Hints:

  • Use heat setting 3 on a 6 level plate.
  • For more flavour, add dhanis (coriander) leaves to the pot about 10 mins prior to serving.
  • Better with basmati rice.
  • Garlic / ginger paste is available from most supermarkets.
Here are some photos from when I cooked it:
















The first time I cooked it, I couldn't find lamb, and so I used beef. There were no bones, and I followed the recipe pretty much exactly as it was laid out: I obviously used beef instead, though, and I had dried chillis instead of fresh ones. It was warm, and nice, if a little watery.

I then made it again, and made some of my own additions: I used a bit more of the spices than in the ingredients list, added some potatoes, and because I couldn't find lamb cubes, I used lamb chops cut into cubes, and threw the bones in as well.

The result was a nice and spicey curry, quite thick (thanks to the potatoes, methinks) and a little too hot for the girls, but delicious nontheless. If you're in need of a beginner's curry recipe and are not sure where to begin, then I definitely recommend Wesley's Yummy Lamb Curry.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Holiday!

So, I haven't blogged in ages. So much for my promise of 3 posts a week - I guess if you want to read what I have to say that badly, then send me an email and I'll do a post just for you. Anyways, I've been planning a holiday for some time, and I've finally organized, booked and paid for it. It feels great! Here's what I'm doing, and how I've planned it all:

The trip is a European Discovery through Contiki (see the itinery on the site) which is basically 12 days in Europe, by bus, in the middle of winter. It shall be awesome. While in Europe, I also want to spend some time in England, mainly to go watch a Liverpool game. I've also thrown in a trip to Stonehenge, just for good measure. My itinery is as follows:
  • Arrive in London on 26 December
  • Contiki tour starts next day
  • New Year's Eve in Venice!
  • Arrive back from Contiki tour on 7 January
  • Next day, off to see Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bath
  • Off to Liverpool to watch the Spurs game, spend the night
  • Back to London the next day
  • Leave London the 11th of January
It should be awesome! I may at some point go to Stratford, but that depends on time, money, and personal tour guide Hannah's availability!

I've booked the trip from STA Travel in South Africa (where I got a discount for paying in full), and the flights through Flight Centre also in SA. I'm going direct via Virgin. The Accomodation and Stonehenge tour is also via STA, so all that is left to do is sort out VISAs, transport between London and Liverpool, and book the Liverpool game! Oh, and save for spending money....

I'll put up some further info, with more details on how I did it all. Hopefully it will be of some help to some readers who want a similar holiday.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sims 3

I will admit something some would find embarrassing – I play The Sims. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition of The Sims 3, and waited for it in fevered anticipation, howling in horror when its release was delayed and dancing in delight when its release was imminent. I am not ashamed of my status, as I still feel The Sims is the best gaming concept ever delivered, and quite simply, the numbers don’t lie. It’s the highest selling video game of all time. Enough said.

However, there are still a huge number of gamers who despise the game, and everything it represents, because they simply don’t see the point. An open-ended game with no bosses, score or missions, with a large part of every Sim day revolving around sleeping, does not leave much room for fun in the eyes of many hardcore gamers. The same gamers who find joy in repeatedly pointing and clicking their mouse on enemies that hugely outnumber them in first person shooters in the same rehashed concept since Wolfenstein came out.

I don’t argue with those guys, because they have no taste and no sophistication. The Sims series offers huge possibilities that millions enjoy, and I won’t promote its cause because it simply does not need promotion. I will note that there are different types of Sims players, each enjoying different things. Some players love making their “Simselves” and love living out lives for their Simselves that they could never do in real life. Some build massive, rambling, architecturally awesome houses. Some create multiple Sims and drop them in a house, delighting in the chaos as they wield destruction, chaos and madness with their mouse pointer. Others still make movie machinima with actors designed to fit the movie.

I am a humble mixture, though I don’t (always) delight in the chaos and I don’t make machinima. I enjoy designing houses, and making Sims. Prior to TS3, making Sims was only limited fun. Now, it is hugely satisfying, and the effects are notable. My review on the game follows, as promised.

The build up to the game was long. I knew it was coming, but deliberately held off doing too much reading up on it other than watching the first ad. The concept was something Simmers had been looking for since the first game’s release: freedom to move in an open world. The Sims 3 provided that freedom, along with some interesting changes, notably the create-a-pattern design abilities, and the personality trait AI system. I won’t go into too much detail (there is plenty out there on the web) but I’ll write up my findings and experiences.

The first thing I noticed after installing TS3 was the music. True to Sims games before, the familiar music is there upon loading (credits to reticulating splines, ever-present), but it has been updated and improved to give the feeling that you are descending into a computerized sitcom in a pleasant neighbourhood, rather than a silly game. In short, the music is more real and more awesome.

The next thing is the graphics. I’ve heard people complain that they aren’t that much of a step up, but they are. No questions. Everything is better. The Sims do tend to look alike at first, but the general feeling of “all my Sims look the same” is rubbish. The tools are available to make many different creations.

The personality traits works as promised, with each Sim being unique (and, as always, humorous in all its permutations) and reacting to situations differently, and having different interactions open to them. It’s a nice touch to see insane Sims talking to themselves, handy Sims idling by juggling a wrench, and evil Sims giggling mischievously to themselves. It brings their personalities home – they are “real” beings with definite wants, needs and feelings. An example, I had the joy of creating an absent minded and insane Sim. I sent him off to work, and when I happened to check on his progress at work for the day, found the warning that he was missing work. Centring my screen on him, I found that he had absent mindedly forgotten to go to work, and was instead talking to himself outside the theatre like a madman. Fascinating stuff.

The next thing I noticed was the added details. Little things, like how a Sim will kick at a cheap fridge’s broken door, or repeatedly try to flush a crappy toilet’s broken chain (yes, pun intended). The attention to details is magnificent, with many features quicker and easier. Over time, one tends to forget these little things, but I can guarantee that they will be instantly noticed upon returning to inferior Sims 2 games.

The create-a-pattern feature is ingenious. At first, I found the possibility of redesigning my entire house a little overwhelming (side note: houses can be bought furnished, which saves a lot of buying for those who don’t enjoy it as much). But once I had used the design features a couple of times, and realized how easy it is to get exactly what you want for absolutely everything, I was hooked. I have recoloured every object in my house, made multiple designs for random items of furniture, and for different styles of clothing and hair. It’s a fantastically fun feature to use, and people will enjoy it immensely.

The upgraded skills implementation has meant that rather than painting to increase a creativity skill that will allow you to play piano well, you have a painting skill, and a guitar skill (no pianos) and a writing skill. The skills work the same for others. Additionally, each skill (and career, by extension) will require you to send your Sim into the world to find items, either books, seeds, rocks or creatures, or to learn recipes, baits for fish, or even just to meet people (alive and dead).

The routing of Sims is a bit patchy, Sims still can’t handle a Sim in their way, and stand for several minutes or hours waiting until the way is clear, but while it is frustrating it doesn’t take too much away from the game as a whole. In general, the game will keep avid Simmers happy and enthralled; it will give more design power to less technical players, and will be a happy medium for those who had limited interest in the game. It is a huge step forward for the series, and I am loving it completely. I think it’s safe to say that Will Wright having left Maxis is not a detriment to the franchise in anyway. Well done to their teams, and thanks to them, if anyone is looking for me, they can find me here, playing The Sims 3.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Star Trek

I saw the preview for Star Trek while waiting for a Clive Owen movie to start, The International. The International was a pile of steaming dog turd, but the preview for Star Trek hinted at something far more exciting and watchable. I never mentioned my suspicions to anyone, for fear of being poked with a stick while onlookers mumbled the dirty "Trekkie" word in my direction. I let the thoughts of interest slide, and ignored any urges to investigate further.

Then, I saw that the movie was out in South Africa. I could go watch it. I told my girlfriend, and told her sister, and said "let's go see what's showing", knowing fully well that I would use my manly beard to influence their decision, and that we would go watch Star Trek. I watched it. My suspicions were confirmed in 126 minutes of sheer awesomeness - Star Trek is the greatest movie of all time, ever. There, I said it. I'm not ashamed.

You disagree? Have you watched it? If yes, and you still disagree, then shut up and go read someone else's blog (right after clicking a money making advert link, that is). If not, then reserve judgement until you have seen it, and until it has blown your mind hole. If you are one of those "Trekkies" and your complaints are about the inaccuracies surrounding the film, then I give you two statements:
  1. It is the year 2009. Things change (and get better). Deal with it.
  2. Shut up and go read a fellow Trekkie's blog.
For the rest of you, who are going to continue reading this post, I give you my mind-hole-blown thoughts on the movie, and why it has me reeling in childish giddy-excitement every time I think of it.

Firstly, I'll start by saying that the recent launch and success of the STS-125 Shuttle Atlantis repair mission played a huge part in my interest in the film - not in my interest to actually go and watch the film, but in the reignition of my interest in space in general. Twitter played a large role in that too, so you could say that twitter made me love Star Trek - a terrible crime if there ever was one! But back to point - the updates from Mike Massimino and NASA got my interest back and I did plenty of reading up on space, and planets, and the shuttle and Hubble and theory around faster-than-light-travel and all things included therein.

My next point regarding the movie is a standard thought I've had for the last few films I've watched (particularly new Hollywood movies) - the movies assume I am stupid and need absolutely everything explained to me, for fear I won't grasp the mind-numbing plot and won't spend my well earned cash on the brand. Well, Star Trek does a good job of avoiding the mistake of filling in every possible detail of certain themes - it skips large chunks of our protagonist's life without missing anything; we are well aware of what makes up his character by the time the story begins in earnest.

Our main protagonist was well cast (James T. Kirk, for those of you who have been living in a cave for the last 40 years), I felt - the girls will certainly love him, and he has that Hollywood "cowboy" manner that is common in movies like Top Gun; an easily likeable, but also troubled, character. The rest of the cast is also well done, easily recognisable for the fans, and fresh and updated so that the popular youth who have never watched Star Trek will be interested. Spock is a fantastic portrayal as well, so hats off to the casting crew for picking him.

The storyline itself is pretty cool, it's not dull and is not too obvious, and it gets away from any need to stick to Star Trek guidelines by throwing in some time travel and alternate universe theories - always a good bet. There are the typical cliches that one needs in order to keep with the Star Trek franchise, and I'm happy to say they're well done and not boring or unrealistic. The amount of times the young Jim Kirk gets the crap beaten out of him combined with the number of times he finds himself clinging to a cliff or ledge by his fingertips is a typical Hollywood move, but it makes for an entertaining, action packed watch in any case.

The visuals are awesome, and the sound is great too - in a surround sound cinema the loud sounds of space travel and fist fights set the mood for a great watch - I found myself on the edge of my seat, jaw hanging, utterly absorbed in the action for large parts of the film. The awe of space and space travel, new planets and things like Space Tethers and free-fall space diving made for a totally believable, absorbing, action packed, nail biting movie. There have been few movies that have kept me so engrossed that I barely touch my popcorn-smartie mix, and Star Trek was one of them.

It may not have the level of character development and thought provoking plot twists that critics need, but any seven year old boy watching this will be running around on flying motorbikes, dodging the event horizon of black holes made by red matter, and greeting their friends with the "live long and prosper" sign for much time to come. I felt like a seven year old kid watching Star Trek, and I insist that you won't find a more entertaining movie anywhere for a long time.

Watch this movie - resistance is futile.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Twitter Space

The recent meteoric rise of Twitter has influenced my life greatly in the last few weeks, for several reasons. One of them is the sheer addictiveness of the whole thing - it's easy, write a quick status update (my favourite part of Facebook anyway), click send, and watch a few friends update their statuses too. Add replies, hashtags, followers and Twitpic, and you have a whole community of people who are both completely normal, and a bit techno-geeky.

Another reason is the interesting combination of people who use it, with many celebrities and porn stars joining the fad, along with major news agencies and political campaignists, and your run of the mill average Joe Blogger. The topics are interesting, and there is the usual gathering of smut and crude spam crap that naturally follows all internet societies, but it is for the most part entertaining, enlightening and interesting enough to get me through boring meetings.

Then, on cue, enter a world first (well, a universe first, if you like) as astronaut Mike Massimino becomes the first person to tweet from space. Fellow tweeters (in his field) are NASA and soon to be in space astronaut Mark Polansky. There are others, but these are the ones I follow (if you're suddenly itching to hear what I have to tweet about, I can be found here). Tweeting about astronaut training, the days leading up to the launch of Atlantis on STS-125 on the last ever repair mission to the Hubble telescope, and then tweeting about the spacewalks and missions in space, and now their return, these tweeple have kept me glued to my computer screen.

I have always been fascinated by space, but following their tweets (also where I learned of the existence of www.nasa.gov/ntv) brought the whole experience right home. The images from NASA have been awesome, as have their regular updates on the missions, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to be an astronaut and if I could actually be one - thoughts I'm sure most boys have at some point - and it is possible (though difficult for South Africans, especially deaf ones like me) and more easily accessible than most would realise.

It has been a thoroughly revitalising experience for me, to see technology and a fast growing fad be used to get public interest growing in projects that people might otherwise not see or hear about. I would probably not have watched the launch of Atlantis live on NASA TV if it weren't for Twitter, and by extension neither would the girls in my house. It's awesome that things like these are made easy to find, and while it makes the world a smaller place, it gives us knowledge we'd otherwise have trouble finding, and that makes it more awesome.

The other interesting twitter experience I've had is following the account of Liverpool TV. The journalists regularly tweet about stories or promotions on the website, or generally interesting facts of life in and around Liverpool Football Club and the goings on. With tweets about training, interviews, youth and reserve team matches, team reports, press box lunches and generally the laughs surrounding the club and it's employees, they're a must follow for me. I know more about the club and players now than ever before, and my natural thirst for LFC knowledge is sated by the advent of a cool idea, Twitter.

It certainly has changed my life, even if it has just given me somewhere to post useless updates and read up on interesting bits of inside info. I never considered myself to be completely conversant with all bits of technology and it's uses, or to be a techno-geeky dude, but if these circles are what I'm confined to when I use Twitter, then I'm cool with that. I tweet. Do you?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Update: Go Kart Racing!

So, It's been 12 days since my last post (thanks, Justice, for the reminder). I promised to give an update on the Go Kart Racing, but due to certain copyright and invasion of privacy issues, I am unable to post full details. Therefore, I will certainly NOT mention in any way Justice's crashing into the tyre wall of the first corner, on the first lap, before he reached the starting line up. I will also in no way post this picture of him in action:


Now, getting that out the way, the afternoon was actually a blast!

We arrived, and had a beer to get us out of work mode. We then started chatting about relevant topics, such as deaths, burnings and scalpings all occurring from the partaking in go kart racing. Wise decision. This may have led to certain team members decisions to not go all out in the race, which may or may not have benefited those of us who were still keen on going balls to the wall.

The karts are pretty small, and the bucket seats are really buckety, so it's not comfortable and you feel pretty restricted. Also, you're encouraged not to touch the exhaust, as this would burn - so I kept my arms and elbows tucked in for the duration of my driving, which may or may not have hindered my performance. In addition to small and not entirely comfortable go kart seats, some helmets did not fit everyone, but apart from that, everything was cool.

Basic rules apply, so we split into 3 groups to have 2 heats each, the best 5 lap times going into the final. I was in the first group, and so received the first warning for dangerous driving. I did spin out once, and bumped one guy once, and nearly spun out once more, but I wasn't the only one as we were all getting used to the track, the car and it's handling and limits. It was pretty fun, we all went in pretty gung ho and the times were fairly good - I didn't come first, I came third in the race with second best laptime.

The other groups went, and everyone had interesting experiences - a couple of pileups, some close misses, plenty of spin outs, and even one disqualification (This wasn't discussed, but again, I'm not going to mention at all that it was Justice who was disqualified for his dangerous driving).

After all groups had done their first heat, we went again for seconds, and the competition really began hotting up - we had got to grips with the whole deal, learning the track and what our cars could and couldn't do, and our racing lines and braking strategies had improved greatly.

My main strategy was that I would brake slightly early, and quite hard - so that I could turn sharper out the corners. It took a while to get the right balance, but eventually I got it down and started making up time on fellow racers. I can't comment much on other strategies - but there was a clear group of racers who were fast and enjoying it! Needless to say, I made the final 5 with a close second fastest time.

The final race was exhilarating - I lost the lead with maybe 2 or 3 laps to go due to a spin out, but was murdering the rest of the grid with some ruthless driving and awesome chases (I will point out at this stage that the day's fastest racer, Garrick, had to take the slowest car in the final - a car so slow that 2 laps into the race, with a head start, he was last, so the race wasn't entirely even). A race is not quite as fun as when you are actually racing closely with someone (or several people) - when there are 2 or 3 of you overtaking, tailing, cutting off and turning inside and outside each other, the rush and excitement is amazing. It really is one of the most exciting, fun and satisfying experiences one can have.

If you've never raced go karts before, I reccommend it. It is cheap, easy, and a killer time will be had for all. Here are one or two pics from the day:









Thursday, May 7, 2009

Go Kart Racing

Tomorrow is our work team building function, and the chosen activity is Go Kart Racing. There will be two heats, and a final. I think this is a good opportunity for me to terrorize my colleagues, show absolutely no fear, and do some mental and possibly physical damage to co-workers who annoy me.
Beware. I'll do a post on the event some time afterwards.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Till We Can Keep an Animal

So, last night I went to the book launch of Megan Voysey-Braig's Till We Can Keep an Animal at the Exclusive Books on Kloof street (thanks for the invitation, Themba!) where the author did a reading, had a bit of a Q and A session, signed some books, and then mingled whilst us attendees made good use of the free food and drinks.

It was an interesting experience for me, and there was plenty of food for thought (for me, anyway) when I got to thinking about how books and stories come about, and also how they are written and intended to be read. I did wonder beforehand what the author would actually be like, and I suppose it must have been a little strange for her as this was her first novel, and so therefore first reading and book launch too, and first ever signing (I got the first ever signed copy of her book, just by the way. As in, first ever signed copy EVER in the whole wide world, which was pretty cool).

Anyway, I found her a timid seeming woman (outwardly only, she is quite small physically but no doubt very strong opinionatively) and her voice and reading showed that as well - her voice is not strong and loud, and she somewhat mumbled slowly through the passage she'd selected. The passage was pretty bleak (the whole book is pretty bleak and intense) and her reading it the way she did (which is no doubt the way she intended it to be read) gave it the whole feeling the book should feel, I think. Which is a feeling of hopelessness, restlessness, bleakness, and general non-happiness.

In the Q and A, I asked her whether the story was something she'd always wanted to write, or whether it was just at the time, to which she answered "It was just at the time." Which is fair enough, I suppose. But it made me wonder on how and why she wrote the story - there are different ways of writing and reasons for writing, but in my opinion, the main ones are:
  • You have a story that needs to get out, so you write it.
  • You are exploring a theme or subject, for example "What would happen if...." and follow on with a story.
  • Or, and I think this was her reason, you want people to be aware of something (e.g. a political, misogynistic, democratic situation in a country) and so you write a story about it to show what you think about the subject.
I'm not a huge fan of the last one, as I'm one for fiction as fiction - a story that takes us away. My choice of literature is and always has been the fantastical, esoteric, horror kind of literature - because that always tends to have some element of paranormality or something that isn't possible (or very unlikely), and doesn't happen to us in reality. I like reading about such things because they take me away from here, they show me a world of magical awesomeness that makes me feel like a kid, they show me a place that exists only in my mind the way I have imagined it, and that escape is what I crave for.

When I read a book, I want to be able to read through it in a matter of days (even hours), I want it to draw me to it, suck me in, let me lose myself in it completely and utterly, and long for it's stories when I'm done. I want the characters in it to become real, I want to be there with them watching the story unfold, I want the entire world in the book to be around me, to be imagined even if it is not explicitly mentioned in the story itself. That's how I like my books, and so why a book like this one would never attract me normally. However, this book is narrated by a dead girl - by a ghost.

That, obviously, is something that would pique my interest, and so there is a small chance of reading it. Even reading the first few lines, I was interested in reading further, but this bubble has kind of been burst since, mainly due to the author's reading and her answer to one question in particular.

Her reading showed that the book is intended to be read in a subdued, bleak, helpless manner. My initial tone for the narrator was nothing like the author's intention, and so already the book is not what I expected and not something I'd look for in a book (generally, if there is going to be helplessness, I would prefer it to be due to a demon or alien or some kind of horrible supernaturality, rather than the political situation in the country I live in).

The question she was asked was something along the lines of "The narrator is a ghost. Why doesn't she rest? Why is she still here?" (I have to add, at this point, that the asker of this question had a lofty, important, educated, I'm-so-clever-and-fancy-and-book-readingly-important-like, pompous-ass-like tone) and the author's answer was (not, as I thought to myself at the time, "read the book", but) that it's part of the metaphor for how the helplessness of the girl and the situation. That answer makes me wonder, did she write the story and then think of the metaphor, or the other way round? Did she sit down and think "what is a good metaphor for the helplessness of this particular plight against woman?" and then decide that a dead narrator was the way to go? Not really my kind of story then.

In any case, I bought the book. I'll read it first, and then post a review, but I'm not sure if it's something I will enjoy, or something else entirely (beautifully written, but unenjoyable because of its close to home topic?). In case you're wondering, the title is also a metaphor for democracy in our country: Till We Can Keep an Animal. The animal in the title is democracy, and obviously it's along the lines of us not taking the big steps before we've taken the little ones.

Aside from all that literary crap, the food was good and the wine was nice. Once again, thanks Themba and Exclusive Books!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Physical effects manifesting in dreams

I had a most terrible nightmare last night, and it got me thinking about how dreams have physical effects on our bodies, or vice versa. To start with, here is the dream:

I was in a gym, working out. I was terribly, terrible thirsty throughout. When I finished working out, I went over to the water fountain and drank as much as I could of the cold, delicious water. I then made my way out of the gym into the mall section of the building (naturally) to a restaurant and ordered a coke and a bottle of water, both of which I drank. I was still terribly, terribly thirsty. I then met up with some friends who wanted to go and get some food at another restaurant. I followed, and ordered a bottle of water and an orange juice from this restaurant too, and all the while (after drinking the drinks as well) I was parched, thirstier than I'd ever been in my life.

When I woke up, I was, you guessed it, incredibly thirsty. That's nothing new or exciting really, it's often that physical things happening to your sleeping body manifest themselves in your dreams. One thing I wondered, though, was how something like death would affect our dreams, if we were, for instance, dying in our sleep.

I'd be interested to find out if someone who is dying in their sleep still dreams. What would the dream be like? Would it be a light at the end of the tunnel kind of dream? Would it be the kind of dream where you're battling demons and one swipes his great big clawed fist at your head and actually connects, and you die both physically and in your dream? Or would there be some kind of dreamly visitation by your chosen religious angel of death? Interesting. I smell a story coming here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Julius Malema

Julius Malema has short man, short dick syndrome. A hell of an opener, yes, but I write in reference to this article: ANCYL slams Nando's Ad. To think that the ruling party's youth league has threatened to take "militant action against Nando's and anything associated with Nando's" over an advert is ridiculous. Where did free speech go? Where did our sense of humour go? Who gave Julius Malema the right to mobilize the public army to battle against a food change that the entire country frequents? Because they said something he doesn't like? What hogwash!

Malema is an idiot. A fool. He is a loud mouth, a dog with a loud, annoyingly high pitched bark, and no bite. He is one of those men that would favour the line "do you want to take this outside, bru?" And would potentially follow it up with "you're a bit of a chop, hey. Bru." I can handle the stupid machine gun song. I can even take the dancing. Hell, the corruption is a given in government, so I can probably live with that (though obviously my vote is directed at opposing it), but I cannot handle arrogance and stupidity mixed with support based on blind faith.

The truth facing South Africans right now is that we are being led by a bunch of moronic, money hungry struggle heroes who favour power and status over their service to the country. They want to earn as much as possible for doing as little as possible, and the only exception to the rule is Trevor Manuel, as far as I'm concerned. And still, two thirds of our country will vote for a party not because of the party's values or policies, but because of a corrupt, HIV infected rapist, that has no schooling higher than a standard seven, that uses a 30 year old child to serve fevered and religious support to his giant, struggle hero ego.

I would like to see Julius Malema face to face. I would take the chance of possibly facing his bodyguards and some prison time, for the chance of publicly breaking his over-exercised, yapping jaw. What a fucking idiot.

Football Update

We lost 6-2, in a game largely involving violence, bad reffing, and short man syndrome. Enough said.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Football Positioning

For the last few weeks, my fellow blogger Thewster has been moaning about my inability to pass the ball to him in our indoor football team. This post is dedicated entirely to him, to both annoy and amuse him, and perhaps, enlighten him. So, Matthew, pay close attention!

Let me first state, that in order to preserve our fragile team morale, I shall endeavor to pass the ball to Matthew in our match tonight, with much higher frequency, in order to prove him right and myself wrong. This stems also from my recent inability to kick the ball further than I can throw Stephen Hawking, and hence my inability to score more than one or two goals per game (a sad statistic for me). Our team has been shy of goals in seasons past, and so I am going to pass to Matthew as often as possible, to push this burden onto him and away from me and my now frail and feeble kicking leg (which has 1 week left in which to redeem itself before I hack it off and hang up my footballing boots for life).

Now, Matthew's reasoning for why it is evident I am wrong in not passing the ball to him is this: when Brian plays, Matthew scores. This is because Brian passes the ball to him. When Brian does not play, Matthew does not score. This is because I do not pass to anyone. Ever.

It is possible he thinks part of the reason for my stinginess on the ball relates to my judgment of him as footballer - I don't pass to him because I don't think he can score, and so I take it on myself. This is not true. I usually don't pass because he is in a position not better than myself, or in a position where we could potentially lose the ball, and so I go for goal (my natural thinking is that if a striker is within striking range of the goal, he should shoot, because that is what he does). I have compiled a diagram, so that one can further understand the concept:

A quick legend - blue dots are defenders, the yellow dot is the keeper, the red dot open on the left is Matthew screaming for the ball, and the red dot with the green dot (ball) is me stingily hogging the ball. Point to note - I'm not sure where the 2 blue dots usually are, but they're roughly there, with the middle blue dot watching Matthew (though not very closely) and the blue dot on the right marking or attempting to tackle me. Now, in this situation, usually I will run along the wing and try shoot and score. Brian will dummy and try pass to Matthew.

There are several outcomes here, as far as I can tell. The obvious one, is that I will dribble and shoot and (due to my recent uselessness) not score. We will then all trudge back and start over. Another outcome, is that Brian (not me, never) will dummy over the ball, pull back and pass to Matthew, who will control the ball and smash it into the back of the net with his left foot. His left foot is more reliable. Another outcome, is that I will do the dummy, and pass the ball to Matthew, only to watch him lose control or the middle blue dot intercept, and have 3 defenders turned strikers rushing past me in the direction of the goal, with myself and Matthew watching Warrick try in vain to stop 2 or 3 defenders while we rush back trying to help.

There are various other outcomes, obviously, but I think these are the most important, because here is where the running and positioning of a player is important. Firstly, unless a player is free of a marker and in a position in which he is virtually guaranteed to get the ball if passed to (i.e. no interceptions), he cannot be static. He needs to be moving to an open space, for one of two reasons:
  • to evade defenders and collect the ball in space.
  • to draw defenders away from a space that can be occupied either by a running teammate or by the man with the ball.
Secondly, because the player with the ball is running, and has his head in a downward position, and was disallowed a spot in the Air Force to be a fighter pilot due to Mild Bilateral Hearing Loss, the open man who is now no longer static, or has moved into a better spot (not standing forlornly near the edge of the keeper's area) has to be screaming like a slut in a gang bang (apologies, this is football, and we are vulgar creatures) in order for the player with the ball to hear them, not muttering under their breath about how they wish Brian was playing.

I think it also bears mentioning that in the same way that myself and Matthew are completely different players (he passes the ball, I don't), myself and Brian are completely different players. This may not seem obvious at first glance, but I assure you it is true. A quick description of the playing styles of myself, Matthew and Brian:

Brian - a midfielder / striker who can dribble and pass well, and score goals. His dribbling style involves tricks and feinting in order to send the player the wrong way.
Matthew - a defender type player who occasionally pops one in the back of the net when going forward (if Brian is playing).
Myself - I'm not entirely sure, but I probably defend better than I attack, and I like shooting from all ranges and angles. I don't dribble particularly well, but I can pass a ball. My dribbling style involves running at pace and changing direction or feinting once before shooting.

The purpose of that, naturally, is to highlight the ability of Brian to dummy and send a player the wrong way in order to drag the ball back and pass, whereas my ability there is not great - I would much rather get the ball at pace and be running at players, as opposed to get the ball and be required to swivel my fancy feet around and create a space out of nothing.

That is part of the reason why it makes Brian more able to pass to Matthew - Matthew is static, and so when Brian dummies, the defender moves out of the way and Brian can pass the ball. When I dummy, the defender looks at me like I'm stupid, so I turn the other way and run fast and shoot and try score.

Having said all of the above, however, I am open to criticism of my play, so tonight I am going to attempt to develop my "sharing" ability and pass the ball more often. I shall also take it upon myself to crap Matthew out when I think he is in an un-passable position, so perhaps his fallout with that action shall create material for a blog post next tomorrow.

All in all, let's hope that we can sort out our issues, and score some goals!



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Banshee Hunter

It's been ages since I posted some actual writing up on my blog, and I figured I better sprout something forth in case I'm accosted and need to change my blog to "The ramblings, and not writings, of Brett James Irvine" or something. So here goes.

*

The wind howled through the reeds at the water's edge and into the clearing where Kinvara stood waiting. The moonlight limbed the silver bowl of river water in which she stood, the tiny ripples throwing shadows and spiders of light onto her skin. When the hour was right, she removed her cloak and brought her silver dagger to the smooth skin at her wrist. She did not flinch when the banshee screamed, and waited until the creature floated into view before plunging the blade into her arm.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What will you do when the zombies come? They'll be here soon.

So, courtesy of a plinky prompt, this week's topic (as is the title of this post) will be:

What will you do when the zombies come? They'll be here soon. What do we do?

Ok, so firstly, we need to think about what we know about zombies. Here is my (not exhausted) list:
  • they are the undead.
  • they want to eat your brains.
  • once they eat your brains, you will become a zombie.
  • they can only be killed by a bullet to the head, or by decapitation.
  • if you chop off an arm, that arm will still come crawling (Crawling? It's an arm!) after you.
  • whilst limber in life, zombies are strangely slow and dawdling in undeath.
  • they communicate via a strange noise, made by opening one's mouth slightly, and going "uuuuuuuaaaaaagghhhh".
  • they only want to eat living brains.
  • when deprived of living brains, they will mill about pointlessly, arms extended, making their zombie-noise.
  • for no apparent reason, they are scarier at night.
  • zombies are not intelligent.
  • it is likely that when the zombocalypse happens, nothing will be able to prevent it (mainly because it will start in a government facility, and so the people most equipped to deal with it will be the first zombies).
  • most zombies are American in origin.
  • zombies cannot swim.
So, there is the list. Now, having said that, we will need to establish a likely timeframe within which the zombocalypse shall occur. I'm going to be bold, and name the date. December 12, 2012, falls on a Wednesday, and so for no reason related at all to the Mayans and their ancient zombie mathematics, we'll assume that the zombocalypse is going to start on a Wednesday.

Next, we will need to establish from where the zombies will originate. I'm going to take three wild guesses, and say that the first zombies will originate from:
  • Area 51, New Mexico, The United States of America
  • Large Hadron Collider, CERN, Geneva
  • Salem's Lot, Maine, The United States of America
This means that it will take several weeks, perhaps months, for the zombies to mill about aimlessly in the direction of Cape Town. I'm going to hazard a guess, as well, that whilst zombies will once have been the pre-eminent minds in international military science, once they reach a state of undeath, they will have lost most of their knack for technical things, such as sailing boats, driving cars and flying planes. Perhaps they might retain their knowledge of riding bicycles though - you know the old saying after all - but I think it's likely that between Geneva and Cape Town, our zombie friends will encounter at least one puncture. And, you don't need me to tell you, there is no saying that goes "It's like fixing the puncture in a bicycle tire...".

So, having said that, I would say the only way for zombies to reach our Mother City, would be via an incredibly long, puncture free, bicycle trip through Africa. This presents an interesting question, one I have not thought of before: if you eat a zombie's brain, do you become a zombie? Because, dear readers, as you know, Africa is filled with starving people. My guess is that if hundreds of slow, dimwitted zombies were to start pouring into Africa, demanding brains with their strange zombie-noise, the starving Africans would realize that it's a case of eat or be eaten. This can lead to one of two situations: either the zombocalypse is ended in an African feast, or it's continued in an African feast.

Either way, I think it's safe to say that once this happens, it would be a good bet to leave the continent - we'll either be dealing with millions of brain-hungry zombies, or millions of brain-hungry cannibals who have tasted (once) human flesh, and now want more. It's natural to think twice, of course, but I know for sure that the cannibals want to eat me just as much as the zombies want my brain. I work in the city, and everyone knows that the 14th floor of a building full of people in a city centre is a well loved hangout for zombies and cannibals alike. I'm leaving!

And so - where do we go? Why, an island of course! Madagascar is the perfect place for living Capetonians. It's surrounded by the sea (I'm sure you've noticed) and so bicycle riding zombies and cannibals can't get to us (brain-hungry Africans are surely as technologically deprived as zombies?) there. We'd live a perfect existence, perhaps even better than the materialistic one we are currently faced with!

So, I daresay the unsayable. I am looking forward to the zombocalypse! The zombies are coming, and we'll live in harmony surfing and growing mealies! Bring on 2012, I say! Bring it on!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The End of Mr. Y Book Review

Well, I did say I would post a review, so here it is. It's not much different from my first impressions, but I continue nonetheless. I've left it a couple days as well, so the book isn't burning bright in my mind as I write this, but rather I'm left with an overall sensation of the read, rather than the finer details.

So, our protagonist, Ariel Manto, is a self-destructive, promiscuous woman with no ties in the world, few friends, and the only possessions that matter to her are her books. She writes a column for a magazine, which leads her to thoroughly researching topics that take her interest, topics that happen to dabble in philosophy and quantum physics. Rather than having studied such topics at a university, she instead reads books on the subjects. Her particular flavour is the "thought experiment", and the author labours on extensively about the subject through much of the book.

Anyways, the story starts with her coming across an incredibly rare, cursed book called The End of Mr. Y. She buys it, and reads it (naturally). The author, a certain Thomas Lumas, is a nut, and was also fascinated by thought experiments in the early 1900s. The book, our Ariel theorizes, is not a fictional story, but in fact an account of a thought experiment actually carried out by Lumas. The book tells a story of a man who finds a concoction allowing him to travel to the "troposphere", which is a place that allows you to enter people's minds. Much of the book is dedicated to his search for the recipe for the concoction, which he obtains eventually.

The page with the recipe on is torn from the book. After some searching and further plot development, Ariel finds the removed page and the recipe. And so, because said book is a thought experiment rather than a fictional story, she brews the concoction and tries it herself. Of course, it works, and our Ariel is suddenly able to live in the minds of others through this "troposphere".

The story follows her journey through the troposphere, and her attempts to understand it. We accompany her on this journey, meeting strange characters both in and out of the troposphere, and the plot includes secret agents, Gods, time travel, and churches. It is a fascinating story, and the beginning part is so well written, that it hooks you in completely and I found myself wondering if, like the book in the book, this book is more than just a fictional tale, and whether I should attempt to brew the concoction myself, too, just to be sure (I haven't yet, if you're wondering).

I read the book in 2 or 3 days, which, considering that I work full time, is a considerable measure of its magnetism when it is lying in wait for me to plunder through the story. It meanders somewhat at parts, leaving me feeling like the author had nowhere else to plonk her ideas on subjects like metaphysics, language, quantum physics and philosophy, but it did sort of fit into the story, and certainly was a welcome explanation for why holy water has such exciting side effects.

I did find some of the characteristics of the troposphere a bit strange, and seemingly non-fitting (the computer-like console, for instance) in the grander scheme of things, but these oddities are easily explained by the "metaphor" bit of the troposphere's building blocks. I also gave the author her due in that this is her story, not mine, and so her imaginary world can work in whatever way she chooses it too.

The story's ending is also somewhat different to the way the story started out, and in hindsight I felt like perhaps the author was dying to get it finished, and so wrote quicker and quicker and eventually cut short the ending to meet a deadline. Having said that, however, the ending fits and does provide a small measure of a satisfying "aha" moment, and allows one to think further on all the stuff that happened in the book, and its meaning.

I'm still wondering whether Scarlet Thomas is a good writer, or whether she had a fantastic idea for a story - the plot and idea does pull you through the weak bits, but I will read more of her books to find out, which one assumes must mean she is at least a decent author.

All in all, I loved the book, and it's a must read (especially for people who enjoy the more fantastical aspects of fiction). The End of Mr. Y certainly gets my thumbs up.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thaumaturgy

I love words and language. I love metaphors and similes and idiomatic expressions and irony and sarcasm and puns. Everything we do is shaped by language - I often think that my first memories start from when I could first speak, and that the memories before then are lost in the garbled baby speak language that is unreadable by me, and so I can't remember them.

It excites me to see weird words, I want to speak them and feel them being shaped by my mouth and mind. I want to write them down, write with them, use them in my stories and blog posts and emails and in general conversation. Words like thaumaturgy. The definition:

thau·ma·tur·gy
n. The working of miracles or magic feats.
thauma·turgic, thauma·turgi·cal adj.

It's so exciting. It reminds me of metallurgy, so it conjures (and yes, I've used conjure there on purpose) up images of a scholarly type working with some malleable, molten-liquid, silvery magical substance, taking notes and waving his wand. The possibilities are endless.

And so, the natural progression of this post is to move on to a rant of sorts. I judge you for using bad grammar. I recently watched Marley and Me (great movie, by the way), and I also came across a book written by Steve Irwin's wife, called Irwin and Me. And it drives me mad. The fact that a book - a book! - can be titled in a manner that is grammatically incorrect makes me want to crumple up into a little ball and explode. The fact that some editor allowed that to go to print is abhorrent. The movie title - I know the name is an alliteration and it makes for a nice sounding title, but just that fact is not reason enough, as far as I'm concerned, to break the grammatical laws.

The English language is changing all the time, molding like the silvery substance in my thaumaturgy example, but surely grammatical rules still hold place? How many people realize that Marley and Me should be Marley and I? If these kinds of errors are made common in popular culture and media, how will we ever escape their incorrect use? I don't think we will. The sms, email and chat client method of communication is altering our usage of language drastically, and soon enough we shall all be speaking like children.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Real Rambling.

I'm sick at home. I'm not in bed anymore, it's too hot there. There's a guy walking around the block of flats behind us with a wheelbarrow that has a squeeky wheel. And when I say a squeeky wheel, I mean the kind of squeeky wheel that will drive you insane and make you want to leap attack the squeeker from the 2nd floor window of your bedroom, armed with whatever objects are nearby (currently, a large candle and a coaster).

Additionally, I'm inviting you to vote for Fernando Torres as PFA Player of the Month. Here's the link: PFA Fans award

I'm also reading a book called The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. It's interesting, and just the kind of story I like - though I do feel there are bits that aren't "story" enough for me, and the author is really just using the book to speak about her thoughts on the world, quantum physics, and reality. Which is ok, I guess, except that I prefer fictional books to be stories. And a book that has 3 chapters devoted to "thoughts" which read more like essays and physics papers than like fictional plot developments does tend to annoy me. I've put that aside, though, because the story is interesting (when the author gets over herself and starts telling it).

I'll put up a proper review when I'm done reading it (end of the week, for sure).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Despair and Creepiness

Writer's block is a terrible, terrible thing. It strikes in all different forms, affecting some things, or everything. It's a nasty, terrible beast, creeping up in the night and turning a giant, all-revealing mirror in front of us, showing up our weaknesses. There are many ways to defeat it, of course, all things I've tried and tried.

But, the bottom line is - tonight, I'm writing crap. It's garbage compared to my other stuff (and even in comparison to this blog), and I hate writing it. I'm sitting here, writing up a ghost story, and in my head it's brilliant. I can see the pictures, and I'm uncovering the plot nicely as I go along. I'm even googling some scary photos as I write, chalking up the atmosphere. I'm alone, of course, and I'm starting to freak myself out. The character in my story is sitting in a room not unlike mine, the weather outside eerily similar, and some of the noises around my house can almost be interpreted in the way my character is interpreting them.

To be honest, I'm actually dreading getting up from this chair, because I'm too scared. I've completely freaked myself out, and that's the aim of the story - except it's not working. Writer's block is taking the story in my head and mashing it up before it comes out, turning the words on the screen into useless bundles of nothingness, completely devoid of excitement, tension, terror or grammar. My story is a bumbling mess, and the only way it would scare anyone is if I were to show it to an editor.

However, at some point, the block will fall away and I'll continue to write normally again. I'll probably even look back at what I've written tonight and rewrite it, thankful that at least some ideas came from it all. The only thing we can do when we hit the block, is to write. And, that's what I'm doing.

In Case of Fire - Perish!

So, there was a fire on Table Mountain last night and this morning, and it was quite low down - low enough so that they had to block off roads and evacuate houses. One of the guys at work lives there, and had to evacuate (he's not here today, strangely), and that got me thinking (and feeling sorry for these guys) about how I would react if I had to be woken up at 1am to be told that I need to leave my house because there's a fire.

Obviously, it depends on how close the fire is - obviously if it's right there you'd hear it and there wouldn't be time for anything other than running outside and saving the lives of your family. If it's a bit further though, and you had, say, 15 minutes to get your most important possessions before the fire came, what would you take?

Xbox 360 springs to mind, books, clothes, soccer boots, laptop. Everyone has those useless trinkets lying around that mean so much to us - heirlooms and jewellery and various other what-nots. The thing is - there is just too much stuff that I like to be able to choose. Obviously, I can't carry all my books - too heavy and just too many. But, would I take a few books? Which ones? The favourite ones I've read, or the ones I haven't? Would I throw as much stuff into the car and try and drive off with as much as possible?

Clearly, the problem here is not that I have too much stuff - it's that I'm too attached to my stuff. I am materialistic - a material boy living in a material world - and it annoys me. I don't want to be materialistic - and yet, I like my stuff too much not to be. I like my books. I like my Xbox. I like my random bits of useless crap. Hell, I even like my old clothes too much to throw them out (though, I proudly state that I've given a whole bag full of old clothes to charity this week) - and I know that I'm not the only one. I'm probably not even one of the worst ones when it comes to materialism.

Is it a bad thing, though? These days, there is a serious lack of family values, and of the "tribe" mentality, or a sense of community. Everyone is an individual, trying to beat everyone to the top in a war of individual goal satisfaction. Although our stuff is a result of this war, it also gives us something to hold on to, to cherish, and to look after in event of fire. These days, nothing else provides those needs - as patriotism and sense of community is lost.

It seems like a bit of a catch 22 situation, I know, but if we didn't have our stuff to hold on to, what would we have? It's sad that when there is so much in this world that is ruined by materialism, materialism is one of the few things holding people together.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Update: It's still coming!

So, my other timer was lost in amongst the other random blog posts that I have a habit of spewing forth. Thus, here it is, in all its front page glory: