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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Year And All That

I'm not such a cynic that I'm above reflecting on the past year. It occurs to me that depending on how one takes it, a year can either be a catastrophe or a miracle.

I was almost made homeless, lost the only job I ever loved, and had it confirmed that I will probably never breathe normally ever again - assuming my heart holds out.

On the other hand...

I moved into a house with four great friends, celebrated my 3-year anniversary with my girlfriend, and got the ball rolling on a potentially awesome youtube project.

So will 2014 be better?

Probably. There may be an improvement in my health, I may find a job, this How We Roll thing may come good - all manner of awesome things may happen.

So I maintain an air of quiet optimism.

Happy New Year, world.

Friday, 20 December 2013

How We Roll - The Birth Of Something Cool

So myself and the folks I live with, with the assistance of various of our friends and associates, will soon be putting together a youtube channel.

This channel will primarily involve RPG-related gumf. Things like thoughts on character, on setting, in-game stuff as well as out-of-game. It may well involve comedy, too - as we keep skitting out bits under the purview of The DM Society, a bunch of high-society blaggards that swig brandy and scoff at the "lower classes" (players) who they run games for.

While various people have ideas in place for what they want to do, I'm still in the air.

One thing I DO want to do is related to the classes commonly found in D&D / Pathfinder - and an exploration of each one. Oodles of examples of why not every Barbarian has to be Fafhrd, and not every Rogue has to be the Gray (sic) Mouser. This would probably include an exploration of characters from movies, TV, comics and anime that could, perhaps, be played as an example of each class.

I'm thinking aloud right now, I'm aware, but I'd quite like input - and also advice re: the channel. We're going to need music for the titles and credits, graphics, that kind of thing.

Feel free to bug me via the comments section, or my facebook or twitter.

That said - how YOU doin?

Edit: How We Roll now has its very OWN Twitter feed, right here.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

RP Characters - What Makes Us Tick

While discussing the origins of various RP characters with someone not so long ago, I did a mental head-count of the haracters I played, and came to a few realisations.

There are certain character traits that I seem to fall back on, a hell of a lot. Some of them are personal standards, some of them are quirks, but they're all things that recur in my characters - and I decided to, for fun, list them.

I like playing characters that make things. Sculptors, mechanics, swordsmiths, coders, magic item artificers, tattoo artists - the idea of a character making something strongly appeals, if only because I value and respect the ethos that goes into it.

I like playing characters that are competent combatants. From raw-boned two-fisted gutsy brawler to full-blown spec ops tactical, sword master to sniper, swords-at-dawn to knife-in-the-back. Even if the character isn't a designated ass-beater, I still like to know that if necessary, they can beat ass.

I like playing characters with strong convictions. Someone that believes in something - whatever that something may be. A total belief in a god or cause, or a moral compass so strong it overcomes all doubt. The real world often makes such a thing difficult, but not in RP-land.

I like playing characters that defy stereotype. Hackers that aren't teenage wunderkinds, assassins that are fairly sociable, fighters that aren't walking tanks. Stereotypes exist for a reason - I just get a twisted kind of joy out of deliberately bucking a trend.

I like playing characters that are smarter than the average bear. It's hard to simulate intelligence above and beyond your own - but at times it is harder to play someone dumb as a post. Especially if the character isn't one that particularly calls for high intellect.

I like playing characters with engaging backstory. Especially if I can tie that into another character's story. Making throwaways isn't something I've ever enjoyed doing, and I'd rather concieve a bio that someone never uses, than have a PC with no history

I like playing characters that are musical. Not necessarily musicians in their own right, but certainly with an appreciation for it. This mght be simply because I find it hard to play someone that doesn't love or enjoy muic, but hey, it still counts.

I like playing characters wth personality. I want someone else to be able to describe them without mentioning physical description, job, class and name. The age-old character test. So when someone else says "...but that's not like them," I get a warm fuzzy feeling.

I like characters wth interesting names. Minor, yes. But it's true. Nicknames, double-barreled names, titles, obscure meanings - a name says a lot about a character. Sometimes it says a lot about the character that isn't even true, which can be fun in and of itself.

I like playing characters with weaknesses and flaws. A character without flaws, be they hero or villain, is boring - and sometimes a charater' flaws and strengths can come together to make them something greater than the sum of their parts.

Following this I decided to list the hit parade of some of the characters I've played in the past, and score them on the traits previously mentioned - if they display a trait, they get a point, score from 1-10. I'll also list what game system they are from and what they were.

Crowbar (Eclipse Phase, combat engineer / soldier) - 10/10!
Canny Hare (Exalted, Night-caste thief / courier) - 9/10
Blazing Hammer (Exalted, Dawn-caste swordsmith) - 9/10
Corbin Anyson (Pathfinder, Human Rogue) - 8/10
Lady Elysian Kore (Pathfinder, Human Paladin) - 8/10
Rayze (Pathfinder, Human Fighter) - 8/10
Hakim al'Sham (Pathfinder, Human Cleric) - 10/10!
Rotsnik (Pathfinder, psychopathic goblin) - 5/10 (well he IS a goblin.)
Grimm Redmayne (Pathfinder, Dwarf Fighter) - 8/10
Hunter Arlington (Scion, Son of Hachiman) - 8/10
Callum Jameson (Scion, Son of The Dagda) - 9/10
Arthur (Mage, Moros Arrow) - 8/10
Ihsan (Mage, Acanthus Mysterium) - 9/10
Perdix (Mage, Acanthus Free Council) - 9/10

There's more of course. But these first examples really impressed on me just how similar I make my characters.

Are they all the same? Far from it. Those who've played with them will probably attest to that - but it's the similarities that make me think, and make me wonder if there's a reason why I like playing these characters so much.

Maybe they are traits I see in myself, or wish I could see in myself. Maybe they are values I see in people I respect or care about. Maybe when I make a character, I end up making a character I want to be, want to look up to.

It's hard to say. But it's something to think about, at least.

Thoughts? Comments? Any interesting traits that are common in your own characters? I'd love to know.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Medal Call Of Battlefield

I would like to tell you about a game.

It is a game that is a welcome and original addition to an already popular worldwide franchise. A game eagerly awaited by many up util the very day of release, produced and brought to fruition by a legendary developer.

It is a game whose new features add to an already classical genre, a game that heralds its forebears as much as it breaks new ground, a game that is a victory on a conceptual level as well as simply being fun.

The graphical advances between this incarnation of the franchise and the last are astounding to look upon. Likewise, the sound engineering and score are peerless. Attention has been paid to every aspect of the game, in order to bring the best possible experience to the player.

In this game, the levels are superbly designed, sumptuous to view and fun to explore, with many hidden treats for the observant player. The performance is superb, and the characterisation of enemies and allies alike is perfectly matched to the setting - which in itself is rendered supremely well.

Also - the fish swim away from you.

If you thought I was talking about the latest Call of Duty, then I'm sorry, but you're very, very misguided. Because I am clearly singing the praises of Mario 64.

And for fuck's sake, AAA games industry, stop making such shitty shooters that all play and look the same.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Unintended Absence

Sooooo I've been pretty quiet here.

I'm sorry. I suck.

Regularly sceduled (by which I mean irregular unscheduled but MORE regular) poting will begin again soon.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Syria, Suspicion & Snooping

For two years, people have died in Syria's civil war.

Note that this isn't the only area of the world in which people are being killed in military quantities. A moment's research reveals 11 ongoing military conflicts that yield over a thousand deaths a year, but they aren't really the topic of the news right now, which is a critique I will save for another time.

No, this conflict is the one I will pick at if only for the sheer duplicity shown by "The West" in how it is handling the situation.

Over 40,000 people died as a direct result of the Syrian civil war in 2012. Those may be slightly generous figures, as they are maintained by the Revolutionary Martyr's Database, statistics retained by the National Council. But then no counter-information has been put out by Assad's government, either.

Did we really care, back then? No, not really. And when I say We, I mean the people making decisions about "limited in scope" and "limited in duration" operations with "no boots on the ground" - a description, I will point out, that applied to Pearl Harbour.  (I daresay the Pentagon spokesman responsible for the statement, George Little, might be uncomfortable at the comparison.)

All of a sudden, we care because of the use of chemical weapons.

Don't get me wrong. The use of chemical weapons in warfare is something that deeply upsets and unsettles me, something that wrankles me in a fairly intrinsic way. They are horrifying things - in an age where one can push a button and eliminate a single floor of a building from two hundred miles away, and leave the rest of it mostly standing, no such thing should ever have a reason for being deployed.

The thing is that the deaths caused by the chemical weapon attack in question - anywhere between 300 and 1,000, according to rebel sources - is a drop in the ocean compared to how many people have been killed by being shot, being bombed, and any other comparable means of ending a life. 30,000 this year alone. If we assume that the 1,000 figure is accurate - are we really saying that the other 29,000 don't matter, because they died via the standard methods of bullet or explosion?

Just imagine lining up thirty people. Shoot 29 of them, while the police look on and murmur things about it not being good and how it should stop but not doing anything at all - then make the last one inhale Sarin, and only then, ONLY then, do the police actually decide to do anything about it.

Something more is going on here. There's a higher priority drive than the will of the people - which is overwhelmingly against current action in Syria. And it isn't related to the deaths of the innocent, either.

Meanwhile, the US and the UK declare their own civil war against their own people. Bull Run is the name of two battles in the American civil war in Virginia - one of them being the very first battle in that war - and an operation code name used in Iraq. Edgehill was a battle in the English civil war, a battle that happened outside of Warwickshire. Total casualties: approximately 17,000, in the civil wars at least.

Admittedly these new implementations of Bull Run and Edgehill aren't so much deaths via bullet or explosion. They're more insidious than that. All I'm saying is, be careful what you say in emails - if you don't want people in power to be reading it, then either encrypt it well, or don't email it at all. And certainly don't send it over the phone, either. Yes, they have you there too.

What point am I trying to make here?

Well...none, really. Just that, right now, neither the US or the UK government seems to be representing the will of its people. And that's not even getting into the economic suicide of George Osborne's austerity measures and Iain Duncan Smith's war on people poorer than him.

Perhaps it is time we started enforcing our will on our governments through every channel we can, rather than trotting out to elections and then sitting at home and complaining. And when I say We, I mean the country as a whole; because we may not have voted for the people making the shit sandwiches, but almost all of us are going to have to take a bite.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Roll To Save vs Council Tax

Roll for Initiative.

I'm currently playing two tabletop RPG campaigns, and gaming has been part of my life for, basically, over half of it.  Most who know me will agree that I'm an avid gamer.

It was while discussing character generation, however, that I came across a revelation. Recently I've talked a lot about lessons that I've learned from various places, and it occured to me that a lot of the advice I was giving people - and the epithets I often use when talking character and game - can be applied to real-life scenarios as easily as they can to a game of Loungerooms & Lizards*.

Note: The game I am referring to in this case is Pathfinder, which is basically D&D. Other systems have other lessons to learn, of course. Pathfinder is just what I am playing the mot of right now, and is the system that provoked the thoughts that led to this whole ramble in the first place.

*Basements & Basilisks. Warehouses & Wyverns. Kitchens & Komodos. Gardens & Geckos. Studios & Salamanders. This is fun.

1) Use Your Stats. You are stuck with your ability rolls - but they don't dictate the rest of you. Work with what you have, recognise your strengths and minimise your weaknesses. Low Dexterity implies that deciding to become a lead in a royal ballet corps is perhaps a bad choice, though a consequent high Charisma means that a career in performance is certainly not out of the question. This, however, ties into...

2) Remember Advancement. It's not just a case of having the potential to get better - it's almost a certainty. It may seem difficult to achieve a given goal, but as long as you are realistic - not fatalistic, not optimistic, but realistic - what can be achieved might surprise you. Have your goals in mind with every step you take, and always have something to strive for.

3) Career Is Not Class. When someone asks: "What do you do?" They are often meaning your career. But often, what people "do" is not their job. Their job is what allows the to do what they "do". Remember: in Pathfinder, profession is a skill that anyone can take, regardless of Class. If you want to be defined by how you earn your pay, that is different - that is when a career and a Class are the same thing.

4) Class Is Not Character. While stereotypes exist of what certain Classes act and think like, they are not binding. Nor is life. How one should act in certain situations - while guided by social convention - is up to the individual. Not your job, nor your interests, should tell you who you should be. Influence? Certainly - a Cleric is almost certain to demonstrate certain religious traits, a Fighter is almost certain to be somewhat more martial. However, they are not the be-all and end-all by any means.

5) Pick Your Battles. A Level 2 Fighter cannot solo a dragon of any description; nor can a Level 16 Fighter call any number of goblins a challenge. That said. A Level 2 Fighter might WANT to solo a dragon, for the sheer amount of loot that will come of it - while the Level 16 will get next to nothing for the horde dead at his feet. The balance is to take on a challenge that can be overcome but is also worth the fight. This can apply to both combat and other challenges.

6) The Journey Trumps The Destination. If everything up until the end objective is a drag, and only the final pay-off is a worthy experience, then this game won't be much fun for you. You need to make your journey as fulfilling as you can - because you never know, that last confrontation might not be one you win. Make the journey one that makes the falling worthwhile, and then you need never fear losing.

Just some thoughts.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

A Nerdfighter's Epiphany

So I am a Nerdfighter. Not a very active one, but one nonetheless, as an ardent fan of both Hank and John Green and their works. I believe in what they do, I believe they have the right idea, and I think the more people get on board, the better.

But I'm not here to talk to you about being a Nerdfighter. ("Do you accept the Greens as your lords and saviours?" I can think of few worse candidates for door-to-door religion than me.) I'm not even here to talk about both of them - sorry, Hank. Nor am I here to talk about John Green as a person: I'm here to talk to you about John Green's writing.

His books are listed as Young Adult, which I think is good, because if I had learned the lessons his books have taught me when I was a Young Adult, then I might have ended up being a better person.

Only one of the man's books have lasted me more than two days, and that one is co-authored - that isn't the reason why, though. David Levithan's contribution to Will Grayson, Will Grayson was hugely affecting in its own way. It was a harder read, because it dealt with several things that I have quite intimate experience of - but then, so do the rest of the books. Just not in the same direct way.

The man is just so good at people. How we're all different, and weird, and how we're also very much the same. How when it comes down to it, we don't need to have a lot in common just to get along with one another. How, sometimes, we're our own worst enemies - and sometimes we don't have enemies. Sometimes things just happen and we are left to try and make sense of them.

Almost everyone will deal with terminal or serious illness in their lives - either affecting them or someone close to them. So at first, The Fault In Our Stars seems to trivialise something so very important; but this impression doen't last long, because that's the point. It take away the immediate thoughtless solemnity and replaces it with actual applied understanding of what it means to be a grenade, primed to hurt those you love the most - or how hard it is to convince the grenade that you can bear the shrapnel, for their sake.

Almost everyone will also be affected by a simple feeling of not mattering - of wanting to matter, and finding that we don't, to our own specifications. Of wanting to set our own terms, of setting a bar that we have to cross to be in the realm of People Who Matter, and then doing just that. We all know life doesn't work that way - but An Abundance Of Katherines teaches us why, and then teaches us that it's okay, because that isn't what mattering means anyway.

And this is why I think, if one wants to be a better person, and understand persons better - that they should pick up at least one (or preferably more) John Green book. You may end up with tears of some form or another staining the pages. It will be worth it. If you aren't touched, moved, or galvanised into some form of feeling or understanding - hell, just give it to someone else...

(I'm not telling you why Will Grayson, Will Grayson hits close to home, by the way. One part of it should be obvious from the blurb, another is a big plot twist that I won't reveal.)

So go and read this man's work. If you do nothing else - at least give it a shot.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Lessons Learned, Song-Sheets Burned

I'll open this blog with a quote from Stephen Colbert:

“So, Disney, I demand that you drop this two mommies plot & go back to delivering wholesome messages. Like teaching our children that they can be a princess if they let a man make out with them while drugged, or that there's nothing wrong with bestiality if a candle says it’s OK.”

Thus, I have compiled a list of things that have taught me lessons, and the lessons those things taught me. In no particular order.

Pirates of the Carribean taught me that as bad a reputation as piracy may have, it is superior to its alternatives - old white money (the most dangerous gang, as SAMCRO taught me) and the dark powers of elder gods (not that different from old white money).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me that the popular chicks may save the world, but not without the help of geeks, nerds, misfits and the kind of guy that remembers what THAC0 means.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann taught me that belief in one's self - not cockiness, not blind ego, not arrogance but simple self-belief - can propel someone from mediocrity to total greatness, and that some people burn brighter than reality can deal with - clear through the heavens, and into our hearts.

Skyrim taught me that doing something often is the best way to become better at it, most problems can be solved by shouting at them loudly enough that they simply go away, and if the choice is between racists and imperialists - you don't have to choose either side.

Aliens taught me that corporations are the most lethal predator of all, even if they don't literally explode out of your chest, and that any woman gutsy enough to duct-tape a flamethrower to a carbine isn't someone to trifle with.

The Goonies taught me that a wish is a coin in a well - just waiting for some enterprising gent to come steal it, and that sometimes, the stories about the things we did with our friends are more important than the things we did themselves.

Sword Art Online taught me to accept people for who they are, than who I want them to be - and that the people in charge of an organisation aren't always weirdos on psycho power trips...but 90% of them need watching.

One Piece taught me that family and friends are very important words, that bravery in the face of certain defeat is a greater virtue than smugness in the face of certain victory, and that flexibility is a great strength in and of itself.

The Sopranos taught me that Russians are terrifying, and almost invincible.

Pacific Rim taught me that walls mean nothing when held against the virtues of giant robots.

There's more. I'll revisit this.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Dungeons, Dragons, Bunkers & Badasses

So recently my housemate Tom has acquired - and damn near completed - the Borderlands 2 DLC, Tiny Tina's Assault On Dragon Keep. If anyone saw the hilarious trailer, they'd realise it was a DLC area set up to mimic (and lightly mock) tabletop RPG gaming, as well as various other RPGs and aspects of nerdistry.

This gets a little bit meta. While the main characters of Borderlands 2 are roughing up an enemy agent, the main characters of the FIRST Borderlands engage in a pen-and-paper roleplaying game wherein they play...the main characters of Borderlands 2, in a quest to rescue a queen, defeat a (handsome) wizard, and save the day.

Along the way, there's some cheap laughs (and some quite subtle ones) at various and sundry staples of RPGs, the fantasy and scifi genres, at popular games such a Dark Souls and WoW - and less obvious targets such as Disney's "The Black Hole".

However, it does several things really well.

It's the most emotionally engaging of all the DLCs, ironically. I won't go into why - but it deals with loss and acceptance. It also directly addresses a trait that both the video gaming and role-playing communities display: exclusionism, and its partner-in-crime, geek becoming cool.

To address the second - we get to witness both sides; the "jock" discovering his geeky side (and being disparaged by "true" nerds such as, weirdly enough, Lilith the Siren) and the hardcore geek who's always been there (who feels her territory is encroached upon by the same type of individual that used to beat her up in school). And we probably take just a moment to realise: hey, that's pretty well-observed.

Most people playing the game will be one or the other. Most will be familiar with one of these two points of view. To be reminded that the other side is just trying to get along with something they enjoy is, perhaps, something we need. Even if geek is cool it still takes a big step to go from being outside of that circle to inside - just to be met with a hipster-like dismissal through some percieved lack of authenticity. Don't feel threatened when people like something you do. Celebrate that other people can potentially see the same wonders you saw, and you can share in it. Humans are at their best when collaborating.

The first?'ll have to play it to find out.

Suffice to say I was impressed.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

After A Moment's Peace

Well now. It has been a while.

A fair amount has happened, and I just haven't really had it in me to update in that time. My employment situation is currently up in the air in the biggest way, but I'm trying to not let that freak me out as much as it potentially should be. I moved house - had to, after the landlords of the old flat decided they were tired of managing it. Now I've moved in with several interesting individuals, my Nakama - Team Gurren - and we've dubbed the place The Clubhouse.

My health still isn't great. But then I wonder if it ever will be. I can't help but worry. Now I'm in a damp-free insulated house, things should improve over time. One can but hope. My mental health - we'll see. It's still a daily battle.

Creativity? Aside from scrobbles to do with the various RPs I an involved in, I'm dry. A couple of grand ideas and no will or capacity to execute them. The internal writer's strike continues I suppose.

I suppose despite it having been two weeks ago I'm still reeling from the house move. It's a big change and I'm the kind of guy that takes a while to adapt to such things. I'll get it eventually.

Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff, because the big stuff could kill you.

I'll blog more. I promise.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Following The Last...

Today in the news, several churches turned on the government over something far more worthy of attention - attacking the "coalition" over cutting benefits for people that need them.

None of those churches were the Church of England, which the Baron of my last post is a part of.

I just found that amusing.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Back In Your Box, Baron

So according to the previous Archbishop of Canterbury - Lord Carey, a Baron - apparently the dear Prime Minister has betrayed Christians. The news story is here.

This alleged betrayal is twofold. For the first part, he's referring to the attempts of the government to do the one and only good thing they've actually even glanced at - the legalisation of gay marriage. He seems to be unsatisfied with churches being given the ability to just ignore equality laws when they want - which doesn't seem like a victory AGAINST them so much as giving them a never-ending Get Out Of Jail Free card.

The second? In his esteemed eye, the lawyers of the Coalition are enemies of Christianity too, by arguing on the side of the law. You know, that big thing we debated about folks wearing crosses to work. So he's angry at lawyers for reading, knowing and applying the law. And that is an attack on Christians too, despite the fact that law-making involves the House of Lords, wherein sit the Lords Spiritual, 26 Bishops who get to have a say in lawmaking because they are Bishops. They have no qualifications beyond that which the church asks. They could change their policy to "not eating glue when left alone in a room" and those Lords will still be just as entitled to deciding the law of this country.

Before I even get into how the Bible actually states that authority isn't to be questioned - and yes, it actually does say exactly that - I must indicate to you, Baron, that you are full of shit.

Us regular folk are rapidly running out of room between Income and Bills. I'm sure your conscience is really hurting, Lord Carey, but people are now visiting food banks rather than starving to death. Even if your faith is actually under attack - something that seems to equate to "not getting its own way all the time" - people are starving.


Our country is crumbling, and it's us schmucks that work and WANT to work that are hurting the most. So you'll forgive me if I have run out of fucks to give, former Archbishop - because I highly doubt you are hurting very much. Even if you being a Baron hasn't led to you having a lot of scratch, I bet that job as Chancellor of London University of Theology doesn't harm the pocket-book much. Daresay YOU haven't had a pay freeze for the past two years like certain significant swathes of the population.

Your followers don't need a crusade based on mythical persecution right now, Baron. THEY NEED JOBS. They need FISCAL support. They need a health service that isn't being sold piecemeal, and they need an economy that's run by economists, not some Tory ringpiece that couldn't even make it as a journo, let alone Chancellor. Pull your head out of your ass, put down the children's story book and pay attention to the world around you, if you are capable.

Or perhaps you might turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and as a man who probably has two coats, give the other to someone who has none, and do the same with your food (Luke 3:11). That'd be the Christian thing to do, right? Because if you see a man in need and you possess much but he does not, unless you help him, how can you he called Christian (1 John 3:17)? And that's before we even look at how non-Christian it is to attack the government - if they are an authority it is because he allows them to be so (Romans 13:1).

But you'd know all that, being the Chancellor of the London University of Theology, right?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

But It's For Little Girls

Think about the male stereotypes that you observe every day in the various media you consume or are exposed to.

Interesting, aren't they? The way they are put forward. The way that, while the media is slowly moving toward portraying women as being far more varied, men just remain the same. There's the odd nod toward some aspect of ourselves that reminds us that, hey, human beings are three-dimensional and pretty varied across the board - remember the black-and-white poster of the shirtless metrosexual guy in the Levi's holding the baby? - but for the most part, our spot is pretty cut-and-dried.

That spot is also often marked out for us in both acceptance and refusal. You SHOULD do this - you SHOULDN'T do this. This aspect is WRONG and this aspect is RIGHT. As many choices and lifestyles are discouraged as are encouraged. Even the idea of making your own decisions and walking your own path is, weirdly, a lifestyle choice that societal and media pressures try and guide you towards.

So of course, with an expectation of a specific boundary of behaviour, deviating from that expectation can lead to surprise, dismay, confusion, and at times outright hostility.

This is my Big Macintosh hat.

It keeps my head warm, especially my ears. Note the badge, added after-market, for relevant cutie mark. Also, if a reference to everyone's favourite titanic yet taciturn stallion isn't enough, it's my favourite colour.

I was asked today why I was wearing it. My first instinct was to avoid the question. My second was to explain. Reason won out though - it was cold and I was already a little late, so I needed to get going, so "It Keeps My Ears Warm" was as far as I went.

Later, however, I started to question mysef. Why was my first instinct to conceal the fact that I watch a cartoon show? I can be totally frank about watching Transformers or reading any comic books you might care to name, even if I couldn't give a reason why watching or reading those things was good for me, what they brought to my life, or how they could do the same for others.

As it turns out - I have elaborated on why comic books are important to me in a previous blog post. Transformers is similar, though perhaps took longer to adapt to modernt hinking and accept that just because you are trying to sell toys, doesn't mean you shouldn't have proper characters.

More than once, though, I've been asked to explain "The Brony Thing".

It's no secret to most people that know me that I watch My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic. It's no secret to anyone that dosn't know me that asks, either. It's not something I am ashamed of. Deliberately anyway. Because frankly I can eloquently explain why it's a good thing, and a positive thing, and why you might like it, too.

Besides, it's just a cartoon show, right?

Well here's the thing. There's a little more to it than that.

I'm an introverted depressive cynic. The first is simply a character trait - the second is a mental problem that I am trying to deal with - the last is perhaps a product of the first two.

So it's not often that I can just settle on something good, and enjoy it. It's hard. I think there's probably more screws loose than just those but, hey, we play the hand we are dealt. It's even harder to just take something that is MEANT to be positive, MEANT to be happy and smile-inducing with a message about caring about other beings and generaly being a better person, and actually being able to access it.

I was calcitrant at first; Heather, however, persisted until I had watched at least the first two episodes.

I watched the rest without any external encouragement.

Here I am now, a man almost two thirds of his way through his thirty-first year on the face of a planet he's ill-suited to deal with on a daily basis. I religiously watch a show about ponies in a magical land learning what friendship means, and you know what? I like it.

I smile a big goofy smile at their antics. I chuckle when they crack wise. I recognise parts of me in some of them, and I recognise things that I want to be parts of me in them too; Twilight Sparkle's initial inability to make friends, Rainbow Dash hiding insecurity under a brash self-confident facade, Applejack's worry about not being as dependable as she needs to be.

Most of all, though, I see me in Big Macintosh.

Big, solid and burly. If his sister Applejack is the most dependable of ponies, then surely Big Macintosh is the closest second. When called upon, he displays the fortitude, strength and tenacity of a hero - and is otherwise quiet, content with his own company, keeping his affection and kindness to himself.

The physical resemblance - differences between pony and human anatomy nonwithstanding - is the first sign of an affinity. It's the mental attitude that seals it; because I like to think that if I am needed, if someone calls upon me, that I will step forward and give it my damned best. That I can bull through or outlast anything that drags me down, tolerate any necessary hardship, and not ever stop until I am meant to.

I want to be that guy. I know of late...I haven't been; but I want to be. More than any of the Elements of Harmony - more than laughter, generosity, honesty, loyalty and kindness, and the magic of the combination of all five - I want to be dependable. I can be that guy. I can't always make you smile, I can't always be kind, I can't always be honest, but I can always be there, no matter how hard it may be.

You know what, maybe that makes me more prone to loyalty. Which explains why Rainbow Dash is my favourite of the Mane Six.

...and thus I lead to the point I have been using myself to illustrate...

If I - a depressed, socially anxious, mentally damaged thirty-year-old - can take something positive from this show, if I can learn lessons and improve myself, then so can anyone else. And if anyone has a problem with that, well...

...then there's two responses.

The first is a defensive reaction. "Fuck you, I'm a Brony" is the immediate thought that springs to mind. But it's not the way. It's not what the show teaches us. And so, we must go toward the second.

Understanding. Understanding that insecurity and intolerance comes from somewhere, that it has root causes, that it is a difficult thing to recognise in one's self as a problem and even harder to master after that fact. Understanding that haters hate for sometimes very complicated reasons - and sometimes they hate, just because they've never been shown anything else.

Maybe if we all showed each other a little more love and a litte more tolerance, the world would be a better place. Not just little girls - everyone. From the factory floor to the bank manager's office, from the street to the court, from coast to coast and from continent to continent. Maybe, just maybe, if we had a little hope in humanity - if we did a little more out of kindness, showed a little more loyalty, practiced a little more honesty, gave in to our generosity, and indulged in more laughter - then perhaps everyone would have a better ride in life.

Perhaps then we might start to see a little more magic.

And that's my explanation of The Brony Thing. helps that the show's writing is great, the humour is sharp, the animation is top notch, the characterisation is brilliant - and any show in which a pegasus can fly so hard and so fast that she produces a sonic boom with a rainbow in it is automatically 20% cooler than anything else on television.

Bro hoof.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Wiser Consumer

I own two Dragonforce CDs - Inhuman Rampage and Ultra Beatdown.

The day I bought Ultra Beatdown I popped it in my CD player, hit play, and sat down to get on with some writing, as I am prone to do at times. So when all I hear for the next two minutes is silence, I am - as you might understand - a little confused.

Try as I might I simply could not make the CD play on my player. It played on my old Sony Discman just fine - a machine older than any of the cells in my body at the time and this was five years ago - but my CD player wouldn't play it at all. Neither would the big stereo system my parents owned.

So I pop it into my PC, and my music player refuses to play it, too. It doesn't recognise it as a music CD. And I start having suspicions as to why. So I attempt to copy it, and sure enough, the disc has copy protection. The only way I could listen to it without resorting to out-of-date hardware was to rip each track to MP3, then burn those MP3s onto a blank CD in order, thus effectively copying the CD - which promptly worked just fine in every CD player I put it in.

Let us review what just happened. In order for me to reasonably use something I had paid for in the manner it was intended, I was forced to make a copy of it. The reason I couldn't use it was because it was designed to prevent me making a copy of it, which it failed to do. All it did was ensure the product wasn't fit for purpose.

I object to DRM on several different grounds. One of them is that once I own something, it is mine to do with as I see fit. The laws of this country can punish me for certain actions - for example, if I use the bread knife I just purchased to slice people instead of the bread it was intended for - but that is what the law is for. If I purchase a bread knife and it attempts to detect whether or not I am slicing bread - and then dulls the blade automatically if its sensors do not detect aforementioned bread - I find that objectionable. Because this is mine, now. It is mine. I paid for it. So what if I want to slice tomatos with it? It's my choice, and it's my knife, and it's my tomato.

Building on this, however, is a far larger objection - and that is when the DRM in question actually prevents legitimate usage of something. Even if I have agreed to buy this bread-sensing breadknife, if it doesn't detect wholemeal bread as being bread at all and thus prevents me from slicing it, then it isn't a mere quibble or a personal issue; the product is faulty.

"But people might use breadknives to cut things other than bread," you cry. "So it only makes sense that Knife Corp would prevent them from being used that way, and surely some problems here and there are a small price to pay!"

No. I bought a breadknife. The moment I can't use it to cut bread, it becomes not fit for purpose, and consumer law is very clear on where I stand when I have been sold a product that is not fit for purpose. Go ahead and google it. And it is through casual acceptance of questionable practice that questionable practice becomes a standard.

So if I have bought a new AAA game from a very well-to-do company that produces best-selling titles regularly, and that game is not fit for purpose - i.e. I can't play it - then that isn't okay.

And I don't mean not being able to play it on a tiny little machine that clearly can't handle it, or can't play it because it doesn't cater to me being blind and deaf, or can't play it because I have no mouse and only half a keyboard. I mean possessing the reasonable means with which I can play the game and being prevented from playing it for no good reason.

To return to the example of the knife? If Knife Corp's Slicor 900x won't slice my bread, then I am within my rights to return it and demand a full refund as long as I still have a receipt of purchase. And that refund will be used on - get this - a knife without bloody stupid DRM. And if enough people did this, then Knife Corp might start realising that they are losing money because of this system. And either they can bite the bullet and keep the product in circulation despite it being something of a turd on a flowerbed, or they can remove the unreasonable DRM. And being that Knife Corp is a corporation, and that corporations exist to make a profit, that decision should be an easy one.

If we are to be forced to play by the rules of corporate practice - if we are to live in the world as it stands, and businesses can't be expected to be bound to provide the best service or product for their customers, only to look after their bottom line - then there is only one way to make our voices heard in the board rooms and at shareholders meetings, folks; and that is to vote with our wallets.

They want your money - the people behind the desks, the people that look at the numbers and rub their hands together. That is what they are here for. And if we accept that as being all well and good - if we take as a given that this is acceptable - then the best way for them to be shown that what they are doing wrong is via those numbers.

Which is why - until the DRM issues are fixed, until I am free to play a game I just paid for in any reasonable way I see fit - I will not be purchasing SimCity. Even if I really would quite like to play it, which I must admit I would. I just can't reward their choice of DRM with my money.

In the hands of one man and in this one particular circumstance it is a tiny amount of power. The loss of one sale will not change EA's mind on their DRM policies, or how crap Origin is, or how they keep beating the same franchises year after year until money falls out.

But the power is upon us as consumers, folks. The power is in how we consume. A lot of people do this aready. And we have a responsibility to ourselves and our community to reward that which we need or want to see more of, and punish or discourage that which we wish to see less of.

Which is why, rather than purchase the latest SimCity, I bought Prison Architect instead - a game with precious little copy protection or DRM, which is still in Alpha, but which is unique, individual, well-made, and fun. Don't we all want games that are well-made and fun? Don't we all want to see a bit of originality, some new ideas, rather than a reskin and a new number stuck after the franchise number? Let alone an actual retardation of the quality of the game, or heaven forbid - features built in that prevent it being played at all.

If even one in twenty of us got smart about our game purchasing, and we started rewarding the favourable and punishing the unfavourable, I daresay the games industry might start to undergo the change that a great many of us have been saying is sure to come. It may be a forced evolution - but an evolution it is, all the same.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Eye Of A Storm

Turmoil is a strange thing when you find yourself reflective on it whilst surrounded by it.

As of right now, my general emotional makeup is consisting of several things, some conflicting, others playing off each other. It's hard to even prioritise or order them - they're things happening to me and around me, and at times, I feel like a bystander.

The CT scan of my chest showed that the problem in my lung is inflamation. Something that will go away with time. a very good thing. Until Tuesday night I was very relaxed, perhaps even too relaxed about the entire affair - but on Tuesday night, at about 2am, I had something of a breakdown in sheer terror that my family history of Cancer might rear its ugly head. Strangely enough, I woke up the next morning without any fear whatsoever.

This does however dovetail into the next problem; a meeting with someone from the Human Resources department at the Council to determine my suitability for continued employment. I think I have reached the boundary of their patience. They want a hard date for my return to employment, or they want me gone. And...well, given that my medical situation is kind of more compicated than that, I suppose that just means that they want me gone.

And the second problem - my landlord has potentially found a buyer for this property. Who may potentially want the property vacant. It seems that they, too, may want me gone.

So...not sure precisely where that leaves me or my head, right now.

Further updates soon.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Turner, Tories & Our Island

In the recent Commons vote, it was decided that gender shouldn't dictate who you can or cannot marry. (Almost. But I'll get back to that.) The vote was carried 400 to 175. 136 of those that opposed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill were Tories; that's approximately half of the party. The Island's MP Andrew Turner was one of those that voted in opposition.

Given his voting record, I suspect his reason for opposition is more down to a personal prejudice rather than the wishes of his constituency. An article published in On The Wight by a man I know and respect, Johnathan Dodd, addresses the situation very well; however, I personally want to tackle our MP's stated reasons for this opposition, as given here in his comment the morning after the debate and vote:

“Last night’s debate was largely conducted in a measured and respectful way – the House of Commons is often at its best when it is most thoughtful. I was particularly struck by something said by Sir Tony Baldry during the debate :
“I am confident that we are all created in the image of God, whether we be straight, gay, bisexual, or transsexual. We are all equally worthy in God’s sight and equally loved by God. I am also sure that we are and should be equally welcome at God’s table. But equalness does not always equate with being the same.”
“I fully endorse those sentiments and I hope many others can do so. This is an emotive and divisive issue with feelings running high on all sides – but I hope that debate on the Island and elsewhere can be conducted with respect for other people’s points of view. Both sides claim a majority who support them – they cannot both be right!”
“I remain concerned about the lack of a democratic mandate for this proposal – not a single MP in the House of Commons was elected on a promise to bring this measure in. “Gay Marriage would bring about a fundamental change to our society – on that I hope all sides can agree. The debate yesterday was subject to a parliamentary device called a programme motion – which greatly restricts the time it can be debated. This Bill will now move through its various stages then move to the House of Lords where debate cannot be cut short in such a way and the details of the Bill and its ramifications and can be more thoroughly debated.”

 Equalness dos not always equate with being the same. What an interesting sentiment. For one thing it smacks very much of the common quote from Animal Farm. "All animals are equal - some animals are more equal than others." Ironically another MP in opposition to the bill stated that the bill itself was Orwellian, though failed to explain precisely how. But more worrying is that the sentiment in and of itself carries echoes of Separate But Equal - the US political doctrine that led to racial segregation.

It is worthy of mention that Andrew Turner did not make mention of "democratic mandate" when the NHS was cut to ribbons. It wasn't something he has brought up about any of the military conflicts we've been involved with, or with the bailing out of banks, or with the upcoming interest in remaining in the EU. It's only ever seemed to matter now that it is on this, as he puts it, highly emotive topic. A topic that, it bears mention, will have no bearing or relevance on his life whatsoever.

It is also worthy of mention that Andrew Turner's complaint of the programme motion was absent when - despite myself and a number of Island residents writing, calling and communicating with him to indicate our opposition - the Digital Economy Act was forced through with a tiny debate in the darkest hour of night.

It has been a long time since Andrew Turner has actually represented our interests in anything aside from an apparent interest in ferry prices. This most recent debacle has proven that not only is he not a suitable representative for the Isle of Wight, but he's more interested in his own personal bias and prejudice than any communication he received from his constituents.

I may not agree with anyone wanting to vote Conservative in the next election. But for your own sake - get someone to run that has some credibility. I may not want this Island to be Tory-controlled, but this man needs to go.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Three Out Of Four Ain't Bad

You may recall (but probably won't) that I wrote a blog back in September about the four "persecution" cases that went to the European Court of Human Rights. It turns out that judgement has now been passed.

British Airways christian employee Nadia Eweida wins case

The headline is the BBC's, not my own. Personally? I would make a bigger deal about the three cases that were lost.

It's sad enough that the individuals in question thought that their human rights were being violated, while two of them were violating other people's human rights and another one was disobeying the strict rules of a hospital environment. And of course, me being me, I have something to say on each of these.

The first two cases - as I mentioned in my previous blog - are basically bigotry wrapped in a religious "don't persecute me" ribbon. However, when entering the European Court of Human Rights, one must remember that the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Denying people services they are legally entitled to because you disagree with their sexuality isn't a spirit of brotherhood.  It's the opposite. Ironicaly, if you had treated people with that same spirit of brotherhood as called for by the Universal Declaration, then you wouldn't have been sacked, and you wouldn't have been claiming that your Human Rights were violated. It's almost like a big karmic circle, isn't it?

Then we have the case about the nurse. The rules are there for a reason - that reason should be obvious - you accept those rules when you take on a position as a nurse. And I will be blunt: if you feel your need to express your faith in a visible way is more important than the rules that regulate your behaviour and standards in a hospital, you really need to not be working in a hospital.

But well done Nadia Eweida. Your insistence that needing to visually identify yourself as a Christian as an article of faith has won through, and now you can do it to your heart's content. Those who fly British Airways will be delighted to see that you are a Christian, I am sure.

I doubt you would be fighting so hard to willingly display your cross during the Lebanese Civil War, that my father fled Beirut to get away from. Wherein militants would stop buses, and pull everyone off the bus that was either a Christian (if they were Hezbollah) or a Muslim (if they were the Christian Phalangist militia), and that was the last you ever heard of them. I daresay you wouldn't declare your faith quite so loudly then. The wider world has undoubtedly heard of Hezbollah; if you arent sure who the Phalangists are, you might want to read up about the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.

But hey, what do I know about persecution?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Awkward Truths

I'd like to preface this to say that neither am I an expert, nor an economist. I have as much financial expertise as the man running our economy.

As the economy is currently in such dire straits, and the ever-increasing price of fuel and bureaucracy makes owning a car a very expensive proposition in a time of austerity, one would think that we'd be encouraged to use public transport more. It is, unfortunately, a nice thought and nothing more, as Rail communters are hit by a 4.2% average fair rise. The amount the rail fares have been hiked by makes a mockery of how much anyone's pay has increased, if it has increaed at all - many public service workers will have no pay increase this year, as they had none last year, and will be capped at 1% for two more years afterwards. This is somewhat disgraceful in and of itself, given that inflation is currently figured to be 2.7% alone.

Which might go some way to explain why UK album sales suffered an 11.2% drop overall - though digital sales increased by 14.8%, actual physical sales decreased by 20%. Another potential explanation is that HMV's record section is rapidly shrinking, and is now about the same size (and offers about the same selection) as your average Tesco Extra. If you halve, quarter or even remove in some cases the niche areas of your CD selection, you can expect those niche buyers to go elsewhere for just about everything: if I find somewhere else to buy Lamb Of God, damn sure I'll buy Gorillaz there too.

But back to the trains. So, using a car has become more expensive, and will continue to do so. Trains are now more expensive likewise. Pay rates are effectively being cut across the board, if people can even keep their jobs. All of this austerity, all of this punishment, for sake of reducing a deficit that has actually become greater.

If only someone had told the government that austerity won't work.

Oh wait. We all did. (Go ahead and google "Austerity Won't Work" and look at how far back those articles date.)

If the next election yields a Tory government, I will be sorely pressed to not actually lose my mind.