Search This Blog

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.