Friday, February 29, 2008

Bark: The Eternal Question

As 2008 is a leap year, today, instead of being the 1st of March is instead the 29th of February - a day that is traditionally when women in long-term relationships take the initiative and pluck up the courage to ask their partners to marry them.

So this morning, my dearest Fleur, my girlfriend of some twelve years, woke me up this morning, dropped down on one knee and popped THE question:

"Will you... will you... GET OUT OF BED???"

Bark: A promising beginning

I had my first Kendo session last night, and judging from the general atmosphere that the session was conducted in, I think I've found a burgeoning new obsession - I could very easily get into Kendo in a very major way.

I was very impressed with the sensei (or teacher), a kendōka who's been practising Kendo for over 30 years. Contrary to what you might expect, he was very down-to-earth, easy-going and realistic; willing to use industrial-strength language and keenly aware that of the dozen or so beginners starting the course, perhaps only one or two would still be there in a year's time. I, myself, can make no promises at to whether I will still be going to the club in a year's time, but I would certainly like to hope that I would be, and that other circumstances wouldn't intrude - after all, it is only one evening of the week, for a couple of hours.

Initially, as I'd hoped, we were given a lecture by the sensei as to the history of Kendo and the current structure of the martial art's hierarchy - which was very interesting stuff. As with most martial arts, there's a little bit of ceremony around honouring the sensei at the start and end of training sessions, but it wasn't particularly intrusive or overbearing, even for an intolerant heathen like me. In fact, as Kendo is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism, spiritually speaking, it's quite close to my own natural instincts, so I doubt it will ever become an issue in itself - especially since the sensei seems very grounded and not up himself with an inflated sense of his own importance; he seems like the kind of man who can instantly command respect purely through finding common ground with people and demonstrating humility - even after just a couple of hours in his company, I know I'm going to like and get on with him immensely. The other dan kendōka are similarly personable, so I'm genuinely hopeful that this is going to go beyond a short-term interest and turn into one of my many long-term obsessional hobbies.

We were given our bokuto, which we will be using over the next few weeks to learn the kata - that is, the practice forms - before moving on to sparring in armour, using shinai, hopefully before the course finishes in about 10 weeks time.

I stayed behind after the beginner's session to observe the main sparring session, and it was genuinely fascinating. It's going to be hard to wait until I'm at the stage where I can don a Bōgu and get stuck into proper sparring, but you have to learn to walk before you can run, of course. I think I learnt quite a lot by just watching the sparring session last night: the club I've joined happens to be in the enviable position of being run by a 6th dan kendōka and also having a 7th dan kendōka who trains with the club. When both these high level kendōka sparred with each other (there are currently only 8 available dan levels in Kendo, as opposed to the 10 levels of other martial arts, such as karate) it was a truly intriguing thing to watch. Battles seem conducted mainly in the head, rather than martially: it's less a question of speed of hand than speed of thought and intuiting the intentions of your opponent. It was like watching two coiled cobras sizing each other up before striking. And Kendo is FAST... hopefully years of twitch gaming will hold me in good stead here, but to be fair, I doubt it will...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Byte: This season's Peggle?

If you're not playing Audiosurf, you damn well should be. It's the same price as a packet of cigarettes and comes guaranteed not to give you cancer.

In my book, it's an instant classic and deserves to sell more copies than Peggle and The Holy Bible combined. Dylan Fitterer, make more games like this, please! In fact, if I were Nintendo, I'd pay you huge sums of money to make a DS version and bundle it with the DS MP3 player. Unfortunately, I'm not Nintendo, so I can't give you huge sums of money. I did, however, buy your lovely game twice (once for me, and once for a friend as a Steam Gift), so I hope that does compensate a little, at least...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bark: Jolly Good Show

I was most pleased to see No Country For Old Men win four Oscars last night - I'm a rather huge fan of The Coen Brothers (who definitely deserve a 'the' with a capital T), and No Country For Old Men has to rate as one of my favourite films of last year. Javier Bardem fully deserved his Oscar as well - he gave an absolutely mesmerising performance, packed with sociopathic menace. I'm sure Daniel Day-Lewis also deserved his Oscar, too, but I'm not especially inspired to see There Will Be Blood, as I've never seen anything by P.T. Anderson that I've not hated with every fibre of my being. I still want to get those three wasted hours I spent watching Magnolia back - in my book that "film" rates as probably the most spectacular waste of talent and film stock in the history of Hollywood... but I digress.

Overall, I don't think there can be too many complaints about the winners, and it was nice to see Sweeney Todd get an Oscar, even if it was only for Best Art Direction. I will echo Mark Kermode's sentiments, though, and say that it was a shame that Eastern Promises didn't even get nominated for the major awards (barring a nod for Viggo Mortensen in the Best Actor category) - arguably it's a bit too similar to A History of Violence, but it's still one of my favourite films of 2007.

Further, in cultural news... ah, go on, go on, go on, go on, go on!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bark: Creator bless you, Mr. Vonnegut...

I woke up early this morning, for a Saturday (that is, actually in the morning), so rather than get out of bed and face the day, I read Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut - who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors, incidentally - from cover to cover in a single sitting. I need to start more weekends like this...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bark: Back

A quick, salutary post to say that I've just got back from a brief holiday in France to take a much needed break from work and pay a visit on the out-laws and my newly-born nephew.

I'd like to thank my loyal readers for not robbing my flat nor stealing my car while I was out of the country. More updates soon, but right now, I've got to make dinner...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bark: The times, they are a changin'

I don't tend to blog about work, for reasons which should be obvious enough, but today was my last day on the project I've worked on for the last year - a project that I've immensely enjoyed on the whole - and the circumstances in which it ended were not of my choice or even anticipated by the project management, so I'm feeling a little lost at the moment.

Change can be a deeply scary thing, especially where work is concerned, but at least when you work for the kind of company that I do, something interesting is bound to present itself. As long as my next role involves me having minions, I'll be happy...

Change can also be a positive thing, however, and this week, despite it mostly being a complete clusterfuck, I did get some good news: I got a confirmation that the beginners Kendo course I've been wanting to go on for the last six months has finally been arranged, and I have a confirmed place on it - which is the kind of positive change I've been wanting to make for quite a while now. It's all too easy to make excuses to avoid the gym, but going on a martial arts course is the kind of thing that's guaranteed to get you out of the house. Kendo's my kind of martial art: shouting a lot and hitting people with sticks... what's not to like?

Of course, it's a bit more involved than that, and a lot of my interest does derive from a more general fascination with Oriental culture. My oldest friend is a Tae-Kwon-Do black belt, who recommended that I should definitely give Kendo a try - it's quite a vigorous sport, but doesn't require the flexibility of Karate or the other hand-to-hand martial arts. I've got good hand-eye coordination and I'm fairly fleet of foot for someone my size, so I'm looking forward to it immensely. Whether I'll take it beyond the initial course remains to be seen, and I truly doubt that I'll ever get up to competition standard, but hopefully it will be a catalyst for making me a bit more active, and will help me lose a bit more of the excess poundage I've acquired since adopting the sedentary lifestyle of a professional code monkey. So while changing projects at work makes me feel a little apprehensive, this is the kind of change I can really anticipate with some glee.

Change then... it's something that you've got to embrace - it's less traumatic when you throw yourself into it willingly. Though at least I get to put it all off for a week by going on holiday... after all, there's no sense in rushing things, is there?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bark: Planes, Helicopters and Imbeciles

You will have noticed that things have been quiet around here lately. There are several good reasons for that, which I shall now tell you about, on the premise that quantity can actually be a substitute for quality...

I've had a bit of a rough week, all in all. Work started on Sunday afternoon, as I had to head up to Scotland for the first part of the week, ostensibly to stand in for the Project Manager and act as secretary for the progress meetings that had been arranged for the Wednesday that week. If I only needed to be there on the Wednesday, why fly up on the Sunday, wasting precious weekend time, you might ask? Well, the reason for that was because we were due to visit RAF Lossiemouth on Monday to have a jolly in one of their search and rescue Sea Kings. Unfortunately, due to some IMBECILE sparking off a bomb scare and full-scale security alert on an oil rig the day beforehand, the helicopter needed to be taken offline for maintenance, because it had put in so many flight hours in the previous month - meaning we couldn't fly. So that was a total waste of a day (not to mention a quarter of my weekend). They couldn't even get the maintenance finished in time for us to go flying on Tuesday, when we had a fairly light schedule, so I was absolutely gutted - but it's hardly the fault of the RAF guys, they were brilliant and did a lot to try and take the sting out of it (after all, they jump at the chance to go flying too, even if they are babysitting a bunch of civvies). We got a guided tour of the helicopter, and I got to take a few nice photos from a lot closer than most people get to an RAF helicopter, so I can't whinge too much, I guess. It's just that "so near, yet so far" feeling, and all because of some idiot going stir-crazy on an oil rig... I really hope they send her the bill for the cost of the operation. It was doubly annoying, considering that flying conditions were absolutely perfect all week - and that's not something you can say too often in the north of Scotland in the middle of February. The secretarial stuff was about as tedious as you'd imagine, though at least I could let the digital dictaphone do most of the work, leaving me with the somewhat less onerous task of trying to stay awake and look attentive.

But it was all downhill from there, really. I temporarily lost about 70% of my hearing for a couple of days after the flight up, thanks to having a cold and the air pressure changes really stuffing up my inner ears, giving me chronic ear and sinus pain all week, which only cleared up in time (you guessed it) for the flight home. Where I only lost about 50% of my hearing in one ear, rather than both, but the pressure variances still stuffed up my sinuses and I ended up spending most of Valentine's Day in bed with a migraine. How romantic...

Today I'm meant to be doing final handover, as this is my last day on the project, except neither my team leader nor the project manager are in the office - so I'm not sure how that's going to work, especially since I'm on holiday in France next week. It's also absolutely typical of me to get ill before going on holiday, but at least I'll have a good week in France to recuperate before I have to go through the whole rigmarole of finding a new project, which I'm not really looking forward to. I might just stay in France. Either that, or I'm going to find an old nuclear missile base I can buy with a group of like-minded evil megalomaniacs and run a Machiavellian Lair Timeshare Scheme. I'm sure it's a viable gap in the housing market...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Byte: Something to cheer my day

I was out at lunchtime perusing my local GAME and lamenting the lack of any decent new RPGs to play on my PC, so I take a trip over to Wikipedia to take a look at the Computer RPG page and see if I can find anything in the genre I don't have that might be worth playing.

While I'm making my way through the page, I stumble across a link to an article for I game I'd been thinking of going back to: Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars. I click it randomly, because I rather enjoyed it the first time around, and am mildly interested to see what Wikipedia have to say about it.

What do I find? My review has been quoted in the article. I am, apparently, THE authority on Spellforce 2... Bow down before me, peasants!