Beat the Heat – Don’t Eat!

Posted by Rob on 5th June 2015 in Food and Drink, Health and Fitness |

Just a quick note today. My wife and I are trying out a thing called alternate-day fasting — something that science is suggesting may be tremendously good for people. Skirting past the plethora of potential health benefits for now, there are a few other reasons we’ve been finding we like it. It’s easier than you would expect, for one. It’s really cheap. And it requires next to no careful planning (beyond trying not to eat total junk all the time, which is just a good rule of thumb regardless).

And recently, we’ve noticed, it keeps you cool.

And because we run cooler now, as the hot weather sweeps in, we’re finding it much easier to live with than we did last year. It’s a rather pleasant side effect — though it remains to be seen how fond we’ll be of it after the summer has ended…

P.S. – eat those eggs!
While I’m throwing out a health type post, here’s a link for the curious. Cholesterol may actually be good for you, saturated fat can’t be linked to risk of death, and the data that made people think otherwise was deliberately fiddled.

The Times UK: Cholesterol is OK now


Market annoyances, and outlines

Posted by Rob on 30th May 2015 in Writing |

There are a few things that can be annoying when you’re writing a story. One of those is discovering that a nice little market is open, but that it’s only open for a very short window of time, especially when you discover this late in said window. It doesn’t give you much time to get your story polished and ready to go, which means — if you’re like me, anyway — you can find yourself making sacrifices to try and squeeze in the time you need to polish it, and send it in.

And as a result of this, another thing that is incredibly annoying is when you submit your story before the deadline, and it gets declined, because the email account’s quota has been exceeded…

Playing all the right notes...Sometimes, it’s hard to stay on top of things.

My guess is that they got a LOT more submissions than they were expecting — and as they didn’t extend their deadlines, despite having been contacted frequently about their troubled inbox, I’m thinking that they already have far more stories to dig through than they had intended. No blame to them, then, as they’re really victims of circumstance here — but it’s frustrating all the same to throw yourself at a story for a deadline, and then find that you have, in some way, wasted your efforts.

I’ve solved my problem by polishing the story, so that it is (I hope?) better than the version I tried to send them anyway, and then kicked it out the door and on its way to someone else. When life gives you lemons, make combustible lemons.

And on a separate, but sideways note to this — I’m realising I should be outlining more. I enjoy writing in a seat-of-the-pants way, but the fact is, that means I often get to the end of a story draft before I realise something is critically wrong with it. And an outline — even a simple, bare bones one, focusing on critical details only — would be a good way for me to spot what’s going to bugger it up before I spend hours or days writing the damn thing.

So, I’ll be outlining more as I go, I reckon. And hopefully, I’ll even find a way to make that fun — and maybe, just maybe, it’ll spur me on to finish that novel draft I’ve been picking away at…

So, the market that bounced my submission back has now sent me a notice (nine days after it got bounced), saying that they HAD received it — despite their broken mailbox — and it’s in their queue for review now. So I’ve had to withdraw my submission from the other market — temporarily, perhaps — and leave the other one out. I’m happier with the later, modified version, but at least this earlier version will get to try its legs at a market I thought had sailed — so I can’t complain too much…


Brain Bite #11

Posted by Rob on 4th May 2015 in Brain Bites |

It’s been a while! But let me begin with a bit of music…

John Williams: Asturias
I remember John Williams being played in the house as a kid, along with a few other bits and pieces that stick in the memory, but I’ve only quite recently gotten into listening to his stuff myself. And what strikes me most about him is how his technical ability, which is clearly immense, translates into really, powerfully emotive music rather than just technical showing off — which really isn’t always the case in rock and metal. I didn’t remember many of his pieces, but this one — along with a few others — has fallen into regular rotation in my listening queue.

But what next?

Email Titles
Not normally an issue, this one — but I recently submitted a story to a market, and it went missing because I’d titled it incorrectly (I got the submission info from a blog-post which didn’t include the note about how to structure the title — I found out later when I was reading guidelines elsewhere). After a quick exchange, the story was pulled out of the trash-pile, and added back to the queue — but it had first spent three and a half months languishing and going nowhere. It definitely pays to get these right — and to always double-check the submission guidelines on the main site!

Rodents in the Vents
So our dryer packed up and threw a “vent blocked” error. I went outside, expecting to find lint blockages and have a real pain of a time trying to disconnect the hose. Instead, I found an old, abandoned rodent’s nest in the outer vent exhaust. Some poking around with a claw-grabby thing and a hooked fireplace poker followed, and then the dryer was fine once more.

Not sure I’d be happy about kicking them out in the winter, though.

Time on my hands!
Not much, but just a little — and I’ve finally found time to write more, play around on the keyboard, and code a game that chucks a ball at nothing (it’s an exercise, and at this point, still just a work in progress). I’m trying to figure out how to just set aside a little time for everything without killing my schedule, and I’m sure I can do it — but it’ll take discipline to put down my work sometimes and concentrate on other things for just a short while. It feels very weird to need discipline to do what sometimes feels like wasting time, but I know it’s really not — so hopefully, I’ll get this figured out again. I do, every now and then, for a while — then I get caught up in work and lose it all for a while. Can’t just give up trying, though!

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Busy, busy, busy…

Posted by Rob on 30th April 2015 in Other Stuff |

I’m never sure if I like busy spells. On the one hand, it means I’m working, which means I’m also getting paid, which is generally speaking a very good thing. But on the other hand, it also means I have less spare time — and as I have a knack for finding ways of filling whatever spare time I have at the best of times, these spells end up leaving me feeling like I’m failing to do everything that I want to.

On the one hand, I have stories to write — one in particular. I’m trying to improve my weaknesses in my writing, while not letting go of what I already do well. I also want to learn to play the piano, which I was doing with my fancy-schmancy keyboard, but as much as I love music, it’s always the music that suffers first when I’m running low on time. And I’m trying to learn how to program videogames in Unity, plus getting Apache set up to support PHP, trying to figure out how to configure my PC to play nice with cunningly-concealed data, and so on, and so on…


The up side to this is, if I take a step back and look at it all, almost everything I’m doing is something I can enjoy (on some level, anyway). My work as a programmer can be stressful at times, but ultimately, I chose this career for a reason. And my writing is fun, and I enjoy learning more and improving. And while I may not be any good at the piano just yet, even the few notes I can play in the correct order are rewarding.

Playing all the right notes...Given certain constraints, I can technically play anything.

And while, of late, my work has been frustrating — mostly down to the need to get an entirely new development environment set up and running properly, which is rather easier said than done when you come at it from the position of knowing nothing about it — it’s also rewarding when you get past the problems and things start working. I like who I work for, and work with — and so on the whole, I know that a lot of people have it worse than I do. My frustrations are more down to the fact that, in the end, I always seem to have more things that I want to do than I can get done. It’s worse when I’m distracted (which is why I’m no longer active on Facebook), but at the best of times, I can’t get everything done.

Still, at least I’m not a crab fisherman, eh?


Resident Evil: The HD Remake

Posted by Rob on 5th April 2015 in Gaming |

Back sometime in 1997, with my friends (referred to as Big James and Little James, as I have no imagination when it comes to my friend selection), I began playing a game that was to be a complete revelation. Resident Evil, on the old PlayStation, was a fantastic experience — spooky, tense, filled with jump-scares, and unlike any game I’d played before.

Resi_OriginalMeet Wesker, Barry, and Jill, of S.T.A.R.S.

It was also, at the time, a very good-looking game (though that screenshot might not give that fact away much–I wonder if kids of this generation will ever look back at current games and think they look half as dated?) But probably the one thing that set it aside from other games — aside from its atmosphere, which I still believe to be the best of any of the games in the Resident Evil series, including its excellent sequel — was your dependence upon consumable items in limited supply.

Combined that with the player’s inexperience, and the first play-through of the game becomes an experience unlike any other — there was little help from the internet in those days, so you could waste a bunch of your time and resources on doing the wrong thing. You’d take the wrong routes, miss items, waste ammunition you could save, get hurt when you could avoid it, and down the line, you’d find yourself sheltering in a safe-room (oh, thank god for the music), short on ammunition and healing supplies, and trying to work out how you can get from A to B without having your head knocked clean off by a Hunter. And it’s fantastic!

Then, a couple of months ago, they released the HD remake. Instead of the more recent Resident Evil games, which had lost their allure for me — plenty of action, but lacking the tension and atmosphere that made the early games great — this was a revisit to the original game, a high-def remake (itself a remake of the graphically much-improved version on the GameCube). I’d never played the GameCube version, though — only the Resident Evil Zero prequel — so I was looking forward to it.

Resi_Remake And now meet Jill, Barry, and Wesker, of S.T.A.R.S., in glorious HD!

And for me, it’s worth its money, every penny — but it does have one problem, and I think it comes from my having played the game before. Having learned from experience, and knowing my way around, while the game’s surprises and new sections threw me for a loop, I was still better at playing the game than I was that first time, back in the day. Add in things like defensive items, which let you skip past some of your mistakes to a degree, and I found myself flush with ammo by the time the game’s end came around.

Now, this isn’t to say I walked through the game. I had my run-ins with zombies, who took more killing (and who had a few other surprises for me, which I won’t spoil here, in case you’re thinking of playing it yourself). And I swear the dogs in this version are harder — I could kill the PS One dogs with the handgun no problem, but in this version, the few times I tried it, I just got killed. Well, it’s been a while since I played it, I suppose.

Resi_Original_ZombiesChris, of S.T.A.R.S., suffers the unwanted advances of Jim and Patrick.

But for all its trials and struggles, the end-game was disappointingly comfortable. I was playing as Jill, which was always the easy path — and somehow, even easier in this version than in the original, as Jill gets a lot more direct help, to the point where Barry actually beat a whole boss for me, which had never happened to me in the past — but despite my rust, after a little while, I found my feet. I did get squashed by a rolling rock — a somewhat nostalgic experience, if I’m honest — but despite the small bits that I saw on my run-through, the original ending was markedly tougher. They changed how it plays–and maybe if I’d burned through my best ammo, that might have made it rough.

But I was flush with it. I burned through the final encounter here in something like ten to twenty seconds, expecting that it would shift to some drastic subsequent encounter (see: Resident Evil 2’s train encounter?), but there wasn’t one. The brevity of the Grand Finale meant that while I’d been killed a few times by the regular creatures and set-pieces, I’d finished without having a single challenging boss encounter. I still had loads of my big-time ammo leftover.

But that said, I still loved it. The game’s a wonderful mixture of modern engineering and nostalgia, and the only thing that could possibly have made it better would have been playing through it with one of the few groups of people I played through the predecessors with.

But I’m craving that original, nervous sensation still — so next up, I’m going to play through the game as Chris. Chris is the harder option — he can carry less, and he gets less help, so you need to think your way around better. And I’ll be turning the difficulty level up. I’m hoping, sincerely, that the game makes me suffer more the next time around — because, just like Silent Hill after it, that was what made those early Resident Evil games special.

And, having played through the game now with Chris, I can say that it IS harder that way — and a lot more fun! I found myself running out of ammo a couple of times, and his inability to carry everything makes healing on the go a tougher proposition. But the final boss remains disappointing, and honestly, barely any harder with Chris than it was with Jill. A shame, in the end, that the game ends with something of an anticlimax.


The story liveth!

Posted by Rob on 28th March 2015 in Writing |

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything here, mostly down to work and the various stresses around it, but I did want to drop in quickly and add a comment. I’ve cut my finger-tip, which makes typing a real pain in the bum, but for all that — hoorah, I got a second acceptance! I now have two, and it’s looking an awful lot like my second acceptance will also become my first publication. It’ll be nice to see that happen! The story’s been picked up by Acidic Fiction, which you can find here:

Read Free Fiction at Acidic Fiction

(And, addendum, as of March 30th…)

Specifically, read my story Crescent Cross at Acidic Fiction

And now, again, back to the old grind…


Brain Bite #10

Posted by Rob on 15th February 2015 in Brain Bites, Reading |

As always, we’ll start with a little music. This time, something off the wall…

Psychostick: The Root of All Evil
I like Psychostick, though like some of the other music I listen to — in fact, quite a lot of it — not everyone I know agrees with me. Still, it makes me laugh, and I like the way they sound, and that’s all that matters, right?

And from there, we move onto…

Bah, who needs cats? Well, of course, I probably do…but sometimes, man…

And other cats.
Because SOME damn thing has decided that it wants to mark territory around our home, and this thing is spraying up too high to be a regular house-cat. Where we live, that could mean just about anything, but bobcats and mountain lions are common around here, so they’re on my Prime Suspects list.

And audiobooks!
I’m listening to A Game of Thrones. It’s pretty damn good, of course, and the narration is mostly solid, but some parts of it drive me nuts — like where, after hours of listening, Tyrion suddenly develops a Welsh accent. Where the hell did that come from? Now, I don’t mind the Welsh accent at all — I spent many summers in Wales, love the place — but it’s odd to see someone suddenly turn Welsh mid-book. So now I’m waiting to see if he’ll be suddenly Scottish for no reason, too…

Also, music.
Because I’ve been busy, and I’ve neglected it over the last week or so. I must get back in the proverbial saddle once again!

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Growth and Progress

Posted by Rob on 13th February 2015 in Writing |

After some time, I’ve finally finished the first draft of what I’m intending to submit to the Writers of the Future 2015 second-quarter. The deadline for that is the end of March, and I’m well ahead of it, though much editing lies before me–and it’s the longest serious short story I’ve written to date. But more important than that, I’m finding the writing of it to be an experience. I’m learning a lot as I go, and along the way, I’ve been reading advice from other, established writers about what they think goes into the crafting of good fiction.

And while there’s invariably a lot of common ground, two writers can still differ immensely on a given subject. An example of this is imagery and language — one writer I like praises the use of metaphor and inventive language, while another thinks symbolism should be used sparingly, and language kept clean and simple. You see that in modern writers, but you also see similar comments from writers who were producing their work a century ago — the same ideas, and the same differences of opinion. And all the writers are tremendously effective, producing evocative, stirring work.

There will always be a lot of ways to write a story, and I think the only thing you can really ever do is find your own way, and then polish it, hone it, improve upon it, until it is doing what you want, delivering what you want to say in the way you want to say it, and giving the reader the experience that you want them to have. And a lot of which tools are right, which methods will work best, or which things you should or shouldn’t use, depends on what that experience is. What works for one form of fiction and one kind of story may not work well for another.

So, just like learning to use simile and metaphor in school, it’s good to learn how to use all of these methods. But in the end, after learning them, you have to decide which ones you want to use, and which ones to set aside, in order to achieve the effect you’re aiming for.



Once more unto the breach

Posted by Rob on 11th February 2015 in Food and Drink, Weight Loss |

Dieting is a bloody pain. This isn’t news, of course, but after a while, it can really begin to piss you off. It’s not so much that you CAN’T do it, but rather, the aching reality of the fact that you CAN do it, and haven’t. Nothing is so liable to make me annoyed as falling short of my own expectations of myself.

But it’s a tricky balance, not least because sometimes, weight loss seems the most important thing — and other times, just being comfortable and being happy seems to trump it. Obviously, the ideal case is having both, and you can have that sometimes — but on any given day, the two may for some reason refuse to coexist, and then you have to decide which one’s more important to you on the day.

So, today, I come back from the Being Comfortable and Happy position, and return myself to the Must Lose Some Weight position, which is a bit like landing on one of the larger chutes on the board (or snakes, if you’re English). And for today, I’m finding that the Being Comfortable and Happy position coincides quite nicely with the Must Lose Some Weight one. But somewhere down the line, I know they won’t. And that’ll be the rub.


Original Star Trek

Posted by Rob on 30th January 2015 in Entertainment |

The original series of Star Trek is something I have a fondness for. As a young child, I used to watch it sometimes in the early evenings with my Dad, and later did the same with the Next Generation. However, I’ve never seen all the original series, and so I recently began watching it all on Netflix.

TOS CastThe original cast, from season 3.

In some ways, it’s fair to say the show has aged poorly. The Gorn, for example, moves and attacks with such a lack of speed and ferocity that I wouldn’t be upset about fighting it myself. The dialogue is cheesy at times, and the acting bad or overdone (though it does improve somewhat as the episodes go by–which was also the case with the Next Generation, if you’re being even handed about this sort of thing). However, on the whole, most of that is more a criticism of the era than of the series itself, and it does miss the point of the original series.

In some ways, I think, the original series is the best Star Trek of them all. It’s a more raw version, and while it’s optimistic, it’s not quite so disinfectant-squeaky-clean in its views as later series can be. (I can’t imagine Captain Picard ever issuing the order to destroy the entire population of a whole planet, for example, but it’s a hell of a bargaining chip when Kirk uses it.) But more than that, it’s a true reflection of its time — there’s curiosity, wonderment, optimism, and always the simple question of “what’s out there?”. Star Trek is more distinctly, individually episodic than many modern shows, without depending on much direct continuity from show to show — and in that regard, it has more in common with another TV classic than it does with the later Star Trek series.

TOS CastYou unlock this door with the key of imagination. And cigarettes.

Star Trek is, in a lot of ways, the Twilight Zone in space. It’s more limited — you won’t find an all-powerful child sending people to the cornfield, or giant aliens with what may well be the universe’s best cookbook. But the series is still approached with that wonderful optimism and curiosity that occurred as we first began to get into space — and it’s all about questions of “What if?” What if we encountered the narcissistic child of beings powerful enough to be compared to gods? Or if we discovered technology that would let us transfer our consciousness into a machine (a question revisited, later, by the Next Generation)? And so on, and so on — there are many such questions here.

And when you take a step back and get used to the oddities of the show’s presentation, a lot of the episodes are intriguing. There are good scripts in there, and good ideas. Some of those ideas do seem dated now, but not least because there is so much that has come later, and because some of these same ideas have been played around with to even better effect. But like the Twilight Zone, there is a lot of good stuff in there. Unlike some of the other Star Trek series, but perhaps like the early seasons (as well as some stand-out episodes) of The Next Generation, the show is really just a great collection of short stories more than a single, grand tale. It’s not about personal progression or the journey of an individual — it’s about humanity in space, and asking the question — utterly unadulterated, and without fear of seeming silly — of what, in all possibility, could we find out there?

But there is one thing I take issue with, and that’s the reworked special effects. I didn’t like it in Star Wars, I didn’t like it in Red Dwarf, and I don’t like it here either. Why put polished CGI next to the old sets? For me, at least, this isn’t enhancement — it robs the series of some of its original charm, and of the simple, pleasant detail of being able to look at an old show, and see how they used to do it. Nobody wants to redo the special effects in the Twilight Zone, or in The Day the Earth Stood Still — I don’t understand the desire to do it here. But hey, I’m just one guy, so what do I know?

I just got to the episode “Operation: Annihiliate!” of the original series. I watched this with my Dad when I was a kid, and it really freaked me out. And because of that, even though the effects are goofy and about as horrifying as the child’s sock my cat likes me to throw around, it still freaks me out, just a little bit…

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