Getting Pretty Alpha
This post is puts three types of a positive spin on the issue of sandy bottoms

I guess I made some bad design decisions early on which have taught me to take longer designing any future project before I start hacking away at the code. However, I didn’t set out to write a full game. I thought I’d simply take a few days to see how Unity worked. Weeks into what has become the equivalent of writing a book (with about an equal amount of work drawing all the graphics), I’m still left with things that require too much work to get entirely right.

One such bad decision was the placement of my camera. I didn’t understand anything about the Unity orthographic camera when I began and I set it up pretty much at random, with no thought to what might be right or what I might need.

The problem is that the camera is now too close to the principal subject . I can easily pull it back but that exposes more of the background and I’m not sure that the code I’ve written to generate that background could work quickly enough to double or quadruple the amount of terrain than needs to be shifted. I’m tempted to give it a try. I installed a build of the game on my old Samsung G2 and it runs nice and fast and it is pretty playable… Or, at least, I find it a bit distracting.  I never intended it to be phone compatible so that’s an unexpected bonus. However, I’m not entirely sure where the G2 sits in the spectrum of devices out there.

But back to the problem with the camera: I’ve adopted a compromise by widening the camera’s view at certain moments and then returning it to the closer view. It works but I think I’ll need to start getting feedback. I’m reaching the stage when I really need some people to try the game, even in this early stage. In software development terms, I’m probably reaching the Alpha release where you can actually play the game but lots of things are rough and need work. There are about eight levels to play and complete and things to be won. But the whole thing doesn’t quite hang together as a finished project. I’m currently scouring the internet for free sound effects so I can liven up this generally silent world. So far, I’ve limited myself to making the noises myself, going around the house hitting objects together, dropping bags of sugar on bags of rice, and then strangulating myself simply to get the right sound effect.

Of course, finding people with Android devices isn’t that easy. Literally everybody I know has Apple and although Unity can easily build an Apple compatible version of my game (it’s all device independent), there’s no way I can afford to do that. Unlike Google who have a relatively friendly ecosystem (bar the £20+ they ask if you want to become an Android developer and have access to their cloud services), Apple won’t even let you develop or test for their devices without you first coughing up £99.

However, that’s something I guess I’ll deal with if ever the time comes that I think it’s actually worth exporting this to Apple devices. At the moment, I’m hoping all this will come together at the end. The beauty of Unity is how it separates the hard work of getting things to appear on the screen on difference devices from the less difficult but far more intricate work of getting the game logic working correctly. I seem to spend most of my hours either telling the software when to enable or disable controls and buttons or puzzling over some strange behaviour such as this morning when I spent an hour trying to figure out why some of my graphics were shifting through the z axis, i.e., moving behind other layered graphics in front of which they were meant to be sitting.

Yet when Unity is willing and if you’re filled with bargain Lucazade which I’ve started to drink to give me the energy to finish this project, things can happen very quickly. Last night it took me about four hours to build a reward system into the game. I want people to play the game simply to unlock the things I’m hiding in there. The way I’m doing this is probably the only good idea in the game and I’ve not seen done anywhere else but it’s precisely the kind of silly little attention to detail that gives me real pleasure. When writing my Stan book, it was actually things like the fake photo credit on the back cover that gave me the most pride. I love things that warp traditional formats and though my game is about as simple, mundane, and downright run of the mill as any, I hope there are things here that will give amusement to people will my own warped outlook on the world.

My next job is to draw a panel cartoon strip for the introduction. The game has very little story but a little context might help it feel a little less like the random product of a tinkering mind.

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The Mike Harding Conundrum
This post is cited in most angst-ridden diary entries but only spelt correctly in two

Mike Harding seems to be following me. Or I’m following him. The least likely answer is that there exists some strange quirk about the great universal cog that makes Mike Harding decide to visit Manchester’s Waterstones whenever I’m there. It’s been weeks since I last visited the Deansgate store and I remember the day because I was relaxing in the top floor restaurant (my favourite place in Manchester) when Mike Harding’s head appeared at the top of the escalator. It was followed by Mike Harding’s body and Mike Harding’s legs. He looked just as he looks on the radio.

DrewFriedmanYesterday I found myself in Waterstones after a rather sad trip to visit the University bookshop. It didn’t have any of the books I wanted to browse nor any real surprises. It was in Waterstones that I landed my bargain. Waterstones never ever have Drew Friedman books on the shelves. I check fairly regularly and the only time I’ve come across a Friedman, was a few months ago when they were selling one of his collections in their sale for a criminally low price. They had another sale on today and, sure enough, there was more Friedman books. This time both of his Old Jewish Comedians were sitting beside each other there on the shelf and each had been marked down to £3. I felt slightly ashamed taking advantage of the sale but delighted I’d actually managed to find a couple of books I’d been meaning to buy for a long time.

After that success, it was time for a coffee. And that’s when Mike Harding made his regular appearance. I guess you’d have to be of a certain time and place to appreciate who Mike Harding is and I’m not entirely sure that any of the other diners were quite a star struck as me. I’m tempted to say ‘Fred Dibnah with a banjo’ or ‘the Billy Connolly of the north’ but neither is quite accurate. Not being a folk fan, I didn’t follow his metamorphosis into one of the UK’s top champions of folk music. However, growing up loving comedy, his voice was always lodged deeper in my subconscious than I’d probably like to admit.

It’s a strange business seeing people you recognise from TV because the part of your brain that recognises them, doesn’t know where you recognise them from. Pure instinct makes you look and prepare to acknowledge them. Then some higher order thinking kicks in and you have to quickly adjust your eyes to look at something else.

The worst time that ever happened was walking down from the University in Liverpool. I was just coming out of Reid’s second-hand bookshop a few years ago and a tall guy was walking towards me. I sort of nodded and smiled and only then realised that Alex Cox has no idea who the hell I am. Cox is another of those important figures whose opinions always matter to me. His Moviedrome series was one of the most influential things in my early life. In many respects, film criticism on TV has never been as good as those seminal shows. In what just world does Cox end up teaching at an American University and Claudia Wrinkleface hosts the BBC’s premiere film show?

But back to Mike Harding (another victim of the BBC’s crass stupidity): this is now the third or fourth time I’ve been in Waterstones and he’s been there. I always feel temped to say hello and ask if he ever got the letter I wrote to him back when I was writing my Stan Madeley letters. Any reply would have been sure to make the finished book. It wasn’t one of my best letters but it wasn’t the worst either.

Mike_Harding

 

Okay. Today I want to devote to getting my ‘game’ closer to being finished. The level selection screen is working (I’m aiming for 20 levels to begin) and late last night I figured out a gameplay mechanic which hadn’t been working right. The only jobs remaining are getting a reward system in place, unlocking content as levels progress, high score tables (trickier than I thought) and then filling each level with as much work content as I can create. In honour of Mike Harding, I’ll even add his likeness to the game in one form or another. Everything I’ve drawn recently is finding it’s way into this game.

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So that was a Monday….
This post was the cause of funny though violent protests in Tewkesbury

It’s the end of what was a cruel day in which I ultimately gave in to the world. A bad photo of myself is now out there, not that it matters to anybody but myself and I doubt if anybody would really understand how sad, frustrated and red-mist angry I’ve been today. But life is currently too difficult to make a fight of these things. Tomorrow I have to take my sister to the hospital. It makes my anger seem trivial. It’s not right that doing a little work for people means that those people own you, image and all. Yet I’m in no position to make subtle points. Nobody listens. Nobody cares. I’m bad meat trying to compete in a global market where there’s always some poor bastard on the far side of the globe who’ll do the same work for half the wage and they won’t be frown crazy truculent and idealistic. They won’t be me.

So I spent the day biting my lip until my teeth were sore. I’ve been working on another video for my employers but tonight I spent with Unity, which has become my second home.

I’m adoring the Unity process, from the simplicity of creating GameObjects to the ease with which the whole process of game design becomes a fun iterative process in which I sit here and constantly think: wouldn’t it be great if I could do x, y, and z. A couple of hours later, I’ve usually managed to get two of the three things working and when I finally hit my bed, my mind full of new ideas for the next time I get chance to program. I didn’t set out intending to write a game (if I had done, I think I’d have had a more rounded concept). I began simply wanting to see if I could get something moving around on screen.  Then I thought I’d add a background based around tiles, which took a ridiculous amount of effort but now it’s finally working pretty seamlessly. Soon, I found myself beginning to build the menus around the game and the more I write, the easier everything feels.

Every day, I spend a couple of hours just drawing graphics to populate that background. They’re the two parts of the process I enjoy and they blend seamlessly. The process is so simple. Want a bad guy doing bad guy things: you create what Unity calls a GameObject and you give him a name like ‘bad guy’. Then you attach scripts which handle his behaviours, enable him to have rigid body physics so he can bounce off walls, or give him easy-to-check colliders so you know when you’ve hit him. Once he’s created (dragging graphics from your graphics program of choice), you simply bring him into life in the code with a single line:

GameObject badguy = (GameObject)Instantiate(Resources.Load(“BadGuyModel”));

It might look complicated but once you get into the syntax, it becomes second nature. Stick that line in a simple loop and run it ten times and you get ten bad guys who will begin to interact with each other. It makes a difficult job relatively easy.

Part of me thinks I should stop what I’m doing because I’ve spent too long learning to do this stuff but I’ve been working on this little game for a few weeks. I actually want to finish something I’d be proud to show people. I still have so much to get finished and they’re all little jobs like getting controls to disappear when menus appear, ensuring that messages display at the right points. I also need to think about music. I thought I might be able to find some looping software which might allow me to create something myself but my efforts have been woeful. I need to find either free music or forget about music. I’m leaning towards the latter. It won’t matter until I get a sense of completing this. Perhaps I will. There’s a chance I won’t. All I know is that tonight, programming, I didn’t feel the frustration that ruined my day.

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Selfie
This post is dedicated to Satanists who have retained their sense of humour about goats

Terrible night’s sleep. Couldn’t rid myself of my self-loathing and sheer nervous worry about this job and their demand that I provide a photograph of myself. This morning, I’m utterly tired of being me, of having thoughts, ideas, feelings, and having strong opinions about the internet, privacy, and the right to your own identity. I woke early, cut the lawn in a desperate act of trying to put off the inevitable and then sat down and tried to take a ‘selfie’ and utterly hated the way I look. I hate my bottom lip and also my top lip for different reasons. I have a David Cameron mouth and I despise it. I despise the fact that I’m forced to look at it because somebody wants to add me to their organisational chart. I hate the fact that I’m considering giving in because the act of compromise is so much easier in the short term given that life is already difficult enough.

This situation has happened before in my life but I’ve previously managed to avoid it but this is how small companies operate and the problem is always going to reoccur. Small businesses like to see the stretch of their dominion, counting heads as if to say they are this far on the road to total world domination. Every one of them think they’re the next BP or Microsoft. Browse company websites and you’ll eventually see a roster of people looking either comfortable or uncomfortable about having their photos taken. Nobody stands up and says no. Or at least nobody stands up and says no and stays in the job for very long.

But why must I think like this? If it were mere self-loathing, I could perhaps accept my fate. Yet it’s more than that. Taking a photograph of myself is existential and I hate French philosophy. I live in my mind and I how I think of ‘me’ is quite different to what the camera tells me.

I’m not sure why I’m so utterly miserable about this situation. Why can’t people just accept me for who I am rather than turning me into another version of their selves?

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Posted in Cartoons | 1 Comment

I Think Therefore I’m Not…
This post is 49% more likely to become more informative with repeat viewing

At some point in the past decade introversion was criminalised. Being what was called ‘an introvert’ somehow became synonymous with old hackneyed phrases much loved by the media such as ‘loner’ and ‘misfit’. ‘Oh, he liked to keep himself to himself’ has taken on an ominous meaning implying dark habits in dingy rooms involving shaved cats and rubber spatulas. It doesn’t mean what I know it to mean, which is writing, reading books, or drawing the odd (hopefully) funny cartoon, which is how I’ve been ‘keeping to myself’ these past few weeks. Tom Wait’s odd song, ‘What’s He Building In There?’, wouldn’t have any exciting answers if applied to my life. That answer would be:  a silly little Android game which will never earn me a fortune but has taught me how to write games for mobile devices.

Of course, being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m completely without human contact. I like being with those close to me and I like having friends but I’m totally indifferent to leading a social life out there [points vaguely towards the window]. Watching a Youtube video last night, I heard some guy describing how he couldn’t practise his hobby (the topic of the video) because somebody had rang him to say that he and his wife had been invited to dinner. That sounds like a definition of ‘living hell’, when small talk over a dinner table keeps you from doing what you actually want to be doing. Parties, drinking, pubs, clubs, and all that’s associated with that has never interested me and what little I’ve experienced of it makes me even more confident in my choices. I’m an introvert and I’ve always been quite happy about that.

Yet tonight I feel like I’ve been caught paddling a shaved cat. I’m still being harassed for my photograph since it seems inconceivable to some people that a person might not actually want his mugshot on the internet for no other reason that he simply doesn’t want his photo on the internet. I suppose there might have been a time when I might have submitted to this petty request without much protest. Yet the more I’m pressed to do something that I instinctively don’t wish to do, the more trenchant my refusals become. It has now become a small point of principal to me. Yet I’m not entirely sure what that principal is. Or, at least, I think I know but it probably sounds shallow.

The reason, I suppose, is because I refuse to crust myself in the self-generated effluent of the ‘me’ generation to whom style means everything over substance. I don’t think putting my photo on some corporate website is robbing me of my soul but I also think that it is. I don’t mind giving time over to people to do their work but using me to advertise their company is to rob me of something more precious than a few hours. It’s to take away my individuality and to turn me into another bean-counter in the sham kingdom that would have us all identical and servile to the people in marketing. I don’t want to be another gormless victim of a selfie, gazing dead-eyed into a camera that can never record anything truly meaningful about me. I don’t wish to be judged by my eyes, my nose, my double chin, or my thinning crown. None of that actually means anything beyond what was written into my DNA by the great cosmic finger. I suppose that’s why I’ve blogged for so many years but always used something else to stand as proxy for me.

I grew up watching TV and admiring people who seems enormously gifted in the things they did but were also humble by their achievements. My earliest comedy hero was Spike Milligan, though I was a few generations too young to have heard The Goon Show. Milligan never seemed overtly bothered by his appearance and that never mattered to me. Nobody seemed that bothered by their appearance. Oliver Reed (who it’s so easy to forget was really talented actor) would appear drunk on TV and the great Barry Humphries would occasionally adopt the personal of Les Patterson and push the boundaries of unpleasantness. Peter Cook smoked and was cruel on mainstream TV and there were truly abrasive stars on film and television that were somehow more human because they were abrasive.

Yet at some point, a change started to happen. Beautiful people started take over TV and shows lost their rough but life-affirming edge. TV forgot that we get most pleasure from moments of accident and unpolished spontaneity and replaced it with a professionalism that remains obvious to this day. We entered into the Vernon Kaye years when men could be famous for simply being famous. When Vernon Kaye could be famous for being Vernon Kaye, whatever the hell that actually means. Sky News has gone from a young upstart that broken the rules by broking news, often via hastily set up cameras, to a channel that seems to exist to review the day’s papers in the company of two polished London types, one usually a professional woman with big hair and who self-importantly describes herself as ‘writer and broadcaster’ and some bequiffed shirt-open-to-his-navel Henry who trots out the usual slightly right of centre guff.

It’s why I detest polish in TV and why I’m drawn to enjoy comedy that isn’t hugely professional. It’s why, for example, I rate Stewart Lee so highly. I know that some of what he does isn’t funny but I’m pretty sure he knows that too and that’s why it’s hilarious. It’s not because he couldn’t do what other comedians do and do with perfection. It’s because he doesn’t want to do what they do and that’s what I always seek out. There is more to life than perfection. There is more to life than vanity and appearance.

So I don’t do Facebook and I’ve written everything I’ve ever written under other names and I’ve never once published anything to the internet as the real me. Yet thinking about this over the course of the past few days, I find myself wondering if there can be any form of success these days without a preceding image. Those people we celebrate the most are often accused of being ‘all image’. They are the celebrities who have no real or discernable talent other than the talent of being themselves in loud and obvious ways. Perhaps that’s part of the ‘postmodern’ condition that we all supposedly share where it’s impossible to separate the artist and his work. I don’t know. There are exceptions. Robert Crumb is front and centre in most of the things he draws but he does so in a way that’s unruly and unkempt and perhaps that’s why I’m a fan. We are all part of the Gonzo generation in which the news can never be reported objectively. It sometimes feels like we don’t exist unless we have our faces in an avatar. I don’t have my face on the internet. In a sense, I don’t exist. The extroverts have won.

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The Best Mouse I Ever Owned
This post passed nearly all the safety tests before being uploaded to this blog

deadmouse

My beloved laser mouse has died. It was a ten year old Logitech RAG97 and simply the best mouse I’ve ever owned. I’ve just checked the websites and £50+ for the latest model is just too much, especially since I can never see myself wanting to use a mouse on glass, which seems to be the proudest boast of the current model. Instead, I’ve settled on a cheap but actually rebadged Anker mouse which promises to be suitably heavy, big enough for my big hands, and comes with a long six foot cord so it might take me a little time getting use to old-fashioned mousing. I hope it arrives by tomorrow. Doing everything by keyboard and stylus is driving me nuts.

Around 2am this morning, desperation had forced me to dismantle my Logitech following a Youtube lesson in how to fix broken mouse buttons. The fix worked for a little while and then stopped again and I was soon dragging the entire contents of hard drives into Photoshop when the button stuck. It means I’m now stuck waiting for the new mouse to arrive and with time to write instead of code, which is what I’ve been doing for weeks now.

Speaking of code: the game is going quite well. I’m utterly addicted to Unity which makes 2D game coding so easy. My game won’t be anything special but seeing the video of Murasaki Baby running on the PS Vita and also written in Unity, inspires me to throw everything into my work.

The day before yesterday I added a free look function which allows players to scroll around the world and yesterday I took the big step of changing the gameplay mechanic so it dealt with screen gestures rather than the buttons I’d previously been using. I also took an even bigger step of completely changing the game logic, distributing it around the individual game objects instead of putting everything in the single object simply because I didn’t quite understand the beauty of the Unity model.

The more I work on the game, the more I realise how much work still needs to be done in even the simple things like getting a score looking good on the screen. I also have to design enough playable levels to make it challenging and worth downloading. Today I intended to fine tune the physics of the game, to make it less realistic and a little more fun to play. And that has become my mantra. I don’t care about rough edges and even the logic of the world I’m creating. I just want it to be funny and fun to play. It’s a lofty goal and one I’ll undoubtedly miss but I want my aspirations pointing in the right direction.

Speaking, tangentially, of the wrong direction: on the freelance front, I’m currently being pestered for a photograph. The people I work for want to update their website with an organisational chart of their employees. I think I’m the only person holding out on providing a picture and I’m sorely tempted to provide a photo of Robert Redford circa ‘3 Days of the Condor’. The simple fact is that I don’t have my photograph anywhere on the web and I hold that as a point of principal. I detest Facebook, Google+ and Twitter which would have us believe that the entire world is made up of extroverts with great body image and sense of self. The last thing I want is to be doing is looking at pictures of myself but should I ever to decide to start posting photographs of myself, it would be to this blog and not to some completely fake organisational chart.

Some days I wish I could just give in to the whole ugly business of being a team player and just going with the crowd. But I guess the world is run by extroverts and there’s no place in it for an introvert who value his individuality. I always seem to be swimming against the tide. Every day I wake to find new motivational emails from the other members of ‘the team’ and one on Saturday actually made we wince. It was a supposedly poignant series of observations about life which included the thought that ‘I’m glad to have washing up to do because it means I’m not going hungry’. That’s not so bad but another was ‘I’m glad to pay my taxes because it means I have a job’. There were others and it made me reflect on the relative luxury afforded to even the poorest of us living in Western Europe with a relatively prosperous economy. My sympathies have increasingly swung, in recent years, towards the plight of the worker. I see it around me where people are exploited by a system that has found ways to ignore rules about employment rights. For example, I quite like the concept of getting Amazon deliveries on a Sunday but I also know that this luxury will eventually come (if it’s not done so already) at the expense of our right to have at least one day’s holiday a week. I know of a teacher who teaches at a school where staff voluntarily go in on a Saturday to teach extra lessons. This teacher refuses to do so as it’s not in his contract but feels increasingly pressurised to sacrifice his weekend. Of course, it will never be grounds for dismissal but he knows that there will come a time when his refusal will be noted by those in management and ways will be found to make him move on.

Yet, perhaps that’s the way of the world. Perhaps individuality is a decadent luxury. My problem is that I can never sacrifice the things I want to do – write, cartoon, or, currently, making a very silly computer game – simply for money that might make the hours left to me after work a little less miserable. My time is more precious to me and it’s deeply painful giving up time to serve other people’s ambitions. It perhaps explains why I have so much trouble communicating with my employers who aren’t in this country or even this continent and constantly feed me propaganda that denies the individual in favour of the team.

I’ve never been a team player. I’m an individual. An individual with a dead mouse and very little hope.

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Unity
This post has graphic but amusing images of non-fatal lawnmower accidents

Dear Blog,

I know I’ve not written in quite a long time but there haven’t been enough hours in the day to do everything I’ve wanted to do. I think things went crazy when I discovered Unity. Unity, if you don’t know (and why should you, my dear blog, when you’re just sitting on a server in a cupboard somewhere)… Unity is a Game Engine which makes game programming ‘easy’. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been creating a game and it’s making me very happy.

It was difficult at first. My previous App (oh, how simple it now looked), was written in Java whereas I’m writing my Unity scripts in C#  (pronounced C sharp) which is very similar to Java but not quite the same. I thought at first I might make a little app to display 3D models on the screen, just to see if I could, but I quickly fell in love with the 2D side of the Unity engine. My game is in 2D and I was delighted last night to finally get my background scrolling with as many levels of parallax as I care to create and the hardware can handle. The hard task going forward will be to create all the other graphics that I know I’ll need for the finished game.

It means I’ve been ignoring you, my dear blog, in favour of these newer pleasures. But I’ve not forgotten you entirely. There’s still so much work to do on the game that I know I’ll be distracted for weeks to come but I intend to write more updates. Like all things, I’m hesitant to talk about it until it’s done but I’ll try.

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Some New Tory Posters
This post is scented with jasmine, eucalyptus, and duck lard for your pleasure

tories 4 TORIES2 TORIES3 TORIES7 TORIES8 TORIES9TORIES12 TORIES14

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A Drawing About Hammers
This post caused the recent outbreak of brazen clog dancing in Runcorn town centre...

Chubbysm

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Another Guardian Comment Bites The Dust
This post contains clues to the whereabouts of our Golden Heron of Ipswich

I left a comment over at The Guardian which has now been censored like so many others when a nobody dares question a celebrity. However, I don’t see why my carefully chosen words can’t find a home here and it gives me a chance to edit them a little to clarify my point. The comment was in response to this piece by Lily Cole.

I have more interesting things to do than hold any grudge against Lily Cole. Before I saw her Guardian article this afternoon, I was only dimly aware that she is a successful model with features that are possibly more striking than they are attractive. However, as a journalist, she can’t really claim an equal degree of success. Would a real journalist offer such a gnarly piece of phrasing as ‘arriving to New York’ or misuse an apostrophe in ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’? Yet, at the same time, what right do I have to complain? In a room containing only myself and Lily Cole, only 50% of us would be published journalists and it wouldn’t be the side of the room with the whiskers and perpetual frown.

Like many freelance writers, I have sent articles into The Guardian via ‘Comment is Free’ and I heard nothing every time until I eventually stopped trying. Rejections might have kept me going but silence eventually gnaws through the sinews connecting your brain with your soul and that frustrates me because I’m not, by nature, a quitter. I am, however, a realist and I see no reason to continue to flog a horse when it’s lying bloating beside the road. Not when there are other ways of navigating what Hunter S Thompson might well have been describing when he talked of ‘the proud highway’.

Yet I’m not exactly a beginner when it comes to writing. I think I know how to phrase things quite well. I’ve had books published and even if I haven’t had any commercial success, I’m not a complete stranger to the occasional good review. Even The Guardian itself has published reviews of my work and suggested that I’m not without wit. Yet try to turn that praise into income and I fail every time. I hear nothing even when I submit articles which others have said are good, thought provoking and sometimes pretty bloody funny.

I know this comment will ultimately go to the place where comments go when they don’t follow guidelines. The Guardian doesn’t like anybody questioning their editorial choices or the abilities of their writers and I can hardly blame them. It’s actually commendable that they have started to defend their writers from undeserved criticism given the levels of abuse that are sometimes tolerated ‘below the line’.

And I certainly don’t take any pleasure in constantly criticising The Guardian yet publishing shambolic articles written by celebrities devalues the work of real journalists and freelance writers. The Guardian remains one of the last and best places where we could practice our art yet they prefer to give jobs to famous amateurs and dilettantes.

I expected better.

Before a version of this comment was deleted, it received some good (and a few lame) replies. Some accused me (rather predictably) of ‘sour grapes’ but others were better than that and I penned this reply which I didn’t have chance to publish. The debate had ended less than fifteen minutes after it had begun.

I’m smiling because some of the replies were just too damn reasonable to my bad tempered comment. I accept your points (and that made by R042). Perhaps it is just a case of ‘sour grapes’ but I was simply trying to voice a concern that everybody should have about the way that modern celebrity intrudes into areas which were once home to professionals.

MancunianPsycho suggests I should ‘write something more interesting’ but that’s just a stock reply voiced when anybody dare question the style or substance of an article. I do write many things and I submit many but never with any success. I accept that I’m probably just not interesting enough but there must surely be plenty of others that are. Hell, I know others that are a damn site more interesting and could provide websites details and email addresses.

“I thought of the TV show, and indeed it’s movies that inspired her”

I accept that it could be read as ‘it is movies that inspired her’ but I maintain that it’s also damn clunky.

Again, I don’t have a problem with Lily Cole. Actually, I can see some value in the article, though perhaps not enough to justify its publication. I’m really just saddened by the way that our culture seems vaguely at odds with the interests of the common man and woman. It really does appear that we have to have a ‘celebrity name’ before our views become important.

There was an excellent piece in The Guardian just yesterday in which Joan Smith noted how the tabloid response to the sad death of L’Wren Scott almost ignored the deceased in their clamour to publish photos of Mick Jagger. Yet that was just a symptom of the very same problem evident in many of the broadsheets. We live in an age that is utterly at the mercy of the marketing people, in which you must have that hook or moment of fame on which to hang your opinions, otherwise you might as well not exist. The rest of us must content ourselves by expressing ourselves through cat memes or hoping for a celebrity retweet on Twitter.

 

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Stop the world etc.
This post is 45% likely to have a deeper meaning but we've no idea what it might be

First of all, just to keep up with the moronic zeitgeist, I thought I better post this video. It might well be the most nauseating thing I’ve seen this year. And when you consider some of the nauseating things I’ve seen this year, that’s a real tribute to how truly horrendous it is. And I don’t give a crap about postmodern irony or being in on the joke. My gag reflex doesn’t recognise postmodern.

I’ve said it before but that doesn’t stop me wanting to say it again: I guess I’m just not one of life’s ‘nice’ people. That’s why The Guardian’s current fixation on Jack Monroe (and porn and privacy and Russell Brand and internet memes) is wearing me down like The Times’ obsession with Caitlin Moran wore me down to the point where I stopped reading that paper. I’m still looking for something better to read than The Guardian but it keeps returning to my good books by publishing something immensely good alongside the drivel that passes for ‘Comment is Free’ most days. I guess I’m getting resigned to the fact that the world out there just doesn’t really reflect the interests in here (points to forehead).

Apropos of nothing: I wish Google would hurry up and send me the magic piece of paper which authorises my Google account so I can access AdWords and then the Play store. My app is so finished that I’ve even gone to the trouble of adding ‘skinning’ options which are alternative sets of graphics to change the look of the entire thing.

More apropos: I’ve developed a severe addiction to ‘Fish ‘n’ chips’, the classic nibble from Burton’s biscuits. They call it a taste of childhood but I say it’s the perfect treat when I’m sitting rewatching the first series of ‘Prison Break’. Speaking of which, I keep a shortlist of actors who I think should really have made it big by now and Robert Knepper is still top of that list. Wish somebody would cast him in something truly heavyweight and let him truly flex his acting muscle. He should try lip syncing to Disney. Perhaps that’s the only guaranteed way to success these days…

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Programming Android: Three Weeks On
This post is 49% more likely to become more informative with repeat viewing

As much as I hate to admit it, I think I’ve finished my app. It’s a proper monstrosity of bad design, hastily drawn graphics and butchered code but in the space of less than a month I’ve gone from not knowing a thing about the Android SDK to being in the final stages of testing a functioning app that does everything I originally intended plus a little bit more. Three weeks ago I began this adventure by thinking: I wish I could find an app that does X,Y, and Z. Now I have an app that does X,Y, and quite a bit of the Z and it has probably saved me 69p had this app originally existed in the Play Store.

I can’t say that it’s been an easy three weeks and I’m not sure I would have liked to have attempted this without some programming experience. Yet, had I been learning from scratch, I’m not sure Android is the worst place to begin to learning to program. It’s certainly a friendlier developing environment than some I used when I started out many years ago. I remember the misery of coding on an old Vax in a cold university basement room when we all had to wear mittens to stop our fingers from freezing. And people wonder why it’s taken me so long to come back to software engineering…

Although I’m not exactly a new code monkey, I began not really knowing much Java and I’m not entirely comfortable with it now since it’s clearly a language that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. At a few points, I wanted to add features which just proved beyond my skillset. One required me to catch, buffer and then process MotionEvents (the data generated when the user touches the screen) but it led to a wasted two days and my utter defeat. Perhaps I’ll try again with my next app…

Things I know now but wish I’d known back then:

  • It’s easy to use transparent PNG graphics inside a SurfaceView so long as you clear your bitmaps with the eraseColor(android.graphics.Color.TRANSPARENT) instead of filling your bitmap with white. Took me three days to figure that out.
  • The word ‘Activity’ in Android is almost synonymous with screen or process. Think of each functioning element in your program as individual Activities. So, if you’re making a database program, you could have an activity for the screen where you add records and another activity for the screen for modifying records. If it’s a game: one activity for the main menu, another for settings, one for the high score table, and another for the main game itself…
  • Learn about ‘context’. I think it’s the single most confusing and difficult element of the Android API. I’m not entirely sure what it is myself and I’m still not entirely sure how to ‘get’ it from different points in the code.
  • Learn to nest layouts right at the start. Setting up screens is a nightmare until you understand that you can, for example, drag a horizontal layout onto the screen and embed elements inside that. That layout can then be dragged into a vertical layout, making it really easy to arrange elements both vertically and horizontally on the screen.
  • Don’t go looking for ‘file open’ dialogs. They don’t exist natively in Android and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure they are needed. It’s really easy to throw data out to other apps, such as email, Evernote and Dropbox.
  • Be quite liberal debugging with Log.d(“Activity1”, “Loop7”). As your app runs, it throws up messages to a console on your PC so you can track the code and see where it stops, throws errors or is trapped in loops.
  • Saving preferences inside your app is unbelievably easy with the SharedPreferences object.

Except for those really ambitious things that were just beyond me, I can’t say anything has been unbelievably difficult. The problem now it to stop myself from adding more features. I’ve got my widget working and I think that was the last big addition I’ll make. In the last two days, I’ve added a ton of new functions. I’ve even done the unspectacular work of programming the settings page so that the app remembers the user’s preferences and adjusts the internal workings accordingly. In a way, this part has pleased me the most since I’ve tried to make the whole thing flexible so anybody can use the app as they see fit. It needn’t be used for the purposes I intended, which is probably good because I’m not sure anybody would want to use it for the purposes I intended.

The next stage is when things get difficult. I have to test the app and make sure that it runs on devices that have different sized screens. Device fragmentation is probably the worst thing about programming for Android. There are so many devices out there with completely different capabilities and hardware. The chance that this app will run on all of them is slim to zero. However, I want to be sure that it can be used on the majority of current Android devices and that means either getting my hands on a range of test devices (impossible) or using an Android emulator on my PC.

And that’s where I have a problem…

The Android emulator that comes with the Android Development Kit runs really slowly. However, you can install an Android kernel that’s built with Intel code. If you have an Intel based PC, the Android emulator runs pretty quickly and you can run it in a variety of configurations so you effectively have every type of Android machine at your fingertips. Want to emulate a small phone running an earlier version of Android? You just run the emulator with all the settings turned down and you get to see what you app looks like running on a low spec phone. You see a problem and jump straight back into the code to fix it. It’s a great way to test and bugfix your app if you have an Intel based machine.

Only, I don’t have an Intel based machine. My PC has an AMD Phenon II X6 and it completely incapable of emulating Android via the Intel kernel. There is one emulator called Bluestacks available for AMD machines but, as far as I know, it’s not customizable, which means it’s pretty useless for my purposes. There is an online Android emulator which can be set up to emulate different devices but I can’t say that it runs particularly quickly and I know I don’t intend to spend money testing an app which will never earn me a penny.

It means I’ll either have to beg to borrow a friend’s PC or be happy just to test the app on my Samsung Note 10.1 (2014) edition running Jelly Bean and my old Galaxy S2 running Android 4.1.2. I have no idea what it would look like on a seven or eight inch tablet or how it might run on a bigger tablet even a year old. Ideally, I should buy a really cheap 7 inch Android tablet, such as the Tesco hudl, but it’s an expensive way to test compatibility.

Meanwhile, sometime this week, I hope to figure out how to upload my app to the Google store or I might not even bother. My app will never be the next Flappy Bird and given it might only be downloaded five or six times, I might simply stick the finished app on this site for anybody to try, if that sort of thing interests you. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably be back to cartooning and moaning about The Guardian ignoring my submissions until I come up with my next ridiculous plan.

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David is now online…
This post is cited in most angst-ridden diary entries but only spelt correctly in two

Time. There’s never enough of it and never enough to do all the things I intend to do in a single day. Something always has to suffer and it’s usually the thing that’s most pleasurable, such as writing a decent blog post, drawing a funny cartoon or taunting a loft insulation salesman with a hint about an under-lagged crawl space.

Because I have so much to do, I wonder how people find the time to do the things that they spend their days doing, such as posting gormless updates to Twittermefacegrambook. I woke up early this morning to find another complaint waiting for me in my inbox. My on-the-other-side-of-the-world employer tells me that I need to provide instant feedback whenever he asks me a question. I’ve recently fallen into the habit of not loading Messenger when I’m at my desk. The truth is that I’ve simply not had time and I’d forgotten. Instant Messaging isn’t part of my life and it never occurs to me to load that most monstrous piece of malevolent gropeware. Instead I rely on email, the now outmoded method of instant communication which just isn’t instant enough.

I suppose my ‘forgetting’ to load Messenger reveals my deeper neurosis about Instant Messaging which I loathe like a true Luddite. The mere thought of using IM (even the acronym chills my balls) on a daily basis makes me feel like Winston Smith walking into the Ministry of Truth. Every Instant Message is a sinkhole into which I see my privacy disappear. I particularly resent losing valuable time to long meandering conversations in which you’re forced to mimic the trivial small talk of normal conversation instead of getting to the meat of the business as you would in an email. I despise the way IM informs other people when you’re on the internet, as though it’s their business. I hate having my train of thought broken every time the IM client tells me that somebody else is now online. ‘As if I care!’ I cry as the little boxes appear. ‘As if I care!’

Do I want my computer sending out messages to people to tell them that I’m ‘available’? I’m never available to waste time or to engage in small talk. The problem with the world is that there’s too much talk and too little actually meaningfully said.

But that is Instant Messaging: a symptom of the cultural malaise that has taken over the world. It’s a boredom born in a world where surface has taken over from depth, when every news story has to be accompanied by pictures or (preferably) an ‘infographic’. When cat memes make their creators millions but authors struggle to get their novels published I think it’s time to question if our time on this planet is being used wisely. The truth is: I don’t want Instant Messaging in my life. I want Delayed Messaging in which a friend takes the time and effort to write me something long and meaningful, full of interesting things, and requiring effort on my behalf to read, internalize, and then respond.

Yet the sad truth is that I have no option. We live in a new age where there are no set hours to jobs because jobs occupy every hour, where there’s no separation between work and life because your life is your work, and where people tell us that we’ve never been so free yet all of us are increasingly connected, tied down, and always available to chat.

‘Chat’. No other word more concisely symbolises the true vapidity of our age.

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Blood Blister
This post might offend easily offended jerks who hate being called 'jerks'

My chair is fixed. I’m not so certain about my body.

thumbIt took me a few hours yesterday to remove the old bolt from the seat. There was about half an inch of threaded end stuck in the hole and I spent about an hour trying to drill out the hard steel with an electric drill. That didn’t work so I tried to cut a notch in the slightly exposed end of the bolt but the screwdriver wouldn’t bite. Frustrated, I reached for a hammer and tried to knock it through. That’s when I missed the chisel and hit my left hand. I cursed mightily and angrily tried again with the hammer. That’s when I missed the chisel a second time and hit my left hand on the same tender spot. It hurt even more and where the hammer bounced off the bone, it went into my thumb, producing this delightful blood blister.

I was about to give up but I remembered something my Dad had taught me or perhaps it was something I’d seen on one of the Discovery Channel documentaries such as Gold Rush. It suddenly struck me that I’d been doing it all wrong. The high powered electric drills were just spinning on top of the bolt. I reached for an old brace and bit and slowly started to turn it in the hole. Soon I could see small flakes of metal coming out and I could feel the drill biting. After about half an hour, I could see the drill beginning to protrude from the other side. I’d gone in slightly askew and half of the bolt was remaining so this time I reached triumphantly for the hammer to knock out the stuck fragment. It popped out easily, though not before I’d managed to hit my hand a third time. My cursing didn’t last long. About half an hour later, the chair was reassembled with a new bolt and washers holding the back in place. I felt slightly elated.

I’m not a handyman. In fact, people often laugh about my skills as a handyman, though the same people admit that I can hang wallpaper pretty well, put up shelves, rewire a plug, and do plenty of the other things that need doing. About the only thing I can’t do is climb a ladder higher than twenty feet. I figure I’m too big and cumbersome to go climbing about on the roof. Anything lower than that and I’ll give it a try. And that pretty much sums me up. I’ll have a go at anything. I’m just not sure the result will ever be all that pretty.

The bolt doesn’t look great hanging from the chair but you only see if it you go looking for it. The point is it works and I preserver in these things because I like to believe we’re not past the stage when a little effort produces a result. We throw things away too easily. Since I saved this PC monitor by soldering in some new capacitors a year or so ago, I feel like I have a duty to at least try to get things working again. I’ve saved my chair, saved some money, and have a blood blister I didn’t have before.

Today, I’ll stick to my preferred form of engineering. I have new ideas to incorporate into my app. A few days away from it has given me a little more faith in the concept. I intend to learn how to create a widget to sit on my Android screen and integrate with the app. It should be fun and hopefully blood blister free.

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Some Thoughts on Bob Crow
This post only works if you have knowledge of Cambodia's fishing industry

Hemingway wrote whilst standing up. He wasn’t the only writer to do so. Perhaps it accounts for something special in his writing, his characteristic stocky phrases or the muscular pull of his lines. I don’t write standing up but perhaps the next best thing is to write whilst sitting on an uncomfortably hard chair since my usual perch is currently in pieces in the back room alongside the remains of a broken drill which I’d destroyed trying to remove a hardened steel bolt that had sheared off in its hole.

Yesterday was a hell of a day, a long run of blistering bad luck and ugly turns that ended in Manchester where I was forced to buy a new power drill. Even with the right tools, my chair is still unusable and work is now backing up. I have a website to build, a video to fix, and a cartoon to draw before tomorrow’s deadline for the next issue of an LFC fanzine. Two paragraphs into the day and my back is already aching from the hard plastic sticking under my shoulder blades.

Yesterday was also a bad day because it was the day I heard that Bob Crow had died. I suppose if it weren’t such a tragedy that he died only 52 years old, I wouldn’t actually write about Bob Crow except I had recently found myself warming to him. That’s not to say I didn’t find something comic in seeing a union leader enjoying the high life. In many respects, I viewed him like I view George Galloway, though perhaps with less overt comedy. Yet seeing Crow on ‘Have I Got News For You’ recently made me reassess my attitude towards these leftward firebrands. The same goes for Dr David Starkey on the right. It’s easy to mistake everything they say for the worst things they say. Or sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the sense from the way they expressed that sense. I do think it’s a crazy world in which the driver of a largely automated Underground train is earning more than a university lecturer who contributes to world knowledge. It’s that kind of detail which made it easy for the Tory commentators to mock Crow, as I saw Andrew Pierce doing on Sky News on Monday night.

In that sense, Crow and Galloway have always been a blessing for the right. They were easy to lampoon and their worst foibles distracted from the very great sense they sometimes spoke about the rights of workers. It would be foolish to deny that Britain is a country ruled by a rich Eton elite yet populated by a majority of people too distracted by X Factor finals, mobile phones, and American ten pin bowling to actually care about that bias. To his credit, Crow did care, as I’m sure Galloway also cares. That’s why I’ll miss Crow. He was one of the few public figures to express an opinion which was precisely that. It wasn’t a party line, a faecal crumb of marketing detritus put out by some central office. Right or wrong, he was one of the few actually happy to go on TV and express an opinion that he knew would alienate some. That’s rare in politics as it’s rare on TV, where the middle ground is worn flat by a million bland heels.

But at this point I have to stop. I would write more but my back hurts. This chair gives spasm-inducing discomfort and there is one less person fighting for my rights as a worker.

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Hey Bob! Here’s More Self-Centred Waffling
This post contains free tickets to the Sarah Palin school of Screech Owl Impersonations...

An anonymous Bob, from nowhere.com, left a comment this morning accusing me of ‘self-centred waffling’. It’s always a little unsettling getting such an anonymous comment, though thankfully, in this case, Bob’s IP address included what appears to be his real name (I’m guessing that his real name is ‘Mark’), so I know it wasn’t from a friend trying to tell me to quit.

That said, I think Bob/Mark’s observation is bang on the money. This is a blog and, like all blogs, self-centred waffling is its raison d’être. What would this site be if it wasn’t an expression of my deluded hope that somebody might actually care what I think or what my cartoons might say? The truth is that the world generally doesn’t give a fig. That is the world I recognise. My neighbour came around the other day to ask me to move my car. We’ve lived next door to them for ten years. I know all their names, their jobs, the names of their illegitimates. They didn’t even know that we’ve never owned a car. Isn’t modern Britain’s Big Society just wonderful, Mr Cameron?

The other part of Bob’s criticism is easier to address. He asks ‘what app ? no links no info’ and that’s also right. I’m damn cautious about talking about my app because some Android genius in India would easily knock it together in a spare lunch hour and market it to the world. I know how this game operates. Good ideas are few and far between and I think I’m sitting on a $100 idea. If I market it right, it might even earn me $120 which is about £70 in these God fearing times.

I was in Chester on Saturday on the way with my sister to see her consultant. I was idling time browsing the small PC World next door to Nero and listening to a sales assistant explain how he was doing a computer course where they were being taught to write their own Android apps. There’s nothing quite like listening to salesmen in PC World making idle boasts to ignorant customers to make you realise how you’re actually achieved something barely worth celebrating. But I’ve said this before. Learning to write Android apps is easy. Mastering it is something else.

I suppose I should also be grateful for Bob’s aggressive comment for setting me right about this blog. I haven’t blogged properly in two weeks but my excuse is that I’ve just lost the will to work. I suppose years of rejection have finally got to me. I’ve lost the enthusiasm to write, to draw, and even, I suppose, to live and breathe. I just begrudgingly face each day with the realisation that it will involve yet more crap and gruelling misery. My sister’s treatment at the hands of the local GPs has reached the point where I’m considering seeking legal advice regarding medical negligence. This last week has been one of the worst and it seems that the closer the consultant actually gets to finding the cause of her problems, the problems actually gets worse yet are routinely laughed off by the local GP as ‘a bug that’s going around’. Last Thursday was very distressing and I needed help so I rang the local surgery for advice. They wouldn’t send anybody to see her and they told me that the emergency doctor only attends to the elderly. They suggested we stick her in a taxi and go to the walk-in centre four miles away in another town… A shame we don’t own a car, though that doesn’t stop the neighbours for giving me grief about my parking…

In the meantime, I continue to work on the app during the moments when I’m not sitting outside the doors of consultants and GPs, or building websites for people who tell me that ‘desire for greatness is to be on the right track. But if we are on the right track, we’ll get run over if we just sit there. Action is paramount for greatness.’ If you do a search (I did), you’ll know that it’s a hackneyed phrase used by business gurus to sell their particular brand of bullshit. Is it unusual to get annoyed by people who are constantly upbeat and wanting me to work in a team? I occasionally do a little work for an American who quite the opposite and I love that. I miss being able to rib somebody and trade mock insults. It doesn’t seem normal trying to be so smiley…

And that, I think, is my problem. That’s why Bob was probably annoyed with my self-centred waffling. As you can see, I do waffling quite well but I don’t do smiley bullshit. In truth, the app isn’t working how I hoped it would. It’s not good enough to talk about. Nobody but me would probably want to use it like few people really read this blog. But what the hell. I enjoy self-centred waffling. I’ll blog again. This has been cathartic.

In the meantime, if anybody knows how to remove a snapped bolt from an office chair, I’d be very grateful. I sat in my favourite chair last night and it went ‘thud’ and the back fell off. I thought a bolt had simply come out, as they often do. Only this one had broken half-way down its length, due, I think, to the bloody awful blue locktite stuff some firms insist on sticking on bolts. It stops the bolts from falling out but always makes them sheer off instead. I now have to figure out a way of removing the piece of bolt stuck in the threaded hole so I don’t have to buy another chair. Like I say: more crap and gruelling misery…

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Cartoon: New Ideas in Horror
This post is has had the comments disabled due to an outbreak of leprosy

ArseFangs

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Deep in Geekdom
This post contains exclusive pictures from our recent naked Harry Potter festival

My brain imploded the moment I tried to do something which was just far too advanced for its limited ability. It involved strange ugly creatures that lurk in the deep places of the Java programming language; exotic elaborations of inconceivably weird data sets that my mind just couldn’t comprehend in their entirety.

I was trying to capture input from a touchscreen in an array but the array needed to be held in another array, and the whole thing wrapped in classes which defined the methods of storing the data and then freeing memory when no longer needed. Perhaps I was tired. Perhaps I was simply trying to go too fast. I don’t know. I could no longer remember the difference between implementing a class and extending a class. The web wasn’t helping. My questions on an Android programming forum had gone unanswered. I was left reading example source code that was thousands of lines long and impossible to unravel. It just made me feel like the little I had accomplished in a week and a half was precisely just that: a little. At midnight last night, I pushed myself away from my desk and went to draw a cartoon for the next couple of hours whilst Dumb & Dumber playing on the box.

So, as it stands, the little app I’ve written is almost finished. It had taken the entire weekend for me to realise that I couldn’t expand it to be something more useful. One of the worst things about life as a programmer was dealing with feature creep – the excitement of clients who want their simply database to run their entire world. Now I’m programming for myself, the feature creep is worse than ever.

However, I’m now trying to wrap it up and get back to blogging. There are parts of the app that need to be finished but they’re the dull parts such as a settings screen and it’s hard to find the enthusiasm to code them. I still need a way to export and import user data but since I’ll probably be the only user, I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. I also need to spend time using this app, learn its flaws and try to work out if this is a genuinely useful tool which will do all it was intended to do: write my blog, clip my toenails, and tell me that the meaning of life is the number 42.

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Cartoon: The Selfie
This post is a favourite among salty seadogs cruising around the Lizard

Selfie

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Coding
WARNING: this post contains one instance of the phrase 'grrrrrr! Get him big boy!'

Untitled-1

I don’t want to ignore the blog at the expense of the app but, over the weekend, I definitely became more serious about the work I’m doing with Android. I actually found myself adding comments to my code. It’s a small thing but it tells me that I’m passed the stage where I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. As you can see from this snippet, I’m actually writing completely new code and I need the comments to remind me what all the parts are doing.

It’s strange to be programming again. This project started out as an intellectual distraction. Could I really get something running on my Android tablet and could it actually do something I might find useful? I could and I think that it is. Useful to me, at least, and I’m already using it as it was intended. I’m also now at the stage where I can see the faults of my original design and I’ve started to rectify them.

One of the problems I’ve tackled today was the variety of screen sizes in the devices that run Android. Every device out there seems to have a different sized screen or different pixel densities. That’s a problem because I’d like my little App to work on a wide variety of devices so I need to be sure that I’ve built software capable of adapting to different environments. That’s not as easy as it sounds, if, indeed, it sounds easy at all. It’s the sort of thing that could easily leave me chewing on the business end of mental ward by the end of the week…

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Android Programming: Day 3… Bright Colours
This post received 18 'inverted eagles' and no fewer than 4 'whoo yay's

Yesterday morning I was pretty delighted by my progress and intended to make my humble app a little more functional. This morning I’m just exhausted. Yesterday was crazy ambitious even by my standards of blindly leaping into things without quite knowing what I’m doing.

The problem began when I tried to implement at file open dialog box. Whoa, I hear you cry and I agree! I’m moving into the exciting stuff really quickly but I have things to do and my file open dialog box was where I left off yesterday.

You know the sort of thing I’m talking about: you click ‘load’ and a window appears asking you to select a file. I thought it would be easy. Usually one of the easiest things to program is the file open dialog box and that’s because you don’t actually write software using a programming language. Well, you do but using a ‘programming language’ is like saying that the entirety of your speech is made up of English and it contains words and grammar which you understand. It is true that programming involves knowing that language but much of the basic functionality of any piece of software is actually created by using something called the API, which is the application programming interface. To continue the English analogy, it’s like saying that a writer has lots of newspaper articles that are already written for them and which they can quote. In software terms, these are libraries of functions that provide many of the basic building blocks of the app. For example, somebody has usually created a simple-to-use building block which displays a file open dialog box. You tell the computer to go and create the dialog box and you wait for it to come back with the name the user selected. You don’t actually know anything that happens – the ‘new folder’ option or ‘sort files by name’. You simply say ‘I need a file name, get one for me’ and the computer’s demon returns with a ‘as you requested, master’ and lays both the directory and file name at your feet.

So, adding my file open dialog box was my next step. Except one of the very few things that Android is currently missing is a built-in file open dialog.

Yesterday, after writing my enthusiastic and critically acclaimed blog update (nearly three people read it) I clearly faced a dilemma. Write my own file open dialog, find one somebody had already created, or do something else.

Writing file open dialog boxes is miserable and I wasn’t going to spend my day worrying about one of the ideas I had for my App which wasn’t actually necessary. I decided instead that what my app needed was more whiz bang. I decided to look at the graphic functions of Android. I was hesitant at first because that’s heading into games programming, which I assumed would be really difficult. However, pretty quickly, I’d created a screen and had some things flying around.

By 4am this morning, I’d designed a new layout for the app, produced yet more things flying across the screen and a functioning button which makes a satisfying click noise. Today I intend to add another button, make my buttons indent when I click them, and then I want to produce more graphical magic before I then link the whole thing into a facility to interact with the wider world. For the first time, I actually think this app might have a future beyond my little world where it does something solely for my amusement and utility. I beginning to hope that others might enjoy it. In fact, I can see there being at least another ten or eleven people in the entire world who might want this app and that would be at least £5 or 6£ in my pocket if I sold if for fifty pence.

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Android Programming: Day 2… (Yes, this blog post is really going to be that exciting!)
This post is dedicated to all who maintain the old English tradition of nanus skittling

Sadly, there’s been no word from Joleen, she of the big boobs and even bigger butt, but I have managed to create a SQL database inside Android, so you needn’t be too downhearted.

[Counts to three before he opens his eyes and looks to see who’s left in the room…]

If you’re still reading, it means you’re one of the better few who are less interested in pornographic internet SPAM and more interested in a misguided dabbler’s attempts to wrap his brain around Javascript. How easy is it to develop an app to run in Android, you ask? I’d say surprisingly easy, though the Android SDK running on Eclipse does create a functioning ‘Hello world’ App for your as soon as you install it. So in that sense: it’s very easy. In some ways, it’s actually easier than developing software for the PC, especially if you have an Android device plugged into your machine. The updated app code runs straight on the device so you get fewer of those ‘bugger, I’ve just crashed my PC’ moments you get when developing things for the PC.

I started this little ‘project’ about two days ago and I already have an app which does quite a bit more than say ‘Hello world’ and it’s running on my old Android phone which has become my unofficial test bed. I also have it running on my tablet but since I use that almost constantly, it’s not as easy to keep it plugged into the PC and it won’t be until my new ultra-cheap-but-long micro-usb cables arrive from China.

I don’t exactly know why I’m writing an app except the other day I was searching for something to do a specific task related to my cartooning. Not being able to find anything suitable on the Play Store, I began to wonder how difficult it would be to simply write it myself. I used to program databases after I did my computer degree – which, I should add, taught me next to nothing about programming – and before that I’d been a complete computer junkie making simple games with even simpler graphics. Every meaningful thing I’ve ever known about programming has been self-taught yet I’ve never truly taken the time to learn Object Orientated programming and what little I know about Javascript is based on my somewhat limited knowledge of C. I am an old school programmer completely out of his depth with newer code. In the past, I’ve often written simple things to run inside a web browser, to change the various random phases on this blog, for example, but I’ve always wanted to know how to develop a proper app. My cartooning hasn’t been going so well – no bugger seems to ever like anything I draw – and my writing is at a standstill given that the agent still hasn’t replied yet it’s probably a little too soon to send the book elsewhere. My enthusiasm for blogging is also at a new low and my ‘real’ work is just destroying my will to live. What better time to add another string to my bow?

The last couple of days have been about information overload and absorbing as much as I can. I’ve been selectively reading chunks from different huge tomes on Javascript written by clever people who don’t know how to write. That’s not to say that they’re incapable of writing but they’re incapable of writing for the audience to which the book has been marketed. The best I’ve found so far is ‘Android Apps for Absolute Beginners’ by Wallace Jackson, which has become my new Bible and I’ve read from cover to cover. Last night I also attempted Jeff “JavaJeff” Friesen’s ‘Learn Java for Android Developers’, which I thought I didn’t necessarily need but hoped it might help me remember the stuff I’ve long forgotten. About half way through an early chapter, I fell asleep and woke up to realise that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Only a few pages earlier, I’d been told how to declare a variable and then I was suddenly deep into the murky territory of inheritance, polymorphism, and upcasting.

Following the cast, the contract’s reflexivity, symmetry, and transitivity requirements are met by only allowing Points to be compared with other Points, via expression p.x == x && p.y == y.

Sometimes clever folk need somebody a lot less clever to put a hand on their shoulder when they get excited and ask them to rephrase that for people without a doctorate in abstract logic. Of course, the fault might well be my own. I’m a terrible student since I never attempt the examples they write in the course of these books. I always want to get to the meat of the business. I get frustrated having to read five pages about how to change the colour of text, which is the sort of thing I tend to figure out quite easily. More difficult for me was learning how to open new screens from the main screen. It was obvious in the end but it was the kind of top down structural approach to software development I really needed at the beginning. Had they said that an Android app is made up of many ‘Activities’ which are essentially concurrent and each declared in their own file, I might have had a better idea of what I was doing.

I don’t think learning things my way is necessarily bad. It forces me to have an active knowledge of real programming rather than the kind of passive knowledge you get by simply reading other people’s code. I believe writing is best learnt by writing and speaking a language best learnt by speaking a language. Programming is best learnt by getting the hardware to do what you want it to do. My app might not break any records and surprise people with its originality but it will do what I want it to do and that’s a better achievement than simply producing the same code as you could have downloaded from your tutor’s website.

At this point, my ‘App’ is like some kind of Texas Chainsaw hillbilly with pieces chopped from different places and stitched together. Yet it actually does what I wanted and I’m delighted it works. I only have one functioning button, a menu system which deletes the database and then restores it by reading in data from text files, and my Settings page only reports things about the database just to assure me that the database actually exists. I wasted three hours yesterday trying to figure out why my database wasn’t being created only to later discover that my database existed and was fully populated with fake data but my ‘checkDbExists’ routine was flawed.

Christ… Does anybody find this kind of rambling blog post interesting? I’m not bright enough to actually write a meaning post about Android programming but I’m too dumb to realise I should just shut up and get back to it.

Today I’d like to figure out how to open a file selection dialog to import and export data. Later, I’d like to allow them to modify records and then start extending the functionality to the actually things I’ll hopefully find useful.

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Joleen
This post contains no fewer than 193 wrong assumptions but plenty of yellow

Joleen found me via Facebook, though I don’t really use Facebook but she was excited nonetheless. She thought I was cute, though my picture doesn’t appear anywhere. But that was okay. She wanted to share some hot photos with me because I’m a ‘babe’. That was her word not mine but I do accept that I could be considered a ‘babe’ by some. Some like Joleen… You see, she’s just a free spirit with big boobs and an even bigger butt, apparently, though I’ve not seen them or her. She assures me that she knows how to use them but use them for what? I facetious want to ask but we’re not yet that close. She only emailed me this morning.

Now I don’t know what to do. The thought of a woman with big boobs and an even bigger butt is intriguing but I’m not sure I could overlook her bad spelling. When she told me to ‘click bellow’, I thought we were about to embark on a discussion about an angst ridden novelist. What if she’s also misspelled ‘big boobs’ and ‘bigger butt’? She might actually have big books and lager gut. Do I really want to read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa in the company of chubby women? I’ve had enough of that in my life.

I suppose I’ll find out soon. Joleen wants me to look at her private photos. She has (30) of them, though I don’t know the reason for the unnecessary (parenthesis). Perhaps it’s a sexual thing. She gave me an opportunity to click a link to a website called Stallion.com. I admit I was intrigued so I clicked, expecting more girls like Joleen with big butts and even bigger boobs which they know how to use. I was taken to a company called Latronix.com, who are ‘a global provider of smart networking and communications solutions for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications.’ There they are again. The mysterious parentheses. It definitely has to be some strange twisted sex game. Grammatical gimpery, the sadomasochistic binding of letter upon letter. It makes no sense to me.

Nothing makes sense of me. I didn’t blog yesterday, which was the first day I hadn’t blogged in about two months. I didn’t expect to blog today. I thought I’d just walk away from the web which depresses me with all the Joleens who contact me when the people I hope to hear from just walk on by. Still no reply from the agent, the editors, or anybody… Perhaps the book is just a bad idea. I can’t draw for shit…

Yesterday I spent twelve hours reading books on Java programming. Late last night, I made my first Android app, which, unlike my experiments in programming, actually did something I’ve always wanted in an app. I loaded it again this morning and it made me smile. It’s a nice idea and I intend to learn more so I can make it better. I need to figure out how to create an SQL database under Android but it looks horribly difficult. I’ve not programmed seriously in such a long time. It’s hard to get back into the zone. I’ve never really liked Object Orientated programming with its broadcasters and listeners triggering events. I miss the days of straightforward loops, functions, and procedures. However, I’ll persevere. When I’m finished, I might feel like blogging again but I don’t know. I mean once you’ve met a woman like Joleen…. Assuming, of course, that Joleen is a woman.

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Vegetable Slicing and the Symbolic Castration of Ant & Dec
This post contains exclusive pictures from our recent naked Harry Potter festival

AntandDecMen of the world unite! Either Ant or Dec has chopped off the top of his thumb and, oh, what a fine time it is to be a man, when the best among us has done what we all aspire to do: sing a song of manhood replete with sharp kitchen gadgets and a willful disregard for reading the instructions.

But you might have already grimaced over this story and know that it was actually Ant who suffered the injury whilst using a vegetable slicer to prepare dauphinoise potatoes for Dec. I only typed ‘Ant or Dec’ because I can’t honestly tell one receding hairline from another standing a foot to the right. In my mind, it’s the high-foreheaded hydra that’s one thumb down on the day and has only three thumbs remaining.

It’s a strange world where this story features so highly in the news. It’s probably why, as I gazed over the morning papers, I wondered why I continue with this sad pretence of blogging. The truth is that had I not written a piece about ‘Flappy Bird’ in the past week, traffic to this blog would be at an all-time low, with today setting a chilly record. Meanwhile, The Guardian promotes Jack Monroe like she’s the incarnate truth of blithe poverty; the happy-clappy survivalist and expert prepper for a country that’s just about getting by on one Ryvita a day and the occasional shapeless grape we find squashed beneath our empty freezer. That’s not to say I don’t like Jack Monroe, her backstory, or how she’s passionate about eating cheaply. It’s just that she’s so different to me that she constantly demonstrates how I’m doing everything wrong…

So, here goes. Aim for the mainstream, David. Aim for the mainstream…

How to cheaply feed a family of four with one thumb joint taken from popular TV presenter, Anthony ‘Ant’ McPartlin and some bloody-stained veg sliced unreasonably thin… First, take one TV presenter (£20 million a year, available at your local broadcaster), wash his thumbs, and apply one sharp blade to the top knuckle…

But I have to stop this sham right there. It would be fine if I could but I just can’t carry on and I’m increasingly tired of newspapers that can. It’s not just The Guardian that does it, of course. They all twist stories to fit their particular narratives. The Guardian just happens to have the best free web presence and politics I don’t totally object to, so I’m still drawn to reading it and feeling dismayed and utterly disappointed by the predictability of their content; how they try to link every celebrity story into a restatement of their perpetual themes of the surveillance society, poverty, gender politics… Especially gender politics…

Perhaps it’s just these jaded eyes but journalism seems to have become home to every third-rate academic willing to add another floor to the elaborate Babel that stretches skywards towards a feminist utopia that really isn’t up there. But perhaps a tower is far too phallic, no matter how much my metaphor might droop. Let’s make it a deep cave disappearing down towards some core dark truth.

Yet what surprises me the most is that I’ve never been entirely hostile to gender studies. I never thought it a paradigm shift to realise that gender is not absolute. Gender study is very prevalent in literary theory where it has become an often repeated observation that a writer such as D.H. Lawrence had a feminine sensibility. Once you accept that kind of distinction, the rest of it follows fairly easily. Even if I never thought much of Kristeva’s work (a writer who clearly hates to be understood), I’ve always quite liked Hélène Cixous’s way of making her point.

I write this as a woman, toward women. When I say “woman,” I’m speaking of woman in her inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal woman subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history.

If Freud could argue that we are defined by our childhoods, it seems only reasonable to conclude that the things we do, the words we choose to write, might also be influenced by our bodies, hormones, the very way we respond to the base urges of our gender.

The problem is that some places aren’t ready for the reconstituted male, men who agree with the broad arguments of feminism and simply wish to move on. We have to continue to play the role of the proxy bastards, out to keep women down and establish the patriarchal order. It’s not a part I wish to play but I’m doomed by my place in the patriarchy.

Last week’s Question Time was a perfect example. Tessa Jowell was on the panel with Dr David Starkey, George Galloway and others. They were debating whether the accused should be given anonymity in rape cases and Jowell was generally against it lest it discourage more women to come forward. It was a strange argument but typical of the ‘two wrongs do make a right’ logic that sometimes passes for progressive thinking. Rape has been under-reported for centuries and it’s only relatively recently that the law has taken the proper steps to recognise its severity. Yet should centuries of abuse, mainly by men, now justify a new kind of injustice that overlooks the rights of the individual if they just happen to be male? Even when acquitted, the accused are never cleared of the suspicion of guilt. Rape is a sentence that is handed down as soon as an allegation goes public. Does a belief in ‘innocent until proved guilty’ make me a typical man or simply somebody who believes in equality? Sometimes, in wanting justice to be blind, it feels like I’m not demanding the fashionable bias.

To me these things seem logical but perhaps logic isn’t as important playing the gender game where everything hinges on what we have between our legs. I expect articles in the papers this week explaining why Ant shouldn’t be mocked for losing his thumb, how it either reveals the emergency of a new masculine identity or reinforces the old stereotypes that says that men are useless around the kitchen. Brighter folk might even tell you that Ant didn’t chop off his thumb but symbolically took off the top inch of his penis. Perhaps they’re right. I really haven’t thought about it enough to disagree except to say if Ant was slicing vegetables with his penis, then he was asking for trouble. By now, I’m just confused. Perhaps his thumb is or really isn’t his dick and I don’t know my arse from my elbow. I nearly didn’t blog today and tomorrow I might not even bother.

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Movie Poster for a Modern Classic
This post contains exclusive pictures from our recent naked Harry Potter festival

FilmPoster

 

Terrible, I know…

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