Tesco’s Nazi Checkout Guy
This post has been the cause of 3 blogging rivalries all of which we're losing

It’s a goddamn Nazi, I cursed under my breath, but thinking about it now nearly five hours ‘after the fact’, I suppose that was something of a rush to judgement.

I mean: is somebody a Nazi simply because they have a swastika tattooed on the back of their hand?

Yet saying that, the more people I tell about this, the more uneasy I feel that I didn’t spit in the guy’s face the moment he’d scanned by club card and gave me green points for using my own plastic bags. The first person I told was about Tesco’s Nazi Checkout Guy was as outraged as the second person I told. The third person I told was probably more outraged the first two and suggested a course of action that would have resulted in an upturned carton of milk, a misuse of nearly ripe fruit, and the unhygienic use of my Linda McCartney sausage rolls when they were still frozen (painful).

But for my part, I don’t know how to feel. I glimpsed the tattoo as the checkout assistant slid me my crispy white baguette and there, for a moment, I saw a tableau of European history played out under the glare of the laser scanner.

‘Your lot would refuse me that,’ I might have said, pointing to the French bread. But I didn’t and now I regret that I didn’t.

Yet I can’t even be sure which way the swastika was facing. Perhaps it was the Hindu or Buddhist swastika and the guy (white and middle aged) was a devoted follower of Eastern mysticism who had one day decided to tattoo the symbol of auspiciousness above his knuckles. What if he’s a devoted pacifist who is now damned to be misjudged as some kind of fascist thug?

Yet, as people keep saying to me, in bold (dare I say capitalized letters): WHAT THE HELL ARE TESCO DOING HIRING A GUY WITH A SWASTIKA TATTOOED ON THE BACK OF HIS HAND?

Well, I glibly reply, at least it wasn’t on his forehead, a la, Charles Manson.

That’s one thing I always like to credit Tesco with: at least they don’t hire mass murdering leaders of neo-fascist cults. I mean, they do have their standards…

The more I think about this, the harder it is to make a moral judgement even as I feel it should really become easier. Even if it was only a tiny swastika, it was still a swastika and probably not a Hindu swastika. How can I rationalise beyond that?

Well, I could point out that he was polite and very helpful. That’s what my gentler, calmer self would say. Even Tesco, otherwise rapacious and uncaring as they’ve been in every dealing with me, probably wouldn’t tolerate a baton- wielding jackbooted anti-Semite behind their tills.

Yet another part of me screams: but it’s a Swastika!

So, should I contact The Guardian? The Anti Fascist League? Should I demand that everybody stop visiting Tesco until they promise to stop hiring aging members of the National Front?

It that an overreaction or is it an under-reaction?

I asked my friends: what if he’s an reformed fascist being misjudged by a tattoo he now regrets? Would you want to lose the guy his job because of that? What if he’s got kids?

Well, my friends tell me, he could have got the tattoo replaced with something else. And I suppose they’re right. We have more tattoo parlors in town that we have book shops by a factor of approximately 1 to infinity. (5 tattoo parlors. 0 bookshops). How difficult would it be to get something less offensive tattooed there? And, frankly, anything would be less offensive. I mean, think of the sickest vilest thing you could imagine and picture it on the back of a hand. Even that would be less offensive than a swastika.

So I guess my friends are right and it leaves me with a moral problem.

What would you do if somebody unveiled a swastika whilst handling your low-fat cheese? Do I have an obligation to make something out of this? People tell me that I do and that I should. But why me? Other people must see the swastika and think the same. Does nobody really care?

And that, I suppose, is the real question. Not just of this story but of every story that’s out there. People care when it’s something as novel, fun, celebrity-based as an ice bucket challenge. How many people would look at the hand, fingering their Eat Me Keep Me bananas, and associate it with the death of six million Jews in concentration camps, approximately 60 million people across the world or 2.5% of the Earth’s population?

People care when something impacts directly on their family or their way of life. People care about fuel duty and iPhones that bend in their pockets. Many people don’t really care when local services are cut to people too poor to defend themselves. They don’t really care about much that’s not the shape of an icon or beyond the reach of their thumb. Would anybody really make a fuss about a symbol of a very human evil that occurred over half a century ago?

Should I care that my local Tesco have hired a Nazi sympathizer. Does the guy deserve to earn a living? Times are hard.  Would anybody want to see somebody lose their job?

But, hell… Even if it was tiny and badly self-tattooed. It was a swastika. And in the words of the great wartime academic, Dr. I. Jones: ‘Nazis… I hate these guys.’

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Two Types of Unity
This post is dedicated to Satanists who have retained their sense of humour about goats

Unity. Unity. Unity…

Seems ironic that I’ve been thinking about Unity so much recently without actually giving much thought to the unity of the country, currently threatened by the incompetence of naive wasters in Westminster who gave the Scottish independence movement enough advantages to turn what should have been a straightforward referendum producing a resolute ‘NO’ into a full blown political crisis lest they decide ‘YES’.

Not that I’m unsympathetic to the nationalist cause. It’s hard to argue in favour of the status quo when the status quo is as unfashionable as the real Status Quo. I understand why some people’s wish to break the Union. Living here in the north of England is (arguably) worse than living in Scotland. It sometimes feels like we’re sitting in the middle ground, as political debate flies over our heads. Westminster does actually listen to Scotland whilst ignoring the rest of the country.

Yet clearly something does need to be done to change a situation in which, for example, arts funding for London is £21.90 per head, whilst here in the North West, our arts are funded to the value of £5.06 per head (2012/13 figures). I’ve joked in the past about Sky News and their paper reviews but, when so many in the media talk about representation, nobody seems to notice how the news agenda is often directed (and commented upon) by small coteries of people who all sound the same. Simply too much of our national identity is tied into a London identity. Being British is too often seen as being a Londoner, in the same way, I suppose, those of us who live close to the Mersey are assumed to be Scouse, instead of being part of the surrounding areas, such as Lancashire, Cheshire, Manchester, or even Wales.

I should imagine that many of us have some Scottish blood. My own grandmother was Scottish. Yet even if there isn’t a blood tie, Scotland has given us so much of what we should collectively feel proud. It’s hard to pick apart our country without cutting deep into ancestral flesh. Many of my favourite writers are Scottish, so I suppose my thought processes are deeply influenced by that culture. Are we suddenly meant to feel less proud of Andy Murray or Sean Connery because they’re suddenly from foreign soil? None of this makes sense. We’re being led into an unnecessary quagmire by people making decisions that might last centuries based on fads, cults of personality, and acts of sheer bloody-mindedness.

I genuinely think it will be disastrous for Scotland to vote yes but it’s especially sad to see people voting for their own ruin simply because Alex Salmond has managed to turn this debate into a chance to give Tories a bloody nose. It seems as dumb (or perhaps even as profound) as the reason one guy gave for voting ‘no’ on Newsnight  last night, which was he didn’t want to lose ‘Match of the Day’.

Simply put, so much of our identity is tied up with the Union that I hate to think of this country divided after centuries of productive harmony. There’ll be no more chances to wave the ‘red, white, and blue’ once we’ve stripped the blue from our flags.

 

newunionjack

***

Meanwhile, Unity in PC land still means that I’m teaching myself more C#.

About a week ago, I thought it would be a cheerful thing to quickly create a simple game I could play with a friend. It started out as a joke, a minor distraction from my procedural city project which had been exhausting me. Last week was also dominated by long days travelling with my sister so she could see consultants, so I wasn’t going to get much concentrated time at my PC.

Now that simple game is almost finished, I’ve run up against a huge problem.

I wrote the game because I wanted to do something involving multiplayer, which means I had to learn how to get machines talking to each other over the network. That’s relatively easy to do in Unity and it took only an hour before my PC was moving objects around on my Android tablet via Wi-Fi.

Without going into too much detail, the game is a very simple game not entirely unlike snooker, moving objects using Unity’s physics engine. It looked pretty good until I noticed that the game’s progress being played out on one machine gradually began to look quite different to the game’s state as seen on the other machine.

It was then that I began to understand the non-deterministic nature of modern computers.

It’s probably dumb of me not to realise this earlier but I’ve never done network coding before. I would assume (not so much naively but idealistically) that one set of input fed into code running on one machine would produce exactly the same result as the same input fed into the very same come running on a different machine. Common sense dictates that it would be true. 1 plus 1 always equals 2…

Except, that isn’t always entirely true.

One of the bigger bugs I struggled with a few months ago (unrelated to networks but simple maths) involved a problem I saw with floating point numbers. Some numbers were getting calculated wrong for no obvious reason.

The reason had to do with floating point errors. Some numbers are impossible to accurately store insider a computer’s memory. Numbers which have extremely long (or sometimes infinitely long) mantissa (the fractional part after the decimal point) cannot be stored given the finite number of bits available. Irrational numbers, for example, can’t even be stored as a ratio. The value of Pi is often written as 22/7 but that’s an approximation, and it’s certainly impossible to write the entire value since it (probably) goes on forever. One of my favourite parts of science fiction occurs in Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact, where Pi is calculated to such a length that they reach a point where our original creators had hidden a message.

But I digress.

Because floating maths require some degree of approximation, different processors (and, by extension, difference compilers that create the machine code ready by processors) have different ways of approximating those numbers.

Usually, we don’t notice this but when a physics engine starts to do thousands of calculations, those small fluctuations begin to produce big differences. So, for example, the way my PC calculates the friction of an object moving across a surface might produce a different velocity than that calculated by my Android tablet’s processor running the very same code. The values differ by very small amounts but it’s enough to make large changes. I suppose it’s the old simile of the butterfly flapping its wings in New York and producing a storm in Tokyo. My PC might show a ball rolling into a pocket whereas on the Android it just clips the edge and fails to roll in. Since the game is multiplayer and both players are meant to be playing the same game in the same virtual space, this causes big problems.

So, this is where I am today, with a nearly functioning game that I’ll have to re-engineer to ensure that only one machine does the calculations whilst the other produces movements in all the game objects based on a hell of a load of numbers I’ll have to send over the network.

I suppose, if I had time, I might explain how this is all an apt metaphor for the problems of devolution, nationalism, and our Westminster elite. However, I hope that my floating point errors will be much easier to fix.

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The Wednesday Quiz
This post is about learning to live with blunt instrument trauma

Among the usual junk pushed through the letterbox this morning was a perennial favourite. It’s a catalogue published by the good people of Brightlife, who certainly add a little brightness to my life. I’m a real sucker for these gadget catalogues which sell everything from (quickly thumbs randomly through tissue-like pages) stretchy belts to (thumbs again, avoiding the incontinent Wellington boots) remote control video drones. Everything they sell is a work of almost-genius, such as the woolly hat with inbuilt LED spotlight: precisely the kind of gadget you think would have made the inventor a fortune if the idea wasn’t also batshit crazy.

Reading the catalogue made me pause over my morning Weetabix which, for some unknown reason, had attempted to detour down the wrong tube. I spluttering a bit and my eyes filled with tears. It was a strange kind of asphyxiation because I also found myself howling with laughter. However, it did give me a new idea for a quiz.

So, see if you can spot what’s wrong in this genuine picture of a page taken from this morning’s catalogue. You should be warned. If you’re anything like me, it might make you choke on a Weetabix.

[If you need a clue, I'm looking for an object which is quite possibly being used incorrectly.]

[If you need another clue: it's not the socks.]

Mislabelled objects

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Explicit Stupidity
This post is the cause of most outbreaks of holy dandruff in pontiffs

I keep writing things that I intend to post but get sidetracked, so I’m making a conscious decision to write something quickly, post it immediately, and only begin to regret it later. It might get me back into the habit of blogging again. I miss regular blogging.

Blogging is about the immediate response, so this is my immediate response to today’s news but I suppose I also find myself writing because I feel confused in my thoughts and writing is a good way to see myself clear of that confusion. I’m confused about these naked photographs of some pretty famous (though, I admit, to me, insignificant) people that have been released onto the web by a hacker. The first thing I’m meant to say is that I think it’s a terrible invasion of their privacy and that the hacker(s) need to be made to suffer. That is shorthand for all the hand wringing I’m meant to do before I can discuss anything more significant such as the fact that I can’t help but feel bemused that people in such famous positions would put themselves in such positions, usually on their back, naked, and lit seductively from one side while not wearing their knickers.

It is, however, a perennial problem with technology that rich people buy (or are often given) expensive toys without fully understanding (or learning) what they really do. This, after all, was the reason why the phone hacking scandal started, as the rich and famous used expensive phones without learning to do something as simple and important as change their pin number. The current scandal is little more than an extension of that. Many gadgets are automatically connected to ‘The Cloud’ yet too few people actually bother to learn what that means: that their private data (including data of the knickerless variety) is being stored on a server somewhere where somebody with mastery of the technology can access it. Note to the rich and famous: if you do want to photograph your vulva(the reason isn’t important though remains a mystery to me), go into the your phone’s settings and deselect ‘Backup photos to Cloud’. It seems self-evidently obvious once you put it into those terms.

The second thing to note about these photographs is how society has devolved (or evolved, depending on your point of view) into a culture where nothing seems to exist until it’s photographed. I hate (and actively refuse) to have my photograph taken, even when I’m fully dressed and in a dark room. Not that I have a Victorian sensibility about anything, though I do begin to wonder if Victoria and Albert (notoriously active and open about their sexual life) would have posed in front of a bathroom mirror playing with each other’s genitals. Probably they would. People say, of course, that these photographs (like so many sex tapes before them) were meant to be private between a couple, but it appears to be an extension of the ‘selfie’ syndrome, a psychological extension of the endless need for fame and celebrity in which the self doesn’t really exist in any form (intellectually, sexually, or spiritually) unless it exists inside the memory of a mobile phone.

Do these stars really feel violated that their most intimate parts of their bodies are now visible to the world? Perhaps they do and I feel sorry for them, though perhaps they can rest easy knowing that one nipple looks pretty much the same as the next. There really are few parts of the body that the internet haven’t made everyday and mundane. From hardcore pornography to beheadings, the body has lost so much of its mystery that really, in the grand scheme of things, we aren’t seeing something that we haven’t already seen before and usually larger and well oiled. These photographs will be forgotten tomorrow except by a few sad people who will always be excited by these things. The next evolutionary stage of our collective sexuality will be the internal organs and I suspect in the next ten years, some actor will be complaining that intimate photographs of his newly tattooed spleen have been leaked onto the internet. We have come a long way from the tantalising shots of Bo Derek running down a beach in ’10’ or a brief glimpse of Barbara Winsor’s breasts circa 1965. There is a difference between explicit and erotic and we definitely live in an explicit age and I fear there’s just no going back.

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Stunning
This post is unlikely to leave you feeling satisfied, though no refund will be given

Wow. This came out of nowhere. A new Leonard Cohen album and he sounds better than ever.

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Unity Procedural City: Week 4 – Trees
WARNING: this post contains one instance of the phrase 'grrrrrr! Get him big boy!'

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A Procedural City in Unity: Week 3
This post passed nearly all the safety tests before being uploaded to this blog

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Procedural City in Unity: Week 2
This post is about learning to live with blunt instrument trauma

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Beginning A Procedural City in Unity
This post will introduce you to obscure rhymes like 'vang' and 'kiang'

The title pretty much sums up the point of this post, though it doesn’t really explain why I’m posting it. I suppose I retain a sense of wanting to be a good guy in a world that is increasingly choked by the smoke of the pillaging hordes and rampant whores. My blog – this blog – is daily swamped by a deluge of spam and unwanted emails from web marketers who would destroy it and everything I create in the search for the last grimy penny. I now rarely check my emails, not that many people email. All accounts bar the one I keep private for friends and family have become inundated with the electronic effluent of a thousand installations of MailChimp, which must surely rank alongside the Channel 5 and landmines as one of the world’s most terrible inventions.

It’s the way of the world, I suppose. This is a world run by men and women who would shoot down airliners full of people to make some baseless political point or lob missiles across borders simply to further their warped ideology.

My last week was somehow symbolised by a woman I saw walking across our local down square. She had a large tattoo of Audrey Hepburn on the back of her calf. Had Audrey Hepburn been alive today, she might have approved. I don’t know. It’s not that I dislike tattoos because I like rebellion and I identify strongly with outsider culture. But their ubiquity has ruined that. It just sometimes feels like I possess the last untattooed flesh in town, which makes me the outsider and that’s sometimes a lonely place to be. I find myself living for the next PJ Harvey album, news of Spark’s next tour, or an utterance from Stewart Lee.

I ramble but I’ve not written prose in so long. They’re ideas I’d like to address in the game I’m currently building but I don’t suppose I will. I’m aiming to cast current ‘big idea’ at the heart of the mainstream. I’m about a month or so into the project and I have the basics of the game in place. This video details just the last two days of hard work, learning to create a procedural city in Unity. It probably won’t entertain or seem remotely interesting to anybody but this is the stuff that excites me as I walk around my town, inhaling the ‘vape’ of electronic and real cigarettes, amid the boorish bald circus strongmen, with their tribal tattoos vining their way up their veining necks. Yes, my thinking is reductive and I reach easily for the stereotype. But from killers to politicians, this is a time of stereotypes and very little originality. It’s a world that makes shiteaters of us all.

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The Dog Faced Boy
This post reminds me of those long summers of childhood spent in a Paris bordello

Somebody kindly noticed that I haven’t blogged in a while and it’s hard in less than 1000 words to explain why. For weeks now I’ve been feeling a sense of spiritual exhaustion with the internet. I still use it daily, reading about the things that interest me, but even when I’m being selective about the places I visit, there’s something about the web that still makes me despair.

It would be difficult to give one example but to give one example: I hate the ubiquity of Outbrain’s promotions on nearly every website I visit. I get tired of seeing those tempting headlines at the bottom of articles which you know will take you straight to a website overburdened with advertising wrapped around content nothing like originally advertised. The web is like being trapped in a carnival freaktent with every exit sealed and some guy constantly barking the same instructions in your ear to come look at the dog-faced boy. Come look at the dog faced boy. This way for the dog faced boy. Come and see him. Dog faced boy…

Things get even worse in social media, which I now avoid like it’s some kind of West African blood plague. Yesterday I noticed that Colin Brazier, from Sky News, was being attacked on Twitter because he’d examined some luggage found amid the debris of flight MH17. He was wrong to do what he did but the level of hatred is depressingly familiar. People want his job, want to bring Sky News down, when the reality is that a good journalist made a bad mistake in a context that few of us can barely imagine and for which he immediately apologised.

And I think that’s what this comes down to. There is a notable lack of generosity in the world. Not just financial generosity (though there is that too) but a generosity of spirit that in better times gives rise to acts of kindness, forgiveness, and solidarity against our true oppressors.

My mood hasn’t been helped by recently discovering the amazing but depressing story of the great Vivian Maier, whose photography has been obsessing me a little. For background, I’d recommend last year’s excellent Alen Yentob documentary about her work but the gist of the story is this: an American nanny spends her entire life photographing life on the streets of New York and Chicago and keeps this vast achieve in storage, never sharing it with anybody. In her old age, she falls, goes into hospital, can’t afford to pay for her storage lockers, so their contents go up for sale. They are sold for next to nothing. She dies from her injuries leaving others to profit from the work of a woman who if now being recognised as one of truly great photographers.

I’m no Vivian Maier and I’m not mentioning her story because my own work gets ‘overlooked’.* What I am, however, is somebody who tries to produce ‘things’ in a world where the ‘producers of things’ are at the mercy of a new class of news aggregators and ebook merchants who would destroy centuries of culture for the sake of a quick dollar. Amazon sent me an email the other day announcing a new offer where I can make ebooks available for free to Amazon subscribers. If any of my books reach a certain threshold, I’d be eligible for a fraction of a few hundred thousand dollars. Sounds a great idea until you realise that it’s the ‘long tail’ scam in new clothes. It’s the death of quality publishing when a million authors make a ten dollars each, rather than earn just enough to carry on writing. I fear that we live in the age of Arianna Huffington and that the  age of Hunter S Thompson is long since past.

* A cynic might suggest I feel like this because of people’s reaction to my game but, on reflection, I realise that more people actually seemed to like it than didn’t reply. However, that minor victory is fairly meaningless given that the game was a poorly-timed attempt to satirise Michael Gove. Now he’s no longer Education Secretary, I’d need to de-Gove the game and I really haven’t the time nor the energy. I’ve been working on a second project, which I’m aiming directly towards the mainstream. However, I don’t intend to talk about. I’m becoming a master of blowing smoke, of taking about projects that never get released. My new project will probably go the same way as the last but I’m constantly learning to do new tricks.

 

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The Great World Cup Meh…
This post is a rehash of a joke we ran last week but this time we use a different pen

Gratified to see England lose last night, though I take little pleasure in saying that. I love watching England matches but Hodgeson is the wrong man. Since he’s been in charge, my indifference to international football has become total. He’s doing with England what he managed to do with Liverpool: turn a talented team into plodders. This morning he claims he won’t resign even if England fail to leave the group stages for the first time since, I believe, 1958. That’s the corporate mentality that the FA wanted and I’m sure they’re delighted to see it. Stick in their for your gold clock, Roy…

My lack of World Cup fever means I have more energy to devote to the game. Everything feels like it’s become more imminent. I’ve had a surprising number of responses to my request for Beta testers and I now realise that I’ll be having strangers look at my work. It makes me desperate to get it looking better than it is. I spent yesteray building a tutorial system which I hope will help people understand the basics of the thing I’ve created. I also recorded better music (I’ve sorted out the problem with my microphone).

Yet the harder I work, the more things need fixing. Introducing the tutorial system yesterday caused yet more problems I have to fix before the beta version can go out. I’ve taken an approach that overlays instructions on the screen whilst pausing the action in the background. However, touching the tutorial screen also interacts with the background controls, so I’ve got to go through and place conditional checks on every control to ensure they’re disabled when a tutorial screen is showing. It’s the kind of thing you don’t notice when playing a game and you might imagine takes little time. The truth is that most of my time is spent spotting and fixing this kind of problem.

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Beta Testers Wanted
This post is all about those long bucolic evenings spent whistling at nuns

Other than saying I’m still here, I’m blogging to see if anybody out there has an Android phone or tablet…

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

In the end, I had no choice. It was either buy a new drive or give up any serious hopes of ever again using this PC. I’ve also taken a deep breath and started to draw new cartoons, with the determination that I’ll now store them in more than once place, even if it means doing as Leg-Iron wisely suggests, backing things up to DVD.

And after a day of struggling to get my new WD drive into my machine (and, for the first time, I’ve stuck fans on it in the hope to prolong the drive’s life) I’ve now reestablished the basics of my work environment. After my email and browser (how many people must use Internet Explorer just to type the word ‘Chrome’ and then never us it again?), I also managed to get Unity up and running. Getting back to Unity has been the thing I’ve been eager to do since the crash on Sunday.

Late last week, I’d reached the stage where I’ve started to canvass thoughts aboutt game. I was delighted when the usual cynics I’ve shown it to were surprisingly positive and offered a few good (and the odd not so good) suggestions. This week is about putting these final touches to what will become Version 1.0 of the game which I aim to get onto the Play store before the end of the month, though that’s a big ambition when I still need to implement a tutorial system.

Which brings me to my offer, which I doubt will be taken up by anybody out there but I’ll make it anyway… If anybody fancies acting as a Beta tester of my game, then please drop me a line (via the Contact page or my email). You only need an Android tablet or phone and a willingness to lie and say that you’ve been reading my blog for a long time and would love nothing more than test a ridiculous game. At this stage, I just want to know if the game actually runs on a variety of hardware other than the Samsung phones and tablets I’ve had access to so far.

I wish I could afford to pay you but this is the internet and none of us get paid for anything we do but I will promise to include a juicy credit in my game’s acknowledgements screen.

You’ll also get a chance to be the first people to get to play the game, hear my bad guitar fingerpicking, voice acting, and (possibly — yet undecided — singing). At the very least, it should be a mildly amusing distraction from all the horrors of the world and, really, isn’t that all we can hope for?

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Never Turn Off Your PC
This post is actually a subtle homage to Polish cinema of the Soviet era

Never ever turn off your PC.

I’ve learned that the hard way over the last 12 hours. It’s why I’m writing this in Wordpad and why my spelling will undoubedly stretch the limits of what a man can claim to be a mere slip of the finger.

I never turn off my PC but, yesterday, since I was going to be away from it for a few hours, I actually shut it down. I remember thinking to myself: David, you’re taking a gamle. All that soldering has been running hot for so long. Don’t you know that failures often occur because of the cooling and heating process on circuitboards? There’s a chance this won’t start up again.

And so it proved. Late last night, I returned home and discovered that my machine wouldn’t boot. After about an hours struggle, I came to the horrified realisation that a hard drive had died.

I have (or had) four drives in this machine. A small drive for my operating system, two older drives that have come from previous machines, and a new Seagate 3Terrabye beast where I’ve done all my recent work.

Naturally, that is the drive that has died. Only now do I read the terrible reviews of the drive.

Not that bad reviews help me.

I had backed a few things up but not enough. My game, for one, is in a (hopefully) safe place but all the high resoltution files I’d created along the way to build the game are now gone. I’ve lost too many cartoons that I’m actually not trying to think about it. Possibly books too but, again, I’m not going to think too hard about what’s missing.

Instead, I’m sitting here hoping that Disc Partition software might actually recover some of the data. The drive was split into two partitions and three successive trial verions of data recovery software have identied the first of the partitions. Naturally, the first partition didn’t have anything that was actually worth recovering. All my important stuff was on the second partition and nothing seems able to see it.

Of course, I know the old mantra about always keeping a backup but I just couldn’t afford a second drive to back up so much work. And now I can’t afford to buy a drive to replace the one I’ve just lost. Today I’m just walking around feeling like this is all a bad dream. In the middle of realising I’d lost the data, my favourite chair broke. It had broke a month or two ago when a bolt snapped. Last night, a second bolt snapped around 1AM. However, as the Disc Parition software searched my 3 terrabytes for my work (4% and counting), I’ve mananged to fix the chair. It’s a small victory but I feel like it was a pointless one. Even if I have my chair back and I still have a place to work, it feels pretty pointless.

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Billy Bragg: The Video Game Hero
This post was the cause of funny though violent protests in Tewkesbury

It feels like I’ve been building this game for months but I discovered today that tomorrow will mark eleven weeks. As far as development times go, that’s nothing. For me, it’s been eleven hard weeks of learning something entirely new and working long long nights. And it does, finally, feel like I’m nearing the end.

The past few days has been about adding a few aesthetic effects and balancing levels so challenges are neither too easy nor impossibly hard. Last night, I had one of my most important breakthroughs: I managed to integrate interstitial advertising into the game. It’s a horrible business, inserting these ugly ads into something you work so hard to get looking good but it’s the ugly reality of this business. Nobody is willing to pay for anything and advertising is the only way I’ll ever make any money from this terribly doomed project.

I’m also tidying up some of my animations, which look okay, though sometimes just plain rough. A better example of my animations (and, yes, this is the ‘good’ stuff!) is my Billy Bragg character (above), who features as one of the game’s heroes or antagonists, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall. The game, as I think I’ve mentioned, is broadly satirical and Bragg acts as a nemesis to the game’s chief protagonist along with other celebs and politicos ranging from Stewart Lee to the Mayor of London.

I’m posting this Bragg video today because I like to prove that I’m not idle and because it links conveniently into a brief ramble about the most depressing thing I’ve heard in a long time.

Billy Bragg has confessed (perhaps tongue in angora bearded cheek) that ‘the internet has changed my songwriting by taking up all the time I used to spend writing songs’. He was talking on the today’s excellent Guardian feature, ‘Seven Digital Deadly Sins’, where he proceed to suggest that he spends most of his days watching a variety of people falling down holes.

I’m sure Bragg was playing up to the camera. At least, I hope to hell he was playing up to the camera. If not, then I’ll take my ticket now and catch the next bus off this lousy planet.

If the dimternet has tamed Bragg then what hope the rest of us? Had George Orwell been around today, would he be spending his time watching ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ (a video, I’m happy to say, that I’ve never seen) rather than writing ‘1984’? Or would he, as I’d hope, be among the few of us who are genuinely trying to cut ourselves off from the online world or, at least, merely use the medium without it robbing us of our lives and souls. I’ve written before that social media is the soma of this generation and nothing has changed to make me question that. I don’t think I’m simply being reactionary to say that we are losing strength in our mental limbs and we must do everything in our power to retain focus on the things that matter. Social media boasts about ‘ease’ and ‘speed’ and its integration into our lives but I fail to see how that’s a good thing. It’s why I find Bragg’s confession so depressing. He’s spent his life talking about activism yet it’s left to Bill Bailey’s contribution to the debate to point out how political engagement has changed with social media. Politics has become a trivial and, frankly, no so interesting meme in a greater world of hamster videos and fat people falling over.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the power of a good one liner, wit squeezed into 140 characters, but there is also a place for length, pace, argument, and complexity. In a separate piece yesterday, Will Self (who also, incidentally appears as one of the ‘good guys’ in my game), recommended books for teenagers based on their length. He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing. Explore the places of difficulty in your life. It’s where you always discover the most fascinating revelations.

I suppose I’m as much a victim of this change as anybody. Friends shake their heads slowly, clearly thinking I’m a fool because I don’t get involved in social media. I’ve certainly made decisions I’ve regretted. I always thought my book by Stan Madeley (the UK’s top Richard Madeley lookalike ) would have been more popular than it was. The fact I didn’t engage in social media and publicity was plain stupidity on my behalf. Yet I’m stubborn when it comes to my convictions. Bragg is probably right when he concludes by saying that ‘everybody wants to be famous, nobody wants to be scrutinised’. That’s the world where people are more interested in celebrities for their celebrity rather than anything they actually do.

I genuinely can’t see the attraction of fame. Scrutiny sounds far more interesting. I’d rather be disliked by a few than loved by millions. I’d rather be Will Self than Katie Perry, Billy Bragg rather than Stephen Fry. Social media is made for the latter, which makes it sad when I see it embraced by the former.

This is a ramble but I’m tired and I suppose it’s when I’m tired that I can see that my Android game is only going to be another expression of my stubborn unwillingness to join the throng. Only I could make a game that skips merrily past the mainstream and attempt to attract a very small minority. I only hope just a few people will smile and appreciate that I’ve tried something a little different. I’m hopeful, for example, that it will be the only video game featuring Billy Bragg.

Naturally, he won’t be singing but, so far, neither will I. The game looks pretty good but it still lacks music. I’m still attempting to finish recording my closing satirical song, though getting a quality track is killing me. I’ve fingerpicked a pretty good acoustic guitar pattern and even if my £12 USB microphone isn’t exactly studio quality, it’s not entirely bad. My singing remains the problem. I can’t decide if it’s a problem of my accent (I sound terribly northern) or simply a weak voice. I’ve been recording multiple versions in different registers so I can stack my vocals. Oddly, I think I probably sound less bad singing as a group than I do singing alone but I’m finding it difficult to mix them into anything reasonably listenable. Ideally, I’d like to just record myself singing over the guitar but one mike and a bad voice don’t make for a good combination.

But that’s another ramble for another day and I must go and make this blog post available on social media. [sarcasm=true; walks_off = “chuckling maliciously”;]

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Thinking Alpha
This post clearly explains the difference between 'gorse' and 'thicket'

My intention this week (yes, I know it won’t happen) is to have a build of the game ready to give friends and family to play and report back any bugs / ideas / impossible to complete levels. I also hope to get access to a Mac to see if I can build a version to test on iPads and iPhones, though that’s less important given that I can’t see myself spending the £100 to buy an Apple developer’s license anytime in the near future. However, I’ve discovered that there’s a way for developers to send apps over the web to Apple devices, which will at least allow me to see how the game works in that alien environment.

Today I have two jobs. The first is to throw myself into writing the game text. I’ve (somewhat foolishly) created a game with plenty of places to insert funny stuff. The only point of the game is to make the player laugh and so there are dozens of arrays to fill with as many witty one-liners as I can fashion. They’ll get served dynamically as you play the game, hopefully meaning that it shouldn’t get too stale too quickly.

The second job is to get the app’s size down. Last night it stood at a whopping 47mb, which was worryingly close to the Google’s stores 50mb limit. It’s a problem of textures. Many of graphics are still the size they came of my Samsung tablet, which is where I’ve drawn everything for the game. A megabyte for a pair of underpants definitely seems like overkill. I’ve started to tinker with the texture settings within Unity, brining many of the textures that were 2048×2048 to 1024×1024, those that were 1024 down to 512, and taking icons down much further. I can barely see a quality difference on the screen and the app is already down to about 33mb.

My biggest breakthrough of the weekend was to get my game objects flipping across the x-axis. I’d read last week’s Unity changelog and noticed they had claimed to have fixed the bug which broke the physics engine when scaling negatively. However, when I sat down and tested this claim, scaling the objects by -1 on x, any physics attached to the objects immediately failed. I either had characters looking one way but their bodies acting as though they were facing the other or I had characters falling in a heap of body parts on the floor. Clearly, the Unity bug hasn’t been fixed.

After a little work, I realised that the problem seemed linked to having objects in a hierarchy. If, for example, I had a human figure with arms and legs and I created the usual hierarchy of hand attached to lower arm, lower arm to upper arm, upper arm to torso, etc, then the physics would fail when scaled by -1. However, removed from the hierarchy, they would work.

My solution was to recalculate the object’s physics settings and apply them on the fly as objects changed direction. Since the problem only occurs when objects moved out of the kinematic state (that is, went from being unaffected by the game’s physics engine to having all forced acting upon it) I would also only keep them in the hierarchy when the object is kinematic and then dynamically flatten the structure when I needed them to work under physics.

Christ, all of this must sound so very boring. Is there anything duller than tech talk to anybody other than a very smaller number of people who enjoying reading tech talk? Is it a sad confession to say that I actually visit the Unity forums just to read about this stuff?

Okay. I have writing to do including as many insulting put-downs as I can manage for my ‘failure’ screen.

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