Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

Google Wave is going on public trial today at 4pm BST, 100,000 invites
are on the block, I hope I get one!

Sent from my mobile device

Time Flies

Sometimes rather large amounts of time pass between my blog entries. I really should sort that, like apparently my last post before today was the 22nd, that’s really a long time, and it seems to poof away so fast.

I often get ideas for posts that fizzle out or never reach a publishable quality, I’ve started maybe 4 or 5 different pieces on piracy that never reached a finished state, and yesterday I tried putting together a piece on Gmail Vs. Hotmail that turned into a sprawling mess.

But I shall try to put out some quality. I was at a gig at the weekend, took some pictures, so I’ll try and make something out of that, also I’m going to post some more thoughts about Batman now I’m through the story and >80% through the challenges, also I read the 2nd Dark Tower graphic novel over the last couple of days, might have a wee thing or two to say on that one.

Oh, and I might do a wee piece on a Creationist I’ve been having words with on YouTube. Interesting character, piss-weak understanding of the issue.

Must also make use of my direct e-mail to blog feature, no use for big topics, but useful if you want to bitch about train doors or something.

freedoms_stain, promising to put the hours in (soon), out.

Practically a Fucking Tweet

Old Skool Family Guy was so much better than the new shit. I purposefully put the TV on at 11 just to see random Season 1-3 episodes on BBC3, even though I have them on DVD and I laugh out loud for 22 minutes straight. I watched the new episode on Monday, tittered maybe 3 times.

Is that 140 characters or whatever their daft limit is? either way, it’s practically a Tweet, without the inanity of actually using Twitter.

freedoms_stain, will never fucking use Twitter, out.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

If anyone has seen

or knows the whereabouts of my socks, I’d like then back please.


Seriously though, what the shitting hell is it about socks that make them vanish at such an incredibly advanced rate? I wear one pair every day pretty much, but the length of time between “necessity washes” (i.e. that point where you run out of socks and therefore have to do a washing as a matter of necessity in order to obtain clean socks) seems to be ever decreasing. And to highlight the issue, I used to be able to amass two machine loads of clothes before I really needed to put a wash on, now I struggle to find enough dirty clothes to actually fill up a necessity wash. Something is a foot (lol at unintended pun smile_teeth)

I can think of only the following explanations:

  1. There is a Sock Pixie/Gnome/Elf/Poltergeist/other-until-now-believed-to-be-fictional-entity who steals socks, possibly for the purposes of nourishment, nest building, or for illegal sale to hobos for drug alcohol tea money.
  2. Socks are pre-programmed to self destruct after a certain number of washes to ensure the survival and/or acceleration of the sock trade.
  3. Someone in my house is deliberately stealing or hiding my socks either for their own personal use (hopefully as socks and not for some other nefarious purpose) or entertainment (via my frustrated search for said under-shoe garment).
  4. Washing machines are indeed a portal to Narnia as depicted in Family Guy and Mr. Tumnus is in fact a sock stealing "’goat-basted’.
  5. I just lose socks

Now I don’t see 5 as a possibility, because there’s nowhere for the fuckers to go, which implicates 1 through 4.

I’ve got my money on the goat-basted.

freedoms_stain, probably going to spent another £15 on socks tomorrow, out.

Buyer Beware!

Of V Water!

I was given a bottle of this stuff free in Glasgow Central Train Station today, Lemon & Lime flavour. I wasn’t really listening to the dudes sales pitch, I just wanted to get my free shit and go, but from what I dimly recall it was some shenanigans about “all natural ingredients, no sugar” yap yap yap. None of that shit is really all that important to me, the consumer, it’s sort of side benefit to a product if it’s good in the primary aspect in which it’s supposed to be good in, and for a flavoured beverage that aspect should be taste.

Allow me to describe the taste of Lemon & Lime V Water: If you take a bottle and fill it with something like Coke or orange juice, or lemonade, or anything that’s not water basically, then you later use that same bottle, once emptied, as a water bottle, when you then drink the water from that bottle, even if you gave it a good clean or rinse out, it has this sort of unpleasant faint taste of the flavoured drink you had in there before, get what I mean? That’s what Lemon & Lime V Water tastes like to me. Like the bottle previously held a proper Lemon & Lime drink, then they emptied it out and added water and what you’re left with is this ghastly Lemon & Lime unpleasantness.

Not only that, but the stuff isn’t even refreshing like plain old water it, it leaves the mouth with the same dried out nastiness carbonated drinks leave you with. Nasty tasting and not refreshing, winning combination! But, hey! at least its got minerals and natural shit in it!

Anyhoo, the bottle had details of a holiday you could win if you told them what you thought of V Water, not really interested in the holiday, but I thought I’d like to tell them what I thought of V Water. After several demographic questions it asked me what I liked about V Water, since I don’t really like anything about it I checked the ‘Other’ box and moved on, it then wanted clarification on ‘Other’ so I typed “I don’t Like V Water, it then asked me this:

Now my instant feeling was “none actually” but that wasn’t an option and it wouldn’t let me skip as an answer is required. So I went with ‘Is modern’ as that’s the closest thing to the truth on there. I then got to this bit:

And it became clear that these people don’t want to hear anything bad about their product. They let me choose near the start whether I liked the taste to which I answered ‘dislike a bit’ (as I thought a lot was a bit harsh) but after that it seems the only options are for people who liked it, and not people who just want to tell them their product is shitty. The only appropriate answer to this question is “When I’m given it for free at train stations” but that’s not fucking on there is it!?

After that I pretty much lost interest as it became apparent that there was no point where I would be allowed to enter in my story about used bottles smile_sad It’s really no wonder to me now why there is so much shit on the market, if you have enough money behind your shitty product for the start you can get it out there as long as you don’t let anyone tell you it’s shitty when you’re researching it.

Free wasn’t an option on the expected price bit either. Bastards.

freedoms_stain, steering clear of so-called “market research”, out.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Ccleaner Proves Its Worth

A while ago I published a wee guide to keeping XP in good working order in which I advocated the use of a great wee program called Ccleaner and I just thought I'd do a wee follow up to illustrate the programs usefulness.

I'd been pretty lax on maintenance recently (a good couple of months to be honest) so I ran a bunchof scans, no viruses, no malware, very few extraneous registry keys, so that was all good, then I ran the Ccleaner system cleaner.

Over a gigabyte of shite!

In todays world where 500GB+ harddrives are the norm, a gigabyte sounds pretty insidnificant, but bear in mind that's from a month or two, a lot of you out there will never have run a scan like this in the years you've had your machines, so imagine how much space your machines might have squirreled away without your knowledge, could be loads!

The biggest surprise there for me was how much IE had eaten up, 150MB and I only ever use it infrequently for Windows updates, and those rarely add up to much, so that was very strange, particularly when Firefox, which I use extensively for downloading and streaming was less than half - so another message for you there kiddies! Avoid IE!

freedoms_stain, shiny XP, out.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Batman Arkham Asylum, First Impressions

If you’re a console gamer then you’ve been rocking the Batman action for almost three weeks already, but for the humble PC gamer this game only came out on the 15th, and I’ve only had it since yesterday smile_sad 

*****Please note, the initial several paragraphs is a rant about GFWL, if you wish to skip straight to the stuff about the game itself, scroll down to “Anyway, I digress, on to the game”, thanks.*****

Generally speaking when one acquires a new game one wishes to play it as soon as possible, PC gamers are used to the installation period by now – Batman is quite a long install, maybe 10-15 mins on my system. So I’m all pumped up, ready to play, the game is starting up and…. I can’t play, the Games For Windows Live overlay pops up and tells me “update or sign out” so I choose update, after all, who wants to play a game that might be bug riddled poop without this update?

In my experience the following appears to be an issue with all titles that distribute patches via GFWL – a progress bar appears and fills up almost immediately, it then appears to hang there for what feels like an age – leave it long enough and it eventually does install the patch, but because you’re left with an apparently frozen screen for an hour (and yes, I do believe it took an hour to download a 266MB patch) doubts begin to encroach upon your mind and after 15 minutes you’re starting to thing “maybe it is really frozen?” .

GFWL is a shit system, I wish developers would recognise that and stay the fuck away. it’s ugly, it’s slow and it’s restrictive to the actual gamers. Case in point, Eidos are giving away free DLC for the game, but because they’re distributing it through GFWL only paid “Gold” members will get it initially and everyone else has to “wait a few days” – they won’t even tell us how long we have to wait, which is bull crap, it’s a case of MS using other developers content to make their ridiculous Gold member system look more valuable – and on PC it’s worth precisely nothing. What really ground my gears about this one was the explanation given on the Eidos forums by a staff member jaycw2309:

“This is not something Eidos controls, this is MS servers and systems.”

Well, bullshit. Eidos controlled it at the point they decided to use GFWL to distribute content and patches. Had they decided to use their own server and systems or even distribute it via a 3rd party means like freakin bittorrent then everyone of Eidos customers would be equal.

Anyway, I digress, on to the game.

It’s freakin Awesome. This game has been hyped like a mother fucker for most of the year, if not longer so you’ve got to sort of approach this with a sceptical eye, however Eidos/Rocksteady did the absolutely 100% correct thing by releasing a demo of the game several weeks before the original August release date for the game. Jaws dropped, pants were jizzed in, and fanboys cried tears of joy. I can’t remember the last time I pre-ordered a game, but I pre-ordered this (the £17.95 pre-order price at Zavvi helped smile_wink)


I Am The Batman

You get to be Batman, the character model is great, the voice acting is great, the abilities and gadgets are great, the sound affects are great, everything about the game screams Batman – this is what Batman fans have been waiting 20+ years of shitty shitty Batman games for – one that makes you look and feel like Batman and feel cool doing it.

Arkham Asylum 

The Asylum covers an entire island so there’s a lot to do and see here, one thing that surprised me was the outdoor locations, maybe it’s my ignorance of Batman cannon, or maybe it’s a liberty the game devs took, but I had always thought of the Asylum as a single structure – I’m sure it has been portrayed that way in the past, but it doesn’t really matter. Most of the buildings are pretty old and worn looking, very dark and Batman-ish, and the island appears to be riddled with a network of caves and hollows for Batman to explore. The story is fairly linear, but there is plenty of exploring to be done in the vast areas in the game, and as you progress previously inaccessible areas become available to you as you expand your abilities and as the Joker leads you around by the nose

The Riddler

The game is littered with puzzles, collectibles and other secrets and tasks all left by The Riddler to prove that he’s Batman’s intellectual superior. Finding/Solving thigs grants Bats more information and bonuses about the Batman universe (primarily its characters) and earns you experience to put towards new abilities.

Invisible Predator

Batman doesn’t have any super powers, he’s vulnerable to gun fire, therefore he strikes from the shadows, taking out enemies without being discovered. This is one of the most fun parts of the game. The A.I. in Batman doesn’t have set scripts, they patrol however they feel, and if they notice a dead or unconscious buddy they’ll move accordingly , they might even get scared and clump together for a while – so it’s all about identifying the places where you can attack without attracting the attention of the others, or employing distractionary tactics to lure some guards away while you pick off others. It’s quite a mental process and very very fun.


The devs call it a “Free-flow combat system” it’s awfully reminiscent of the modern Prince of Persia titles for me, but that’s not a bad thing – in fact the combat here is amazing. Basic combos are strung together by timed presses of the attack button while using your movement to direct just who gets the kicking, you can counter flagged attacks too and after a certain number of hits Batman can fit in special moves and take-downs earned through upgrades. Just like PoP combat tends to be a gang affair, so you have plenty of opportunities to string together massive combos. The animations for the combat are also excellent, the game slows right down on particularly impressive/crippling moves which looks awesome.


There is an upgrade system in place, this allows you to gain and improve skills as you progress, basically making you more awesome as you go. “experience” is gained a variety of ways, defeating enemies, performing long combos, solving Riddler puzzles, so there’s plenty of opportunities to upgrade.

No Likey

Combat Camera

Generally you’re given free reign of the camera control, but during combat this is often wrested from you in favour of computer control, sometimes this will obscure some enemies from view and result in you missing a counter move, which is pretty annoying.

Hold X to Run

Yeah, you have to hold a button to run. I noticed this during the demo and found it slightly strange/annoying, then I watched the Zero Punctuation review and Yahtzee mentioned it – and now I can’t help but notice it. I sort of get the point, you are supposed to analyse the surroundings and work out where to go and where Riddlers secrets are etc, but still, as Yahtzee points out in his review, the analogue stick is analogue for a reason, the further you push it, the faster you move, so the run button feels a bit extraneous.

The Save System

The game is pure auto-save, you can’t just save when you want to finish up, and to be perfectly honest this is an unacceptable situation in today's world. I should be able to save when I’m ready to quit, not when the game says so. To make matters worse the save symbol is a fairly missable appearing as a small (5 pence sized) circling thingy in the bottom right corner of the screen, which generally means you don’t know when the last time the game saved was and have to keep pressing on until it decides it’s time to save again.

The in-game Menu System

The only way to access the map, your riddle status, your upgrade page and the character profiles is via the select button, you then use the right and left bumpers to switch between the four. This’d be fine except it’s so frustratingly slow, each tap of a bumper causes a swarm of bats to swoop over the screen before you get to the screen you want, it’s all rather over dramatic and really I just want the functionality rather than the style. Another irritation is that navigating through options requires a separate tap of the analogue stick per option, I’d like to scroll quickly from one end to the other ta guys, you know, if I want to upgrade my explosive gel I shouldn’t need to tap my analogue stick 15 times to get there.


So, yeah, as you can see there isn’t a lot to complain about, the game is awesome and you should buy it now.

Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, freedoms_stain! I mean Batman!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Mobile Internet at it's finest - Opera Mini 4 and 5

As the Internet becomes more and more important to the way we live our lives access to it on the move becomes more and more important. We now have mobile phone networks capable of delivering the Internet to the tiny screens in the palms of our hands (for a price of course) which is awesome in concept, but in practice often kinda shitty.
Enter Opera Mini.
The problem in most cases with frustrating mobile Internet experiences tends to be the software rather than mobile Internet simply being shit, Opera Mini for me, highlights this because when you use Opera Mini to browse the Internet on a mobile device things get distinctly less shitty.
Right now I have a Samsung Tocco Lite which is a touch screen phone, not a smart phone as most touch screen devices tend to be, just a regular phone with a touch screen, but I got to know opera Mini on an older Sony Ericsson model with a standard keypad. Opera attempted to bring a lot of desktop features to the mobile browser that most of them tended to lack while maintaining an outlook that focused on mobile usability. Opera mini allowed the user to choose whether they wanted to see the full version of the web page and zoom in to the bits they wanted to see closer or if they wanted everything slimmed down into a single column they could scroll down - and the best thing about it was that it was fast and smooth and in several ways. In full page mode everything was enormously fluid, the kind of fluid ads for the iPhone make it appear to be (although in reality is not), using the number keys you can quickly glide along the page and zoom in and out with precision - great! but not only that but browsing with Opera Mini routes your pages through Opera compression servers thus delivering you the full sized Internet at a fraction of the size and at speeds comparable to a desktop - marvellous!
Opera Mini made other tasks easy too, the "start page" was a haven of usability - you could directly enter a web address, perform a search with a variety of engines (you could even create custom searches from any search box on the Internet!) or access a "speed dial" a list of your 9 favourite links. All good stuff.
Now you may have noticed that I've been talking in the past tense, that's because everything I've said up until now regarded Opera Mini 4.2 and previous, today Opera released Opera Mini 5 beta.
It's shiny and new, it adds some exciting new features while disappointingly axing others. The best thing for me as a touch screen user is that they've optimised the new version for touch screen control - a massive plus, 4.2 had some touch support, I could scroll by swiping, click links and such, but when entering addresses manually, rather than bring up the phones full virtual keyboard as it did when entering text anywhere else, I was forced to use the gimped virtual keypad the Tocco Lite seems to append to the bottom half inch of any java app not made by google. Also, no concession was made in the phones menu system for touch screen users, button sizes that were perfectly fine for pure keypad input became frustratingly tiny for fingers and the wrong thing was often pressed. OM5 redresses all that. now everything you need to touch is good and chunky - almost everything. In their bid to support touch screen users more fully they've developed their own onscreen qwerty keyboard that pops up when you need to input text. Although I like having a proper interface for inputting addresses now the virtual keyboard Opera have created is vastly inferior to the phones native virtual keyboard in almost every way. In fact the only improvement made by the Opera team is in the aesthetics - and that's not even important. The main issue is the lag between my touch and the character appearing on screen, I can tap out all the characters in a word before the 2nd letter has actually appeared on screen - this wouldn't be a particularly big issue if the keys were big enough that I could be assured the correct character actually registered without visual confirmation - but they're not. Operas keyboard also lacks the biggest strength of the Samsung one, the tactile feedback of vibration when a key is struck - this appears to be an issue in any application not native to the phone, which is rather disappointing.
The OM5 can be set to portrait or landscape view - the onscreen keyboard is really tiny in portrait view, but a decent size in landscape. Despite the full touch screen support the Tocco Lite still appends it's crappy virtual keypad to the bottom of the screen (right of the screen in landscape) - I've emailed Samsung to see if there's anything I can do about that - remain hopeful.
Next up on the positives - tabbed browsing comes to Mobile! That's right ladies and gents, no more shall you be limited to browsing a single web page at one time! Everyone knows the concept by now, it's not quite the same as on desktop, instead of having the tabs displayed along the top of the browser you press a button on the toolbar that pops up the tab bar allowing you to open and close at your leisure. This is a feature I've often found myself pining for and now it's here, happy days indeed!
It's been rather apparent of late that Opera have been trying to shake off the perception of their products as "ugly", they started by revamping the style of their desktop browser with Opera 10 (which is rather sexy I must say) and they've continued with OM5 which has developed a textured black look which is rather nice. 
Slightly less good is the overall performance of OM5 in comparison to its predecessors, it's definitely slower at navigating around the program - less snappy moving between options and scrolling pages is noticeably less smooth, although the loading speed of pages appears as good as ever. Hopefully this can be put down to the beta status of the release and they'll boost the performance by the final.
There are a few other notable omissions and differences that detract from the new release, setting a speed dial for example is no longer as simple. Formerly one could bookmark a page and at the same time choose to set it as a speed dial, no longer, furthermore your choices for setting a speed dial are limited to entering addresses manually or selecting from recently visited pages - although the pages that make this list appear to be random. The custom search feature has also disappeared, although the developers suggest it will return.
So Opera Mini 5 is one to watch, given that this release is a beta there's plenty to be optimistic about for the final release, so hopefully those performance issues will be improved.
edit: And it has a password manager which is pretty sweet too.
freedoms_stain, always online, out.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Street Fighter IV plus Mad Catz SFIV Fightpad!

So Steam had SFIV on sale last weekend, I wanted it, it was a good price, so I got it. Well, they call it IV, in truth there have been dozens of unique Street Fighter titles, but Capcom are going with IV so we will too.

I have a couple of Xbox 360 control pads I use on my PC with games that tend to play better with a control pad.


The 360 pad is pretty decent for most genres of game, however for the 2D fighting genre it sucks donkey ass. The main reason for this is the D-pad, a) it’s in the wrong place and b) it’s actually just a piece of shit D-pad in the first place.

A decent directional control  is essential for games like SFIV, to stand any chance of winning even on medium difficulty it’s essential that you have a good grasp of your characters moves and combos and that you’re able to pull them off flawlessly precisely when you need to. After about 5 minutes of attempting Hadoken fireballs and producing uppercuts or crouching punches more often than the actual Hadoken I realised the 360 pad was sadly not going to cut it.

I was aware that there were SFIV peripherals on the market for 360 (and thus PC) so I checked out the reviews and the prices. Interestingly Capcom went with peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz for their licensed SFIV gear – a company I’ve had a poor opinion of basically since forever. The general consensus was that the Tournament edition FightStick was the best piece of kit, however at £150 slightly out of my target price range. That left the standard edition FightStick and the Fightpad.

The idea of a FightStick really appealed to me – proper arcade action at my desk – awesome! And at £70 more affordable than the Tournament edition. Still pretty expensive, and there were wide reports that a high proportion of the sticks malfunction in fairly short order. So a risky purchase, and £70 still quite a lot to spend on a peripheral limited in application essentially to the few 2D games I have and maybe for emulation of older consoles.

But Mad Catz are not the only peripheral manufacturer and I discovered a brand called Hori also had a range of fight sticks and I could get one of these for £50. Unfortunately I read a few accounts of Hori owners who couldn’t get their stick to work on PC, and since I need it for PC it’d be pretty useless if I got one and it didn’t work.

So, last possibility before my SFIV purchase becomes a complete waste – the FightPad. Opinions were split in the reviews, but in general fairly positive, so I bit the bullet and went for it.


That’s right, I got a Ryu one smile_teeth (£31.96 incl delivery from

The pad works on the standard Microsoft Xbox 360 pad drivers, so you pretty much just plug’n’play. I instantly felt my precision was improved when I got this in-game. hitting Ryu’s ultra-combo which had been almost impossible with the standard 360 pad was now possible (although I must say not a 100% success rate, I will put this down to needing more practice for now). The 6 button face + 2 shoulder is also slightly preferable over the 4 face/4 shoulder for this genre of game. The buttons on here are good and chunky on the face too.

It’s not all peas and carrots though. The pad does feel a bit flimsy, like you really wouldn’t want to drop this or stand on it, it feels like it would crack like an egg. Secondly the start/select and shoulder buttons are of a really dated ‘clicky’ nature, they make an annoying click when pressed – buttons shouldn’t really do that, yes all controllers make a certain amount of noise, but this is extreme, and in the case of the shoulder button means you need to apply a bit more pressure than your standard 360 pad shoulder buttons to illicit a response.

They’ve also elected to cover the back and sides of the controller with a rubbery material – not a bad idea on paper, however, in practice when your hands have sweated up a bit the rubber ceases to have its non slip property and starts rubbing your fingers which can become quite uncomfortable and sore after not too much actual play.

The pad features a switch on the back that alters the D-pads designation between emulating either the Left or Right Analogue sticks from a standard Xbox 360 pad or the D-pad itself. Before I started playing I made sure it was on D-pad and started playing. I was doing fairly well and into about the 3rd or 4th match I noticed my accuracy with moves had dropped considerably. I was getting a bit pissed and happened to tilt the pad one-handed in a gesture of disgust at my latest hammering when I noticed the switch had altered to Left Analogue Stick – I switched it back to D-pad and instantly my form was back and I won. The switch is a 3-way slider, when it’s either on the left or the right it is quite difficult to move, however in the middle position – the D-pad position – it moves very easily, so it is possible to accidentally knock the slider over and fuck yourself over. It’s a bad design, the slider sticks out of its recess so it’s really easy for it to switch without you realising if it brushes against something. I think it’ll be ok if I’m careful, but I really shouldn’t have to worry about that when I’m playing.

The key feature of the pad is the D-pad, they’re really banking on people needing an upgrade from the abysmal 360 D-pad so they’re using it as a selling point. It is better, but it’s not amazing. it really doesn’t feel as good as the old  Sega Megadrive/Saturn 6-button face controllers, the D-pad is slightly too small for its housing whereas ideally it should be quite snug in there, because of the looseness it feels pretty breakable. Now that I’ve mentioned the old Sega controllers I should probably mention that this pad feels too big. I was like 12 when the Saturn came out and the pad fit quite nicely in my hand, now I’m about to hit 24 and this thing feels like a beast. It’s actually about the same size as a standard 360 pad, but it doesn’t have the hand contours that the 360 pad has, so it just feels ungainly.

It is a useful FightPad, but it’s far from perfect.

Finally, the game!

I haven’t really owned a Street Fighter game since SFII Turbo on the SNES, and as it happens the SF series has gone through quite a lot of changes in that time. The basic SF gameplay is there, hell even most of the moves have the same controls, but there are now extras, EX versions of certain moves that power them up, Super combos, Ultra Combos and something that’s apparently brand new to SFIV called the Focus Attack.  As a result the game is a lot harder than it was back in my SNES days where I could battle thorough the game with every character and only really face any real difficulties against M. Bison. Combos seem to be more important than they ever were before and the whole game seems to depend on a good knowledge of your characters moves list and having the good judgement to know when to do what when, and to have nimble enough fingers to make sure it happens at that when.

I have managed to beat the Arcade mode (on easy smile_sad ) with Ryu, so I’m making progress. I will persevere, the great thing about this genre is that you can dip in and out and a quick bit of practice soon brings you back up to speed with the timings and the controls.

The gamer in me keeps telling me that Easy is for pussies and children, which is why I spent the week until yesterday getting spanked on medium, but in this case I need Easy to build some chops – then I’ll move up.

freedoms_stain, contemplating his next character choice, out.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

What We Need…

is a standard job application form.

I have filled in a lot of job apps in my time, and especially recently, and all but maybe one of the apps I’ve filled in required the exact same information.

Unerringly the first two pages cover the details of the post, your personal details, your education history, memberships to professional bodies, current employer and work history.

These are then typically followed by a  third page which asks you to write about a personal statement on why you think you meet the job specs and why they should hire you.

Then you usually get into references, entitlement to work in the country, criminal convictions, and the equal opportunities bull at the end. And of course your John Hancock.

So why do we need a different form for every single employer in the country (and probably the world if we’re honest)? There’s really only a minor juggling in the order of what goes where and maybe a custom company graphic at the top of the first page.

Typically the only parts anyone is going to change between any two particular jobs are the post details at the top of page one and the personal statement on page three, so quite why an entire new form needs to by typed up for every single post is quite beyond me.

There should be a standard form, in the place of the company graphic should be a box for typing the company name in, we then have our standard first 4-5 pages as outlined above, post details, personal details, educati…blah blah blah.

Of course some job apps are slightly different, may ask competency based questions rather than going for the personal statement, but that doesn’t require a whole new form, just an page or two added on to the end (or middle if that’s how you want to roll).

We live in a digital age and most of us apply for jobs by email these days, downloading the application form, filling it in and emailing it back. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of all that you were simply asked to “please submit Standard Application Form in relation to the desired post”? Or “please submit Standard Application Form enclosing Appendices A-C” for the wanks who can’t just go with the personal statement?

I can of course see the wisdom in using application forms: it ensures employers get all the information they need and presents it all in a predictable way which makes things a bit easier on the poor gits who have to plough through dozens of unsuitables looking for the decent ones. I can see the wisdom in application forms, so will employers see the wisdom in adopting a standard one? Applying for jobs isn’t easy, and it could be made simpler by cutting down the amount of repetitive finger work we need to dance through just to actually apply.


freedoms_stain, lamenting the slow demise of the humble CV, out.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

An Interesting Tool

Usually I write blogs using Google Docs rather than the Blogger HTML editor. Fairly simple reasons for this: the Google Docs HTML editor is superior to the Blogger one affording me more options for formatting text, placing images and such. It also allows me to publish directly to my blog which gives it an advantage over any desktop application, and as Google Docs saves my work to the cloud I can edit posts on any computer with an internet connection – another clear advantage over a desktop application as it allows me to fire down some thoughts during breaks at work or over at my girlfriends.

I’m not using Google Docs today though, I’m using the new(ish) blogging tool from Microsoft: Windows Live Writer.

Generally speaking I tend to dislike Microsoft software outside of the OS itself (and I can find plenty of gripes with that let me tell you) and to be honest I downloaded this not entirely realising what it was. I had actually thought it was some sort of cheap ass version of Word like the version that comes with MS Works, I wanted to check that documents produced using OpenOffice and saved in .doc appeared formatted correctly in MS software – this doesn’t do that (though the free Word Viewer from MS does), and even when I realised it didn’t do that I maintained the hope that it would – but it doesn’t.

I went ahead with the installation and setup, the program asks you to provide the details of your blog (url, username and password) and offers you a Live blog if you don’t have a pre-existing blog. Live Writer supports a number of blog services including Blogger and Wordpress, so pretty much anyone can use this, not just Live bloggers.

My interest was instantly piqued when the text editor loaded with my blogs skin in the background I’ll stick a screenshot in here actually (click image for full size)

It’s a small touch, but a nice one. What’s a much more useful feature is the preview tab (you can see three tabs immediately under the main text box, preview is second) and lets you see how your post will look after it has been posted:


When I scroll down the page it even shows the title of this post in the blog archive on the right. This is significantly superior to the Blogger preview that shows your post against a white background – sufficient to be sure, but doesn’t give you the full picture as this does. It’s also greatly preferable to Google Docs which has no blog preview feature and won’t even let me set the page width to that of my blog thus giving me a picture equal to the Blogger preview at the least.

The standard features you expect are all here, your standard text editing options, image inserting/resizing, video, tables etc etc plus others you may not have expected like image galleries. The program also supports plugins for easy integration of image hosting accounts and other fancy features all users might not need like twitter support, emoticons, and a bunch of other stuff you can browse at your leisure here.

Another nice feature you don’t get with Google Docs is full post tagging. When I publish via Google Docs I have to enter the Blogger dashboard at some point to tag my post properly, in Live Writer I can tag the post as I edit and all my existing tags are imported ready for selection and submitted with the rest of the post. I like this feature a lot.

One thing that is slightly irritating me about the program is that each press of return appears to generate a double new line, thus giving the appearance of a new paragraph. Although that’s generally what I want out of pressing return it isn’t always. Not sure if this is a Live Writer feature or a setting imported from my blog.

Fairly typically of MS software Live Writer is perhaps a bit heavier than it should be in terms of memory use. I have 9 instances of OpenOffice running for a total of 75MB of RAM, while this one instance of Live Writer takes up 50MB, and Open Office Writer is a fully featured word processor. This doesn’t really bother me and my 3GB system, but it might people using netbooks or other low spec systems.

In conclusion Live Writer is a decent piece of software for the casual blogger, it offers a nice user interface and a rich set of features that’ll make your blogging experience that much smoother. It’s certainly a superior text editor in comparison to the default blogger one. The only thing that’ll hold me back from using this all the time is the fact that I need it installed on the local machine to use it, whereas with Google Docs all I need is a computer with a web browser and internet connection. I’ll probably utilise this for shorter posts I know I’ll finish in one sitting like this one and continue to use Google Docs for longer pieces that I may wish to contribute to on the move.

freedoms_stain, shocked to be enjoying Microsoft software, out.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Scary, Scary Cows

Me and my girlfriend like to go walking. Sometimes trails pass through farmland or grazing areas and sometimes you'll find cows in these.

Cows are scary.

Most people think of them as big dumb docile creatures who spend most of their time stationary, eating grass and occasionally mooing. From a distance this may be true, but get a bit closer and this can be a very different story.

The picture above was taken on a hill trail, but I'm not on the trail, the cow is, I'm skirting the trail by about 15 meters because the cow wouldn't let us pass any closer.

Here's my girlfriend a little bit further down the hill, note that she's most definitely not on a trail either.

These pictures were actually taken about a year ago, what reminded me of them was another cow-related incident that took place just last week near Hadrians wall. The walk we were on lead us from a town along a river, through some largely empty farmland and then along Hadrians wall itself. After following the wall for a while we split off through some more farmland back towards the town.

Unfortunately this farmland was occupied. The first few fields were pretty much fine, the animals went about their business and we went about ours, one of them was ankle deep in shit at one point, but we had our boots on so that was ok albeit stinky. Problems arose in what turned out would have been the second to last field (so close!). There were some cows in the field, but we thought nothing of it since we'd crossed through cow fields already and the cows in those fields seemed pretty cool with us passing through. We started at the top of the field and worked our way towards the bottom, the bottom of the field was completely water logged, unfortunately and to my cost I only discovered this by walking right into the waterlogged ground thus emerging both my boots and water-logging them - just what I needed. (in my defence btw it wasn't that I wasn't paying attention to the ground, but the water-logging was masked by long grass)

We realised we'd have to walk around the water-logged area to reach the gate - a gate which was guarded by a cow. As we approached the gate the cow guarding the gate noticed us and ploughed through the water-logged ground on the far side of the gate and watched us from a distance. Once we'd reached the gate we realised it was completely surrounded by water-logged ground 6-10ft wide and we wouldn't be going through that gate any time soon. And that's when the cows started getting uppity.

Now I say cows, but these might actually have been young bulls, they were smallish and had one horn each, the other seemingly removed.

Anyhoo the cow/bull from the gate charged at us, but stopped when I turned towards it. It's about this time I started shitting my pants. We had to get back to the far gate we came in by and by now cow/bull had assembled his/her buddies and were menacing us. We started walking calmly back towards the other gate when the assembled herd with gate cow/bull at its head, my girlfriend panicked and ran herself into the water-logging. Again turning towards the cow/bulls halted them. I told my girlfriend NOT TO FUCKING RUN! and we headed towards a section of the wall replaced with fencing it looked like we could climb with the cow/bulls in hot pursuit. As long as I kept facing them (and waving my walking pole maniacally) the cow/bulls they would slow down or stop, thus keeping them back far enough for us to get over the fence.

Now I don't know if the cow/bulls were actually threatening us or just looking for food or something, but when an animal bigger than you with a horn charges at you then you don't stand there and wait to see if it stops and licks your hand or gores you to death, you just shit your pants and get out of there. Shitting pants optional.

So beware kiddies, Cows are Scary.

freedoms_stain, changing his pants, out.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

How To Cope With XP in 2009 And Beyond

This was originally written for a friend who had problems with an aging XP system that was cripplingly slow, but since I haven't posted anything of substance in a while I thought I'd share with the world wide web.
These tips are best used on an XP system already in good order to maintain that order and a system that is hobbling like a lame duck really should undergo a full formatting and OS re-install - but if you really can't be arsed with that then following this guide should see you some sort of performance boost, and some of the programs I've advised (such as Ccleaner and Revo) will see you gain a substantial amount of HD space (in many cases).
  • Clean your case! Your computer sucks in cool air from outside the case to circulate around the inside carrying heat produced by the computers components and to be dumped out the back. Air contains dust and that dust will often remain inside your case: it particularly likes to stick to fans. Excessive dust can cause unwanted temperature increases (putting additional unnecessary strain on your system) and make your fans much nosier than they should be. To clean the inside of the computer acquire yourself two small/fine paint brushes, an anti-static wrist band and a can of compressed air (no lubricant). Open the side panels of your case, clip on your wrist band and use the compressed air to blow out the dust. The brushes should be used to hold still any fans while you blast them with air (the fan can build up harmful charge if allowed to freely spin), stubborn dust may require use of the brushes to remove. Important areas to clean are: the CPU fan, The GPU fan, the PSU and any case fans - these are the places the worst of the dust will gather and the places that will have most impact on your system. DO NOT vacuum the inside of your machine, vacuums may generate static which can damage your components. Instead use the procedure outlined above and vacuum the freed dust out side the case once it's closed back up.
  • Many XP users either don't use any or use crappy system sucking programs for system protection. Many people are using inferior products from the likes of Norton and paying for them when a variety of great free alternatives exist. Everyone should have at the very least a firewall, popular free firewalls include ZoneAlarm and Comodo. I have used both and preferred Comodo - as long as you turn off Comodos Defense+ features.There are also a variety of free virus scanners around, check out the charts to see what's currently in vogue. I have used AVG in the past and currently use Avast!. I'd advise AVG for people who want to install and forget, Avast! for people who value the concept of a boot-time scan, Avast! also had better real-time protection compared to the version of AVG I bumped it for (some time in 2008)
  • Using Microsoft's Internet Explorer? Stop! It's slower and less secure than almost every other web browser out there, try an alternative: Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome, Safari


  • Download Ccleaner, one of the best Windows maintenance tools around. Run the Registry cleaner regularly (at least once a month) and the Cleaner function periodically (check through both the windows and application tabs and uncheck anything you don't want cleaned, in the advanced section check old prefetch data and hotfix uninstallers)


  • The default Microsoft defragger is crap, download Smart Defrag, this has 2 powerful features, 1) it arranges data so the most frequently used stuff is at the start of your drive, giving you faster access and 2) it runs in the backround using minimal system resources and auto-defrags your drive keeping it in tip-top condition.


  • Add/Remove programs doesn't properly remove programs, it leaves all sorts of shit behind, Revo Uninstaller does a better job, it will gut out any and all registry keys and leftover folders after programs are uninstalled meaning they are fully uninstalled. Always use Revo to uninstall programs. Revo has a bunch of other useful features, check them out yourself.


  • You can use either Ccleaner or Revo for this one - in either program you're looking for the Tools menu, then the autorun manager/startup tool. Here is a list of every program and service that starts when your computer boots. Look through them and decide which ones you need and which ones you don't, keeping this list to a minimum will greatly improve the time it takes your machine to boot. Be careful though, some of these are critical Windows processes, so if you're not sure what it is leave it be or google it to find out if it can be safely stopped or not. 


  • Most people have Virus Scanners and Firewalls, but what many don't have are anti-malware, spyware and adware programs - these are all things that Virus scanners miss and they're all harmful to your machines performance and your personal privacy. Malwarebytes is an excellent malware detector.


  • Running XP from memory can keep the system running at its fastest - provided you have a decent amount of memory (at least half a gig) do the following: Start>Run>type 'regedit'>locate the following folder: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management>in Memory Management doubleclick DisablePagingExecutive and swap the 0 for a 1>close regedit and reboot.


  • XP caches DLLs in memory even after the program has been shutdown, prevent this as follows: start>run>type 'regedit'>Locate HKEY_LOCAL-MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer>rightclick in an empty space in the Explorer folder>create new DWORD value called AlwaysUnloadDLL>double click the new value, give it a value of 1>close regedit and reboot.


  • Chkdsk your harddrives: this checks for and fixes drive errors. Rightclick your harddrive in My Computer>Properties>Tools>Error Checking: Check Now>click both options, click start>reboot. Warning: This may take fucking ages.


  • Is your system slow to shutdown? After you do this it won't be: start>run>type 'regedit'> find HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control>rightclick WaitToKillServiceTimeout>enter 1000 as a value>close regedit and reboot, yournext shutdown should be quicker.


  • The following registry tomfuckery will stop Windows asking you if you want to close programs that are hanging when you shutdown: it'll just close them itself. Open regedit again, find HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop, doubleclick AutoEndTasks change from 0 to 1, close and reboot.
That's about all folks. All that's left to say is that if your computer is old, you're not ready for a new one and you're fed up of Windows, check out Linux, it may just change the way you think about computing forever.
freedoms_stain, apparently "tomfuckery" isn't a word, out.