Englishness and Existentialism

Ah, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum – it taught me everything I know about computer gaming and programming: which is to say, not a great deal, but enough to get by.

I wanted to post two links garnered from the hilarious and irreverent (i.e., your mother wouldn’t like it) B3TA, showing the endings of two classic Spectrum games, The Hobbit and Valhalla.

If you’re under 30, think a ‘ZX Spectrum’ is a Japanese motorbike, and haven’t already found something more interesting to do then you might as well leave – this isn’t for the likes of you.

I may as well confess that to the best of my knowledge I never ever completed a ZX Spectrum game so these screens are all new to me.  And, having seen them, I don’t feel I missed out on anything.

First, The Hobbit.  A legendary early adventure game on the Spectrum because it had graphics.  Have a look at the end screen here.

Don’t you just love that?  Bilbo completes the arduous quest, comes home and puts the valuable treasure in the wooden chest.  It strikes me as quintessentially English.  I imagine him having a sit down and a cup of tea after that; maybe a nap, too.

The next one, Valhalla, is a bit darker.  Again, an adventure game.  Again legendary in that had live-action animation.  Sort of.  Have a look at the end screen here.

Very different to the Hobbit, don’t you think?  Very ‘Norse’ in its bleakness.  Very existential.

Like Bilbo in The Hobbit the hero completes the arduous quest, and yet to what end?  It’s a darkly hollow victory: people come in, offer their congratulations and leave.  More people come in, offer their congratulations and leave.

Everybody leaves.

AA* Meeting

OK, um, my name, is, um, Stuart and I…


My name is Stuart and I’ve just bought an Apple product.

And I really really like it. Despite my previous rants posts about not liking Apple and everything they stand for I have just bought an iPod Touch.

Let me explain.

Oh, actually. Let’s not.  All you need to know is that my beautiful looking new phone, the Smasung F480 ‘Tocco’, turned out to be rather a disappointment.

Among other things:

  • The 5Mp camera: brilliant – if used in broad daylight on a tripod by David Bailey.  Any other combination=crappy.
  • The MP3 player: nice sound, but the shoddy storage interface took two whole minutes to scroll through 100-odd albums, so I basically only ever listened to albums beginning with ABC or XYZ.
  • The 3G internet connection: pretty speedy and reliable, but no keyboard for the browser (only text message-style input) meant it was completely crippled.

And lots of things were just really really badly done.  Gmail, for instance: it took me over two hours to set up my email account, despite having a “Setup Your Gmail account” button.  And a month later Google changed their system somehow and Gmail no longer worked on my phone.

So, I’ve sold my F480 on eBay and with the money bought an iPod Touch 8Gb.  This isn’t a phone, obviously, so I’ve gone back to my old trusty Sony-Ericsson M600i – an ugly workhorse of a phone, but with a half-decent mini keyboard and decent reception, unlike my F480, which would regularly drop out when used at home.

But what about the iPod Touch?

Well, I wish I didn’t have to use iTunes with it, because iTunes sucks badly at almost anything.

Otherwise, I love it.  This is the device and the functionality I’ve always dreamed about.  If it says it does something then it damned well does it.  No messing about.

You want Gmail?  What’s your account name and password?  OK, you’ve got 13 emails.

Want to see what music you’ve got?  Press that and…there you go.

Want to download an application or eBook?  User name and password, please.  Uh-huh, there’s your application/book.

The weather?  OK, let me just auto-goddamn-matically connect to your wi-fi network…uh-huh…here’s the next five days’ weather.

Whatever you try and do with the Touch it just does it.

Samsung phones seem to have been built by their accounting department.  They’ve asked their engineers what the perfect phone would do and then given them £20 and a week to develop it before spending a £20 million on publicity and rushing the phone out before even actually switching it on.

With the Touch they’ve asked what people want, given their engineers some time and some money and let them knock up some solutions.  Then they’ve gotten smart people to look at all the problems with those solutions, before tested the results on idiots.  Once the idiots have finished with it they’ve tested the solutions again, this time on smart people, so that not only is the final product idiot-proof but it looks pretty, too.

I’m not about to go and buy a rip-off Mac, but I am a late convert to the glories of the iPod – or the iPod Touch, at least.

* AA= Apple Anonymous

What the…?

National treasure Tony Benn is pulled over by the police under suspicion of ‘terrorism’???????

If an 83-year-old former Cabinet minister and political ‘favourite uncle’ whose son is a current Cabinet minister can be suspected of ‘terrorism’ then there’s no hope for the rest of us.

I’m off to the copshop to hand myself in.


The plumber’s just been to look at our damp patch.  It’s a very nice damp patch, one of the nicest he’s ever seen, in fact.  It’s well-rounded, damp without spilling over into full-blown wetness and pleasingly cool to the touch.

Oh, and it’s going to cost £300-odd to fix, as it’s coming from a crack in the water tank, which consequently needs replacing.

I thought our plumbing would need some serious work on it at some point – our heating system is a maze of pipes, valves, dials, taps, more pipes, more dials and more valves the like of which I’ve never seen before.  However, we could’ve done without it needing that work doing in the last few weeks before the Lovely Melanie returns to work, when our finances will magically stop their current freefall (hopefully!)

Imagine our finances as an aeroplane: the Lovely Melanie being off work and her maternity pay running out is the equivalent of the pilot collapsing unconscious and the plane going into a steep dive.

At the moment we’re heading for the ground at high speed.

The Lovely Melanie going back to work is the point at which the co-pilot grabs the plane’s joystick and pulls back hard on it.

As I’ve said beforehand on here, we had planned for this frightening nosedive by gaining a bit of metaphorical height in advance (i.e., saving some money), but one of the engines on the plane may have just fallen off.

We can still pull up, but it’s going to be more difficult and will take longer to fix later. 😦

NOTE FOR MY PARENTS: don’t worry, this is not a plea for help! We’ve got it covered (so long as nothing else expensive breaks in the next six weeks…)

Warm glow

I’m feeling rather virtuous tonight: we’ve given away a load of Bubbah’s old baby stuff that she doesn’t need any more – high chair, rocking chair and stand for a moses basket – on the always-wonderful Freecycle.

Freecycle works by offering a forum for people-with-stuff-to-get-rid-of to meet with people-who-might-need/want-that-stuff.  You post on the forums saying what you’ve got and (roughly) where you are; people who are looking for stuff can browse the forums and reply to your post; between you you sort out when and how they come to collect your unwanted stuff.  It’s all as safely anonymous as possible and as fair as you want to make it.

We advertised our stuff on Saturday and had about a dozen responses.  The first one was very polite and just as importantly, wanted to take all three items at once.  Most were polite and nice, but some only wanted one or two of the items, which would have made it all unnecessarily complicated.  Anyway, I emailed back to the first reply this morning, a couple of very nice ladies come round to collect it all tonight and have just sent us a lovely thank-you email offering to buy the girls whatever sweets they want as a thank you!

Freecycle is just one of those fantastic ideas that regularly restores my faith in humanity (and a small added bonus is that the forums are provided by my employer, Yahoo!) 🙂

Finally: apologies are in order to Millie for my suggestion that she might be regularly weeing on her bedroom floor in the night.  She hasn’t been, and I was recklessly remiss in even suggesting such a ludicrous idea.

A plumber is due round ours first thing tomorrow morning to fix the leak beneath her bedroom floor.

And, bless her, she’s doing very well with her new glasses.  Millie, we’re prouder than ever to be your parents today.