Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

HNY2008 from me to all of you!

I must get round to doing my review of the year for 2007....  Someday!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Everyone

So what do we think the chances are that the big box under the tree is:

(a) For Me


(b) a Nintendo Wii?

I'm reckoning slim to none!

Friday, December 21, 2007

We may starve!

What do think?  Is there enough food in the fridge and freezer for Christmas?


Ha Ha!

Whilst Jase's greenfields site may be devoid of celebs, I have spotted one of my all time favourite people in Chiswick today!!!

I saw Hugh Fearney-Whittingstall driving a white van on Chiswick High Road. He's one of my favourite TV chefs and food hero.

Now beat that, Jase!

New Job - First Impressions

So here we are, two weeks into my new job. Time for a bit of a first impressions blog.

Wow! The commute sucks but my new job is great. Once the schools are back my drive to work will take between 60 and 90 mins and my drive home will take 80+ minutes. At the moment it is OK as the traffic is quiet in the morning and manageable in the evening.

My job title is “Senior Business Analyst”, but my role can be summed up as helping the business decide how it wants to change it’s processes and then helping to drive that change though. Most of this will be through IT projects, but it should also include process re-engineering.

I am kind of going back to my roots with this move to L&G, as it’s core business (Protection) is what I started out doing at both Standard Life and NAB.

The people here are all really friendly (even the contractors!) and whilst politics clearly play a part on the day to day machinations of the company, they don’t seem to cause too many blockages.

The building has an odd layout (being like a giant figure 8), and the loos are all in the central hub (which is annoying as I work at the top of the figure 8 and the canteen / café is at the bottom of the 8). The café does a nice cappuccino and the restaurant is reasonably priced (if not subsidised) and the food is of good quality.

Whilst I haven’t got my own laptop yet, the PCs and infrastructure seem to work well, although I am dismayed to be using Office 2000 again. Using Outlook as opposed to Lotus Notes is also a refreshing change.

The current big project is close to deployment and looks like it will work well. The majority of my time at the moment is being spent with the contractors learning about the new system so that, along with the other new starts, we can become the new business experts on the system.

I am the second new analyst to be hired in the last month, with one more joining this week and another in the New Year. I think the ultimate goal is to recruit 5 in total, so they are still one short. The team consists entirely of contractors and a permy manager, so the business is clearly looking for fresh blood to clear out the contractors. I hope we are given ample time for the “knowledge transfer”.

I also need to come up with a new feature for my Blog header as this greenfields site is completely devoid of celebrities! Suggestions on a post card!

Relief and Disaster

I checked my bank account this morning and was relieved to see my Christmas paycheck sitting there, smiling back at me. Not having a proper paycheck for 5 months has been no fun at all. Now I just need to remember my Credit Card bill and not start planning a spending spree!

I then opened my email to find out that a close friend has just been told that he will be one of the 40% of his company being laid off in January.

I'll be doing a "Review of 2007" post next week, and was trying to really be upbeat for Christmas, but news like that really kicks you in the nads. At least I got 3 months' notice from NAB and kind of saw it coming from about 3 months prior to that. I think 1 month's notice out of the blue just before Christmas is the worst thing to do to someone. It ranks up there with 1 week's notice, 2 months before someone's wife is due to give birth!

My commiserations mate. :(

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I'm delighted to announce that Gareth failed in his challenge to beat me at Star Wars DVD Trivial Pursuit.  It was very close, but I took the title 2 rounds to 1.  Gareth took his defeat like a man and issued a return challenge for the next get together.  I was happy to accept.

Gillian, being uninterested in Star Wars acted as question master (doing a supreme job) and then managed to pick up Gareth's spirits by steering the Scottish team to the narrowest of victories at normal DVD Trivial Pursuit.  Serena and I suffered greatly at the hands of the "Wheel of Death" on multiple occasions!

This defeat was for-ordained in a way, as Serena and I have lost before in a very similar manner to Jase and Charlotte.  They have denied us access to a rematch though!

Given time there may be some Genus III action today for the ultimate in Trivial Pursuit tests.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Back to work


Jase is back to work and seems to be enjoying it (not the long commute, but everything else).

I'm sure he will fill you all in soon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Middle Man...

If I am the Left Hand and Legal and General are the Right Hand, then does that make the Agent (middle man) the Dick?  Mine seems to be!

Having been told that I am to start work on Wednesday 5th December and that I would receive the paperwork through the post I have been unable to raise my agent since.  I have received no paperwork and now that I have phoned L&G's HR department they have told me that they think I am starting Monday 10th December.

Oh well, three more days of freedom!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

We are alive (honest)!

So what have we been up to?  Well we just came back from a week up north, where we spent a few days with my parents in York before heading to Edinburgh for Jocelyn's christening at St Giles' Cathedral.  We then drove all the way back down, staying over in York on the way back.

We did the journey in two cars, so we could swap cars with Serena's parents for the return journey.  I have my old red Honda Civic back and will be trading it in some time early next year for something bigger.  Serena now has her Mum's Honda Jazz in trade for her Nissan Micra.

To make the journey a bit more bearable for Lauren we bought a portable DVD player on which she watched hours of Teletubbies and In The Night Garden whilst I listened to audiobooks on my MP3 player!  Serena and Jocey happily listened to Classic FM in the other car.  In fact Jocey was exceptionally well behaved on the drive and is turning out to be a little angel!

We are now well on with spring cleaning our whole house in preparation for Christmas, as we have a house full for both Christmas and New Year (our trip to York for New Year has been canceled and my parents are coming to us instead).

Beyond that I finally have a start date for my job at Legal and General, after they decided to carry out a full five year reference and credit check on me!  That meant capturing info from our stay in Australia, so the whole process seemed to take forever.  I start on Wednesday 5th December.

Both Serena and I have been really good recently as well, going to the gym, eating healthily and I have also been taking Lauren swimming (although she doesn't really like it yet).  It was paying off as I had lost 10 lbs, but I suspect the unhealthy eating of the trip to our parents will have undone some of the good work.

Plans for the immediate future are finish the tidying and get the house straight before the Weegies descend upon us in a fortnight and a family lunch with Jase and Charlotte celebrating Charlotte's 30th birthday!  Then it will be polishing my shoes and finally having a shave!  Being on the social for so long means that my beard is rather bushy!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What Hi-Fi Show (part 1)

I am short on time now, so here is a quicky on last weekend's What Hi-Fi Show in London.

Serena, Lauren, Jocey and I managed to look round for a good couple of hours before the girls were bored and we got to demo pretty much all of the major TV makes and models that are out there.

Both Serena and I agree that the hands down winner was the Pioneer Kuro range.

If you are looking for a screen above 40" then the rest of the competition didn't come close!

The photos are on the family Flickr site here, but here is one for you to drool over!

What Hi-Fi Show 001

Celebrity Overload!

After last week's double header of John Humphrys and Kate Humble I thought we would end up going back to the celebrity wilderness again...  I was wrong!

This week's gaggle are:

Johnny Vaughan

James Blunt

Will Mellor

and the piece-de-resistance

Steven Moffat of Blink fame!

I feel honoured!

The Orange Box

My birthday treat to myself was The Orange Box expansion for Half Life 2.

As well as including Half Life 2 and the Episodes 1 and 2 expansions for it, the key component for me was Team Fortress 2.

TF2 is an online shooter that follows on from a really old Half Life mod called Team Fortress Classic (a conversion of a Quake 2 mod called Team Fortress - surprisingly).  TFC had been my favourite online shooter of choice for many years and the TF2 update for it is just as much fun.

The game play is pretty much identical and the new graphics engine is brilliant (cartoon style rather than super-realistic). and overall it makes my purchase worthwhile!

However The Orange Box had a bonus...  A technology demo called Portal which had been converted into a game.  The game is a "not too tough" puzzler and has only about 5 hours of game-play too it, but the work they have done to add atmosphere and a plot to the game are just brilliant.  As far as freebies go there is no comparison - this one rocks!

The Cake is a Lie!

World in Conflict

You may remember that I played the demo of World in Conflict a few months back and really liked it.  Well Jase and Charlotte bought me the full version for my birthday and I have now completed it!

I have to say that it was an excellent game with the single player campaign lasting about 20 hours.

I have tried out the online play modes and am less then thrilled, as there are very few servers and those that are there are ruled by gangs of Admins who always play together and wipe the floor with newbies like myself!  I'll stick to Team Fortress 2 for my online gibbage!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Times have changed...

Back in my day we just used to say "Trick or Treat".

I have just been faced with "Trick or Treat; Money or Sweets only please!"

I decided to give her an apple!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mork calling Orson, come in Orson!

James & Julian - Where the hell have you gone?

Thursday, October 25, 2007


As Gareth pointed out in his comments below, our new monitor has a built in webcam.  His suggestion that we will use this for naughty purposes in unfounded as we have had a webcam running for many months now and this integrated one is just a bonus that we should not need to use.

Serena's parents have a similar integrated webcam on their laptop and most weekends we video conference with them so they can say hello to Lauren and Jocey.  Our old webcam was not behaving so we currently use one of Logitech's many excellent contributions to the PC world.

For simplicity we have configured Skype to automatically switch on the camera when we chat and this always comes as quite a shock to my friend Lawrence when we blether over Skype!  I have to hit the "Stop Video" button rather sharpish!!!!

What a waste of time!

My trusty Iiyama LCD monitor died on my birthday having given us 4 years of hard earned service.  I checked with Iiyama and it had run out of warranty around Easter so there wasn't much we could do - the repair cost was unlikely to be worth the hassle.

As part of my delayed plans to build a new PC I had always intended to buy a new monitor and had been eyeing up Alex's Samsung Beast since he needed my help setting it up a few months back!

However only a few days before my bereavement I had read a review of the new Viewsonic 22 inch monster and even though it worked out a few pennies more than the Samsung I decided that it was the one for us!

Well the monitor arrived on Tuesday and talk about a faff to set it up!  The digital setup refused to play ball and I had to resort to an analogue connection whilst I worked out what was wrong with it.

I spent 30 minutes of the phone to Viewsonic's techies and got no help whatsoever, just a we don't know but we'll ring you back!  (When?)

Anyway I ploughed on and decided to wipe down the drivers and to start afresh.

Bingo...  I updated the graphic drivers and instantly everything worked fine.  I then installed the monitor drivers and it all went to hell again!

Third time lucky?  I uninstalled all the drivers again and reinstalled the graphics drivers and decided that Microsoft's generic "Plug and Play Monitor" driver seemed to be much more reliable than Viewsonic's own, so I left it at that!

Anyway after 2 days I am very pleased.  Running games at full screen is beautiful, although it does tax this poor PC a little bit!  DVDs look good and 1080P HD Trailers I downloaded as a test look amazing (apart from Beowolf which looks shit! - stupid CGI animation.).

Now I just need to get used to surfing in widescreen!

The Taxman Cometh!

About a month ago I received a letter from HM Revenue and Customs regarding the 3 months from January to April 2007.  Apparently they were concerned that they had no record of me earning any money and hence didn't pay any taxes!  I have to say I was touched by their concern!

They gave me a lovely form to fill in on which I detailed all the inactivity that filled those months between leaving NAB and the end of the tax year.

Anyway time rolled on and I was far too busy with Lauren and Jocey to worry about it until I received a rather long letter from the Revenue on Monday!  It told me that they had reviewed my last 5 years of tax payments and had come to the following conclusions.

  • In 2002-03 I was mainly in Australia and didn't have to pay any tax.
  • In 2003-04 NAB failed to calculate my tax correctly and I owed the Revenue £60.
  • In 2004-05 NAB failed to calculate my tax correctly and I owed the Revenue another £55.
  • In 2005-06 NAB failed to calculate my tax correctly and I owed the Revenue another £60.
  • In 2006-07 NAB failed to calculate my tax correctly but fortunately the Revenue owed me about £500!

Hence they enclosed a cheque for the difference!

Each year was covered off by a different page of the letter and I was cacking my pants by the time I got to 2006-07!  Nice to see that NAB finely managed to do something in my favour!

That little refund paid for this rather fine monitor!

Back in business

I am pleased to say that Lauren is well enough today to go back to nursery, which means that Serena and I can have a rest!

Having 2 kids seemed pretty much like having 1 for many weeks, but when Lauren is ill she demands so much of your time that suddenly you cannot achieve anything during a 24 hour period!

Anyway, I have lots of things that I wanted to blog about, if I can just remember what they all are!

Hence they will be presented in a random order!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Almost back in business

Well the new monitor is here (it came yesterday) and it now works (the supplied drivers don't work, but the default Windows ones do) after nearly 3 hours of fiddling.

Unfortunately Lauren is not well so we have kept her home from nursery and I haven't got time to do a catchup post.

More when I can.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Apologies for being so quiet recently... We are experiencing technical difficulties (No Monitor!) and will be offline (bar the laptop) for a week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Wish(ful thinking) List

It's Hubert's birthday tomorrow.  Now he lives in Chicago with Bonnie it is harder to get him presents so we usually get him something from  Correspondingly he set up a Wish List to help us choose...

This is top of his list!!!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I have had 3 interviews with JP Morgan and then heard nothing for nearly 3 weeks...  My agent was convinced that getting the 3rd interview made me a shoe in for the role.

I just found out that they have decided to proceed with an internal candidate.

I am both gutted and mightily p'd off.  It took them 2 months to decide that whilst keeping me hanging! 

How many jobs have I passed over because I wasn't hunting seriously for the last few weeks?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Comedy Moments

As all parents do, we have hundreds of photos of Lauren playing in the park.  Two recent ones were culled by Serena and have not been published on Flickr, but I think they show great comedy moments!

Since Daddy is poor, Lauren starts dealing (raisins) in the playground!

Ravenscourt Park 016 

Does your mummy make you wear these too?

Ravenscourt Park 012

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Series 2 of A Town Called Eureka starts on Sky 1 on Tuesday 2nd October at 8 pm.  You have been warned Sally (assuming you got Sky 1 back)!

If not then I'll just go "Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Naaaaaah, Nah!"


I was stuck in traffic last week and decided this vehicle was worth a photo / blog!


Apart from that it is kind of quiet here.  I wish some of my other slacker friends would get their blogs going again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rest in Peace Robert Jordan

Julian just flagged me the news of my second favourite author's death.

I knew he was ill as I infrequently read his blog but the news that he lost his battle is very saddening.

RJ is best known for his Wheel of Time series of books, which I reread last year, back to back (books 1-11 anyway).  Previously I had gotten fed up with them as they seemed to go on forever, but reading them straight through gave the weaker books direction and purpose they seemed to lack before.

According to RJ's cousin, RJ had sat down with his family and told them the rest of the story of Rand Al'Thor and friends as a "just in case" and he had spent his last few months dictating as much as possible.  I expect someone will publish the final (1 or 2) books and I will read them, but I suspect that the ghost writer won't quite be the same.

You will be missed!

PS  George R R Martin - if you are reading this - you had better not die!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Die you little B#stards!

The pest control officer just nuked our wasp nest.  They are now going mental, but hopefully they will be dead by Monday!

Wasps on the Rampage

Monday, September 10, 2007

World in Conflict

I haven't had much time for gaming recently, for obvious reasons, however I have been fascinated by a game called World in Conflict for quite a while now, so I downloaded the demo a few weeks ago.

The demo consists of a tutorial (needed), the first level of the single player campaign (about 1 hour play time) and limited access to some multiplayer online action.

I haven't tried the multiplayer yet, but I loved the tutorial and Level 1.  I just wish I had time to play the rest of the game!  I won't be buying it as I can't dedicate the time any more to playing, but I can highly recommend that you check out the demo.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Phones and Hospitals...

There was a news article in the Daily Mail yesterday that is echo' d on the BBC News site today.

Doctors want the ban on mobiles to be relaxed (as they want to use them) and scientists say this is a bad idea.

PatientLine and PatientCall (the two companies who bought the rights to bedside telephone charges) obviously want a full ban!  They charge between 10p and 26p per minute.

Oddly, yesterday the consultant obstetrician's phone went off during Serena's surgery and no-one batted an eyelid!  She just got the midwife to answer and ploughed on with removing the placenta!

Fortunately Serena's room seems to get a reasonable signal so you can ring her direct on her mobile!

We expect her and baby to be home sometime tomorrow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I'm Knackered!

But very happy!

Bundle of nerves

For some reason I am very nervous this morning!

Update later tonight.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Where did everybody go?

OK, so I have some excuse given that I am (touch wood) becoming a daddy for the second time on Thursday, and I know James has been moving house, but what about the rest of you?

I hope you have a really good excuse for the deathly silence!

Cutting it close!

I have a second round interview with J P Morgan today at 4 pm.

The Tube Strike starts at 6 pm.

If this interview over-runs I can foresee either a horrible bus ride or a very expensive taxi ride on the horizon!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Happy Birthday James

Card and goodies are in the post!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


So what have I been doing recently?

Job hunting (obviously)...  I have had 4 interviews (no rejections yet) in the last 7 days and beyond that it has been family duties with Lauren's birthday parties.

I did manage to squeeze in The Bourne Ultimatum on Friday.  It was OK as films go, no better or worse then the previous two incarnations - a 7/10.  I did enjoy the trailer for Shoot 'em Up.  Now this looks like a fun film!

Here is the 18 certificate trailer:


Serena finally finishes work on Friday (although her bosses keep sending her home early) and we have the final scan tomorrow - so we will know if it is going to be an elective C-Section or an attempt at a normal delivery.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Now we are two!

We get a regular email from "Mumsnet" and this includes regular updates of what to expect from your child now they have reached a certain age.  Here is what we received this morning (most of which is scarily accurate):

Your child at two years

People talk about the terrible twos but this is unfair. This age is no more terrible than any other (talk to parents of teenagers). Your child will be busy developing her self-awareness and exercising her will. You can't do that without making a few waves.

* * *

How she behaves: She'll be behaving increasingly like adults do, wanting to make demands on you, and becoming self-centred in the genuine belief that the world revolves around her. Along with this newly discovered sense of identity, she will not ask to have her navel or tongue pierced but will be fiercely possessive about her things and negative about anything she doesn't want to do.

Temper tantrums become works of dramatic art, with screaming and sometimes biting and kicking. She may be angry, sad and happy again (all emotions felt intensely of course) within a short space of time. About one in five children of this age have at least one tantrum a day. Aggression is also common from now until three - don't blame the television, it's human development and will be phased out when she's better equipped to express herself. Best not to be aggressive in return (e.g. to bite back so she can see it hurts), it's not a concept she can relate to - other people don't have feelings that are nearly so important as hers.

If you insensitively choose this time to have another baby, she may be completely furious and insist it go back to the hospital straight away. Jealousy is normal for a child who is suddenly displaced as top small banana. Do not expect her to do anything but hate the new baby and you may be pleasantly surprised. Do not leave them alone in a room together because your two year old's natural inclination is to torture her rival. She is not evil or mean-spirited she's a poor little two-year-old whose heart is momentarily broken. Make a fuss of her, downplay the baby and leave cooing until after your two year old's in bed. Buy her sack loads of toys as compensation.

Along with emotions such as jealousy, comes fear of noises such as fireworks, and unfamiliar animals and objects. Bedtime may become a battle of wills because she has enough sense now to object to being shunted off to bed while everyone else is having a fine old time downstairs. This battle lasts until adulthood.

* * *

How she thinks: She'll have a short attention span but more complex thoughts. If she feels secure she will widen her social attachments to like other children and adults and realise that although her mother goes away she will come back and exists even if she can't see her.

She finds it hard to make decisions and can seem paralysed by what's the best option (who isn't?). She will also be attached to her routine; try dressing her before breakfast and she'll be most offended if that's not what you normally do.

She will be aware of rules and rehearse them out loud so you will see her saying "no" seriously to herself before doing something that's life threatening. When she achieves something she will feel proud of herself, and she will try for longer to do things, like pedal a tricycle. That's not to say she won't hurl herself off it and howl in frustration if it's not going well.

Your child is learning by imitation, so be on your best behaviour. She will follow you around, sweeping with a broom (does anyone still do that?), picking up the paper and looking very serious. She can now remember things over 2 to 3 weeks.

* * *

Her physical achievements: Now is the time for potty training but she will take the lead, announcing she has done a pooh and asking to be cleaned up (not always - some children hate being cleaned). She will also pull down her pants. Don't take this as a sign to throw her onto a big scary toilet and tell her to get on with it - gently gently is the preferred approach. She should get familiar with her potty with her pants on first. If she wants to get up don't plonk her down again - give her time. If necessary lie to your mother-in-law if you feel under pressure. Bladder control comes later.

She'll now be able to run well, walk up and down stairs one step at a time, and jump off steps. She may be able to ride a tricycle. She'll increasingly try to dress herself and will turn pages in a book one at a time.

* * *

How she plays: She will start to enjoy playing alongside or increasingly with other children. Sharing is still unusual because children this age are too possessive and sharing is just not a concept they can embrace. But they will socially interact, in groups of two usually. Sometimes play is friendly but it can be rough. Best to keep an eye on them and encourage the friendly bits. She will start getting her toys to do things, like feed another toy or whack her. She starts to enjoy make believe play and you will hear her giving orders to her dolls and teddies. Sometimes she may sound as bossy as you do.

She will also like to wrap and unwrap parcels and do simple big jigsaws and paint on large pieces of paper.

* * *

How she speaks: She understands longer sentences and you in turn will understand more of what she says. You will still be her interpreter but her vocabulary is up to and maybe more than 200 words (I hesitate to say this as this was never the case with my children - please don't worry). She'll follow simple stories and enjoy them. Best of all she will start saying "Love Mummy".

* * *

What's in her mouth: She's getting a second set of molars at the back - and you'll be wondering if teething ever stops.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hum Drum

Tomorrow is Lauren's 2nd birthday party.

Other than getting ready for that, life has been quiet.

I have signed back on.  I have fixed the PC (pretty much).  I haven't had time to burn the DVDs everyone asked for.  I have been searching for jobs and getting only a few nibbles.

Ho Hum!

PS  I was going to update "Celebrity of the Week", as they were filming in Chiswick this morning, however I didn't recognise anyone!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Reinstalling Windows

Serena and I have managed to completely bugger up our PC.
I am reinstalling everything today, but hence we have been a bit quiet!
I don't think I lost anything important as it was a windows failure rather than a hard disk failure.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Aaahhh CHOO

Lauren has had a cold for the last few days.

Now I have one too!

I signed on this morning, so everyone at Acton Job Centre will have a cold by tomorrow!

Nothing like spreading the love!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hull - The Forgotten City

Here is the full 30 minute BBC Documentary:


If you want this on DVD let me know.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

James on the Box

I have extracted James' bit from last night's documentary.  Encoding the full programme is a job for overnight.

The excerpt is here:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Friday = Me Day

Well last week was not the best, but still life moves onward.  Having pulled my finger out job hunting, I decided to have a bit of a "Me Day" on Friday (last chance to have to some fun that requires spending money).  I met up with an old friend (Tom) for lunch and whilst heading home got stranded, due to the local flooding which closed Shepherd's Bush down.

I decided to wait the water out in the cinema and went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Having read the book a few years ago and finding it the worst of the 6 so far (purely because it was all over the shop) I wasn't holding out much hope of an improvement over Goblet of Fire (my favourite of the films), but I was pleasantly surprised.  The book has been cut to ribbons and the plot that remains moves along quite fast and the action plays out well.

Not as good as GoF, but definitely worth a watch.  8/10.

After that I found that the water had receded enough for me to get home, which I duly did.

Given Serena's success on Wednesday and that we hadn't defrosted anything, I decided to order all of Serena's favourites from the local Chinese Takeaway.  The food was great and arrived spot on 7 pm as requested.  Unfortunately Serena got held up with a couple of major disasters at work and didn't get to eat hers until 10.30 pm!

Whilst waiting for Serena I watched Poseidon on Sky.  I thought that would be awful, and it wasn't!  Still only 6/10!  The original is way, way better!

Friday, July 13, 2007

LOTRO – Monster Play

Last weekend Serena and I posted a rather unusual screenshot of our “ugly” characters. These characters form part of an interesting and very addictive part of LOTRO, called Monster Play.
Whilst you can Dual with other players, there is no true Player v Player combat (PvP) in LOTRO as all player characters are “Good”. However to make Levels 45-50 a bit more challenging for players, the monsters in the “Ettenmoors” zone include some controlled by players.

You can play as a Wolf, Spider, Orc, Uruk War Leader or Uruk Archer and you automatically start at Level 50! You need no equipment beyond food and potions (which you have to buy or quest for), and you start out classed as a “swarm” level character – i.e. weaker than a regular level 50 monster, giving heroes a bit of a chance! As a monster you get bullied from pillar to post by the local Elite bad guys and by completing quests (such as clearing out some pesky hobbit farmers) you earn destiny point (sort of like XP and money combined) which you can spend on improving your character. You can improve your combat abilities or improve your looks! i.e. All swarm level Orcs look the same (they just have different names – chosen by you), but if you spend destiny points you can change your physique, armour appearance etc (none of which makes you any harder to kill). If you choose to spend your destiny points on improving your skills you will slowly move from “swarm” to “normal” and finally to “signature” (a lower class of elite monster) and your icons will change colour accordingly (the game colour codes monsters based on how tough they are).

Your Monster character (you can have 5 per server – one of each type) keeps its skills from session to session, so if you choose to just play your Orc, you have the potential to produce a very nasty signature monster for hunting Elves and the other Free Peoples.
Here is a brief run down of how our first Monster play session ran.

Starting out in the roughest looking log fort you have ever seen and surrounded by trolls and some really angry Uruk leaders (like the War Tyrant in the pictured) we are quickly roped into food gathering – slug meat! After dispatching some particularly huge slugs we are then sent off on some scouting missions (designed to make you explore the map) which once completed grants you the ability to fast travel back to the starting fort and the “Servant of Angmar” title. You have to start that quest from scratch if you die though – failure is not an option! This makes it challenging as you have the potential to die a lot early on, especially if jumped by a Fellowship of level 50 players.

Next was a few quick missions to poison the local river, in an attempt to drive out the local hobbit farmers (they are the toughest farmers I have ever seen!) and gathering stones from troll statues (caused when the trolls got caught in the sun) to help reinforce the various forts.
Whilst doing the latter, we came across two men (players) and we ran away like girls whilst shouting for reinforcements! Reinforcements arrived and now grouped up with a Spider, a Wolf and a second Orc and War Leader, the men sensibly fled from us on their four foots (horses).
We decided there was strength in numbers, so we cleared out a pesky Free People guard post (collecting Elf Ears and Dwarf Feet trophies for our superiors) before moving on to the Elven lumber camp. There we managed to surprise a mixed group of men and elves and I killed my first Elf hunter (1st kill towards improving my PvP rank – which appears military style before your name). The rest fled. We pursued and I slowly closed in on a pesky dwarf minstrel as he ran before me. Suddenly he tripped on a bush and I was on him… A quick “hamstring” and he could only limp, but continued to retreat as I reigned down blows on him… Then I was very suddenly dead!!! The dwarf had managed to retreat back to the safety of an Elf town and the local guards had turned me into a pin cushion! To make matters worse I never even spotted one! Damn those Elf scum!

With no more players to hunt we decided that more direct action was needed, so we invaded the local hobbit village and did a bit of pillaging (no rape though – their sheep were too ugly!).
Having clocked up 2,000 destiny points we decided to go back to hand in our trophies. The first four skills are 500 points each at tier 1, so Uthak and Athalak both trained up in all four, ready for their next session! We are now better armoured and better armed (but disappointingly still classed as swarm).

What surprised me the most about Monster play was how much fun it was being bad (or rather how much fun Serena had being bad!). Because you die a lot you don’t get the same emotional attachment for your character and you actually have a small inner cheer when you are killed by a “good” player. However the inner cheer became a roar when I nailed the Elf! I even laughed when I was massacred by the Elven guards, as it felt completely right! It all comes back to the atmosphere of the game being well balanced!

There are a few other things to note:
Your destiny points are global, so if you spend a while earning loads, you can create a new monster and spend them on him straight away. You can also spend destiny points on your normal player character, but they only give temporary improvements (such as helping you run faster or gain bonus XP). Some player character quests and achievements also grant a destiny point rewards which you can use on your monsters!

Finally, there is one more twist in the pipeline for LOTRO called “session play”.
The idea behind session play is for those times when you want to do something completely different. You will get given a “character” that will disappear when you log out and that character will have a mission. Completing the mission will grant destiny points for your pool and possibly unique items for your other characters to use (to be decided).
The main difference though is what those characters are… For example, you may be a Chicken! The mind boggles!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LOTRO – Crafting and Gathering

Serena and I have managed a couple of good sessions recently on LOTRO and I think we will be cancelling our WoW subscriptions in favour of LOTRO.

If any of you do decide to come and check LOTRO out we are playing on the [EN] Gilrain server.
I created a Hobbit Burglar called Fleur and she is now level 11. She made it to 10 without dying, earning the title “The Undefeated” and then promptly died! I hope that I can keep one of my characters alive right the way through to earn the top level title in that set!

Anyway, Fleur has restored the Shire postal service and is the bane of wolves. She has also started a sideline in wolf-hide leather armour, although the crafting market in LOTRO is dead.

Crafting & Gathering

Each can character can pick a single crafting vocation. This grants them one or two gathering skills and one or two crafting skills – three skills total. Generally one of the gathering skills will support one of the crafting skills (e.g. Prospecting and Metalsmith) and the third skill will be unsupported (so you are reliant on someone else’s components or you can harvest resources that you don’t need).

There are three gathering skills (Prospecting for Ore, Forester for Wood and Farming for Food) of which the first two work in the standard fashion for an MMO, and the latter is pretty unique. Each gives you the ability to track the relevant “node”, with farmers getting the ability to track wild plants. To harvest a node you need the relevant skill and tool, however anyone can harvest wild plants and that doesn’t require a tool (but only farmers can track the nodes).

Farmers can plant seeds in fields and harvest the crop (takes about 10 seconds to grow). The harvest will produce two qualities of food items, one of which the farmer can recycle into seeds and the other which they can combine into a bushel of for use by a cook. e.g. You buy 5 Yellow Onion seeds, some water and some fertiliser from the local supplier. You plant a “Field of Yellow Onions”. You harvest the field and get 3 poor Yellow Onions and 3 Moderate Yellow Onions. The former you convert to 3 Yellow Onion Seeds and the latter you combine into a Bushel of Yellow Onions, which cooks can make into soup. Each refinement step gives you crafting XP and you progress up the skill tree as normal.

Once you get to certain level of crafting skill you unlock the next tier of recipes (some are given free and some need to be bought). You now have two XP bars for crafting – one for each tier. If you continue making the Tier 1 onions then you progress towards Tier 1 mastery, and an improved chance of getting a critical success (for farming this means a bumper harvest). If you make Tier 2 cabbages then you progress towards unlocking Tier 3 etc. Each Tier unlocked gives you a new title, e.g. Apprentice Farmer for unlocking Tier 2.

You only gain Crafting XP by processing your harvested items; you don’t get XP from actually harvesting. Harvesting never fails (unless interrupted) and the yield will vary depending on luck (I don’t seem to be getting a higher yield at higher skill levels).

Some crafting needs mob dropped items rather than harvested items, of which the most obvious is Tailoring. This requires heavily on Hides, which anyone can loot from nearly every ”Beast” they kill (about 50% drop rate). Hides are then processed by Foresters for use in Light and Medium armours. Hides are also used by other crafters, such as for the construction of weapon hilts, shield covers and metal armour padding and currently it seems to vary randomly between the professions as to whether the recipe needs “boiled” (processed) leather or hides. At Tier 1 you need 20 Light Hides to make one piece of Medium Armour (20 Light Hides processed to 10 Light Boiled Leather; 2 Light Boiled Leather to make 1 Light Leather Pad; 2 LBL to make 1 Light Leather Strap; and finally 2 LBL + 2 LLP + 2 LLS to make a piece of armour. The Forrester gets 10 x 6 XP and the Tailor gets 5 x 8 XP). At level 11 I can farm Level 6 wolves for hides, and it takes me 10-15 minutes to get 20 light hides for one piece of armour. So to deliberately farm enough hides for a full set of Tier 1 medium armour would take Fleur about 60-90 minutes and would grant about 3,000 adventure XP, 360 Tier 1 Foresting XP and 240 Tier 1 Tailoring XP. That would unlock Tier 2 on both Foresting and Tailoring, and give a small step towards mastery. It would also yield about 10-20 silver worth of vendor trash loot and cause about 10 silver worth of equipment damage! (However I already have 3 quest loot items that are better than the armour I can make at Tier 1, so the exercise wouldn’t happen).

There is no player market for the goods you can craft though. Not at the low levels anyway. Quest rewards so far have pretty much covered off most of the equipment upgrades I need, and they are either clearly better or only slightly worse than the items I can craft – especially where weapons are concerned. There is one exception. I made Serena’s archer a bow. That bow is away ahead of anything we have found either in a shop or as quest loot. I made a second and tried to sell it on the Auction House and it failed to sell though… Most people make their own. Also money is very tight! At level 10 I got four new skills with a total cost to buy of nearly 40 silver. I had 20 silver in my pockets! Fortunately I had masses of untreated rowan (Tier 1 wood) which sells to vendor for 40 copper (1 silver = 100 copper) per branch, and I could afford my upgrades at the expense of my crafting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Facebook - more comments

Jase and I have finally succumbed to signing up for Facebook (as you can see from his previous post). It's mainly populated by folk at least a decade younger than us, but since a lot of our friends and family are rubbish at keeping in touch except electronically I (at least) figured it was time to add another way to communicate with them.

Actually, since joining it's been quite hilarious as I have been catching up all manner of old friends and acquaintances whom I'd lost contact with. So I would encourage those of you who haven't yet signed on to check it out, as it is fun (but be warned; it will also eat up your spare time if you get into it...perfect for slackers everywhere!)

OK, see you all in cyberspace!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Coming soon...

A change in our home email addresses...
I feel a need to control spam better and our blueyonder domain is under threat, so I will be sorting out new email addresses for the Ayers household over the next week or so.
I suspect in my case this will include ditching my current hotmail address, which is 99.9% spam and 0.1% something important that I miss!

Quick Update

Serena and I finally got round to updating our Facebook entries and sent out a load of invites to any of you who may be interested in social networking!

I found an old friend (Lisa) and have linked her blog... like Serena and I she is enjoying parenthood!

I also found a few people I can't say I really want to get in touch with... I will just ignore them if they try and contact me!

As previously quoted in my tag line... technology let me down again! Serena's Mum's PC has died. Good and proper death too (sounds like a hard disk failure). I have 3 choices...
1/ A trip to Edinburgh.
2/ Find a random repairer for them.
3/ Buy Maggie & Peter a laptop and worry about the old machine later.

I think the last option is favourite at the moment since they come down to see Lauren very frequently! It doesn't need to be high spec as they are purely interested in Email and Web access. I don't think there will be much on Maggie's old machine that needed saving a I backed up her photos to CD just before Easter and her home email was mainly spam! Probably just a few lost email addresses.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

LOTRO - Letting off Steam

Meet the Uglees!


Serena's the one on the right (if you can't tell!).

One tasty elf player already under our belts!

Friday, July 06, 2007

LOTRO - A Screenshot

Here is my Burglar Fleur standing in a field of Daisies!

This was taken in Normal detail. 

LOTRO Screenshot

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Next... Channel 4

Apart from various lifestyle programmes the following are available:

Codex (Tempting)
Win my Wage

Quiz Contestant?

Hidden away in the comments below, Gareth and I have agreed to share an interest in appearing on a TV quiz. If you fancy joining us then let me know?

At the moment the BBC are not recruiting any Quiz Teams but are looking for individuals to appear as follows:

BBC1's Saturday night quiz 1 VERSUS 100 is back! Are you a Quiz Whizz? Are you ready to pit your wits against others to win big money? THEN WE WANT YOU! For more details email:

Do you have an uncanny ability to read people? Are you intuitive and enthusiastic? Would you like to appear on a brand new game show and be in with a chance of winning a big cash prize?
If you answered "yes" and are over 18 then call: 09011 133 344 Or email your name and contact details to:

Talent TV are seeking people who fall into any one of the following categories to take part in the next National IQ Test on August 27.
Former reality show contestant; Surname of Robinson; Surname of Wallace; Removal Man; Surgeon; Clairvoyant.
If you fit into any of the above categories and would like to represent your group on television, you can download an application form from the
Talent TV website.

A general email address for contestants enquiries for BBC ONLY entertainment programmes is:

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

MMOs - Why Me?

NB I have typed this up in Word first and have just hit 3 pages of Arial 12… I hope you have time for a bit of a read!

Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) seem to split the gaming community in three. You either love them, hate them or don’t understand them.

For those who fall into the latter category I thought I would have a stab at explaining what appeals so much about MMOs to me.

To address this I need to travel back in time to the 1980s and give you my perspective on the evolution of the MMO!

At school James and I both owned Atari STs and he introduced me to a game called Dungeon Master. Since the concept of multiplayer gaming didn’t really exist at that time (outside of sports/beat-em up games), we used to play together, with me on the mouse and him on the keyboard, in a kind of shared control co-op style! Hence the game took on a social aspect.

Around the same time a game called Gauntlet appeared in the arcades which was the first true multiplayer roleplaying computer game (in my eyes). Four people got to stand shoulder to shoulder playing a Wizard, Elf, Valkyrie and Warrior and if they didn’t cooperate they were going to waste their hard earned pennies! If you gave me the choice of one old style arcade game to have in my “Games Room” I would still pick a Gauntlet II machine (with Starblade a close second).

The concept of competitive multiplayer gaming (i.e. Death Match) on the PC appeared in the early 90s and really took off with Doom. Doom went on to be the baseline for all games of this ilk from Quake to Half Life to Battlefield 1942.

However in the background to all of this fragtastic revolution a silent group of computer nerds were mudding!

Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) were text based games which evolved out of the really old text based roleplaying games like “The Hobbit” that existed on the BBC Model B and similar platforms. They were the first persistent world games where people could interact either cooperatively or uncooperatively! I’ll never forget the first time that I killed a “Beastly Fido”! MUDs weren’t the first MMOs though, as they missed out on the first M (Massive). You played MUDs over a Unix based Telnet client which for me meant staring at a green screen dumb terminal in the basement of Appleton Tower. MUDding was good fun and if you could find like minded people who had similar free time to you then the social aspect was also there – Nick, Serena and I used to MUD on Tuesday nights and do AD&D roleplaying on Friday nights (to which James and Balint were also invited). The AD&D was still more fun than the MUDding though as the effort of reading the small text and typing to survive took the edge off the gaming experience.

Roll forward a few more years (we now have the Internet in a form that you might recognise) and Baldur’s Gate was released on the PC. This followed a game called Diablo which had started to get a cult following as being a possible “online RPG” but it was so badly hacked by cheaters that it was a waste of time in my book.

Baldur’s Gate was a simple principal - AD&D brought to a PC. You had a party of up to six characters and in theory you could either play all six yourself of hook up with a few friends and they could take command of some of your henchmen.

Those of you that remember Windows 95 may recall that it wasn’t exactly the king when it came to networking and so these multiplayer sessions usually turned into a bit of a mess as people disconnected and reconnected at regular intervals. Having said that, the greatest LAN party I ever threw saw six PCs setup around our living room with a different person controlling one character each. Pradeep was on hand by this stage to troubleshoot networking problems (he taught me a lot) and so we completed the spin off from BG “Tales of the Sword Coast” in one fun gaming session. Finally multiplayer gaming was approaching a level where it rivalled pen and paper roleplaying.

Now roll forward a few more months… Nick came to visit and brought round the install disks for a game called EverQuest (EQ). I let him install it as he had been going on about it for weeks on email… Unfortunately the game needed to patch itself after the install, which was a several megabyte download. We are still in the days of 28k modems, so that took most of the afternoon – we went to the cinema! That night he showed me round Qeynos and I was blown away by the 3D environments of this persistent world, full of strange likeminded gamers from round the planet.

Since Nick had two accounts he loaned me one and I played a bit of EQ over the next few weeks. I can’t say I got on very well with the game – it was almost too complicated – you couldn’t save (something alien to most RPG gamers – but it really makes you care about your character in the same way that we really cared about our AD&D characters) and by myself this meant that it was just no fun.

Nick and I agreed to meet up online and we played together – suddenly things were fun again. I didn’t feel lost as I had someone more experience there to help out and we could chat about other things whilst we casually thinned out the Gnoll population in Blackburrow.

Roll forward again. I had just upgraded my 56k modem to a ½ meg broadband connection and the speed was just ridiculously fast. Pradeep was living with us and also playing EQ. Soon Alex also joined us in EQ (James came and went) and along with Bob and Jackie (two Americans Nick had met online) the six of us would spend long weekends glued to our monitors and slowly ridding the world of Norrath of evil.

That was both the high point and low point of MMOs for me. When you get six likeminded people together in a group in an MMO and have time to play both regularly and for at least a couple of hours straight each time then the game is extremely rewarding. Of course that is where the downside comes in – that reward is very addictive. Nick was clearly hooked and both Pradeep and I became addicted too. This was not good – all three of us suffered because of this addiction and it took Pradeep and I a long time to realise and beat it.

Roll forward again. Serena and I are married, we have been to Australia, Pradeep and I are pretty much “clean” in that our addiction to EQ is under control (the need has gone) and the second generation of MMOs start to appear. Star Wars Galaxies comes and after reservations about a Sci-Fi MMO both Serena and I are spellbound by it – EQ is forgotten (almost). Over time SWG is seriously killed off by Lucasarts and EQ2 appears – we all jump ship and to be honest feel let down by EQ2 – some of the magic is gone.

At this stage Serena and I decided that MMOs were just too demanding on our lives, so we cancelled all our subscriptions and returned to doing other things. We still played games together – that was a habit that was too hard to break. BG had been followed by BG2 and a pair of Icewind Dale games, straight from the same mold. They were dutifully dispatched to the “Done” tray as Serena and I Duo’d them (and occasionally Trio’d with Pradeep). Next was Neverwinter Nights (NWN), which took the BG game and threw vastly improved graphics at it – again that got the LAN party treatment and was assigned a big “Done”.

Now this is where I hit a problem. Serena was generally more busy than me (she also sleeps a lot more than me), so I was often left to entertain myself. EQ had spoiled me – I missed the social interaction that went along with the gaming experience. Sure games like Morrowind and Oblivion were astoundingly pretty and had the style of gameplay I liked, but I was still playing alone. I would occasionally jump online with whatever online shooter was flavour of the month, but again there was no real connection with my team mates, as a game lasted no more than 10 – 15 minutes.

Hence I was seduced into World of Warcraft (WoW). Alex was already there and so I knew a fair amount about the game and finally I felt like I had come home. WoW is much more straight forward than EQ ever was (EQ had a massive learning curve that put most people off) and is structured in such a way that both hard core and casual gamers can get gratification from it at a level that keeps them interested. Graphically WoW is also a bit different from the other MMOs. Blizzard haven’t tried to be high end on the pretty, pretty front and in doing so have allowed gamers with less than top whack PCs to still get the most out of their systems and enjoy the full WoW experience.

WoW isn’t perfect though. If you have time to play regularly then you can find a good guild and the social aspect is there for you on a plate. If your playing times are more irregular then you are stuck with the companionship of strangers whose short term goals happen to match yours. As you would expect this can be a real hit and miss affair. You could get a 12 year old with no social skills or a 40 year old with no social skills! (Yes there are plenty of 30 somethings with social skills out there too).

So what now? WoW is fun, but the slightly cartoony graphics have prevented me getting too emotive with the game. I reckon LOTRO looks much nicer (which comes at a price as far as your PCs specs are concerned) and from my brief introduction I am already getting drawn into the storyline a lot more and care for my local community! I still miss the social aspects of MMOs from the old days – it is just not feasible for me to commit the time needed to play regularly with anybody though, so I am stuck with the companionship of strangers.

If you analyse the cost of an MMO (as most people object to paying a monthly subscription) I reckon Serena and I together spend about £300 a year on them – that covers off two subscriptions and two copies of an expansion pack or new game. Apart from a few highlights there aren’t really many other games that we buy, so at the most out collective spend is about £200 each on games. I reckon that compared to console games that works out pretty good value for money!

So why do I still do it? MMOs are designed to provide variety – I can play with Serena, I can play with Strangers, I can play by myself, I can fight, I can craft, I can explore, I can sit and chat, I can fight against the computer or I can pit my wits / “leet skills” against other players! – all in one game. OK so I can’t leap into my spaceship to check on my Spacefuel factories (but that is whole different genre) and I both understand and accept that! I can’t keep buying the latest game and play it through anymore. I just haven’t got the time (I only finished Half Life 2 a couple of months ago). I would rather invest my time (and money) into one game that keeps growing and evolving.

A Challenge. (Not really!)
Gareth – describe what you want to get out of a computer game and how much time you have to get that and I’ll try and tell you whether you will get that from an MMO or another type of game.

I've got a Bad Feeling about this...

I haven't blogged about "Last of the Time Lords" yet, but this news article couldn't wait!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Eight Percent

If you approximate the odds of winning "something" on the regular lottery to 1 in 50 then I am Mister 8%!
Why? I have played the same numbers every Saturday for the last two and a half years and have won nothing! That has an 8% probability of occurring.
If I don't win anything by the end of the year the odds will have dropped to 4.3% cumulative, although the true odds of that happening are actually about 60%!

Oh - I started watching Deal or No Deal again recently, in the run up to their 500th programme. The 500th programme was a let down as the Lady on it was the unluckiest person alive!
Last night the Guy dealt at £20,000 and ended up having the £250k in his box. Serena would have dealt at £75k and I reckoned that if I had the progression of boxes he had had, then I would have gone "F#ck it!" and actually won the £250k. I really need to get on that programme!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online – Part 1: The Basics

Well Serena and I have solo characters at level 8 and two duos at level 6, so we are fully versed in the tutorial levels of LOTRO.
The tutorial is in two parts:
The first is solo only and guides you through the basics of movement, looting and combat. It is very scripted and involves heroes/villains you will know from the books/films. You finish that at level 2.
Then you are in one of a pair of a small instances with other players of your own race (Man and Hobbit share one and Dwarf and Elf the other). You get about 10 quests to complete and by the end things have generally gone horribly wrong! What I mean is that these instances are set in the past and despite your best efforts things go badly and everything goes to hell! You are then transported to the present day and are in with the full gamut of characters from about Lev 6 upwards. The tutorial has no tradeskilling, no guilds and there is no real need to group up.

The quicker amongst you will note that I said we had two Duos of characters. After getting LOTRO up and running on our main PC and being pleasantly surprised by the performance we got out of it, I did an install on our laptop. The game was playable on low detail and an executive decision was taken that it was more fun to play two characters together than peering over each others’ shoulders. Hence another £27 was spent in Woolworths on Saturday morning. (The game comes with the first month’s subscription free).

Very nice on Normal (not so nice on Low) and I look forward to cranking them up to Highest on a new PC. The look and feel falls back to a lot of the LotR art done down the last twenty odd years but the fantasy artists Howe and Lee. The hero characters don’t look like their film actors, but Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves follow the look and feel established in the movies. The backdrops are very well created and my only gripe is that the trees don’t fade out quite enough when you are running through the forest. Like in NWN2 you can run into a point where you get very dodgy camera angles and have to blunder around a bit before you can see your character again.
Spell and Combat effects are modest so far, but then again we don’t have any characters that can obliterate an encroaching Uruk hoard quite yet!

Our sound setup is really bad at the moment so I won’t comment on the music and environmental audio at the present. So far there has been no bad voice acting or annoying characters (yet).

Basic Concepts:
XP is XP, except that it works in a DnD fashion rather than a WoW fashion. By that I mean the XP number doesn’t reset to zero when you level. So far about 75% of my XP has come from quests.
Health is called Morale – i.e. you don’t die in combat but are cowed and forced to retreat back to town. Special events can reduce your morale – like the presence of a Ring Wraith causing Dread, or the presence of Gandalf causing Hope. “Nukes” as a concept are therefore seen as things that reduce your morale, like fear, and “Heals” are acts that bolster your courage.
Mana is called Power. All classes use power for their special abilities.
Both Morale and Power regenerate fairly quickly out of combat.
Characters also build up renown by completing Deeds. These open up special abilities or Titles. E.g. if you make it to level five without dying you get the title of “The Wary”. Completing all the Quests in an area will give you the title of “Protector of ” etc. Special abilities are things like bonus hit points or regen.

Character Classes:
The game has seven classes which don’t quite fit the mould of other games, so I will break down the six that we have tried out (and a bit on the seventh).
Guardian – This is your bog standard Tank class. Good agro management. Good Defence. Poor Damage output. Your highest damaging attack comes from your shield bashes (certainly at level 6). Designed around sword / mace / axe and shield style of combat.
Champion – another fighter class, but this time you are focussed on damage output over defence. No much in the way of agro holding and not much in the way of multi-target attacks either. Designed around Dual-wielding or big Two-handed weapons.
Archer – the manual describes this as the “nuker” class. They are the high damage dealers. They can melee, but have crap defence – they fight like Legolas in the movies with short blades (dual wield comes at a higher level). The archers attacks become stronger the longer they have been stationary in combat, so in a group with a good tank they are lethal, whereas solo they need to rely on traps to immobilise their target. They don’t do well against multiple targets.
Lore-master – an odd mix. They can nuke a bit, they get pets and they get debuffs that look like they will grow into a proper crowd control line of spells. Kind of like the original EQ Enchanter class. However they are also quite good fighting with their staves! They can heal as well, however this is at the expense of their own health so it is not a long-term role for them.
Minstrel – a jack of all trades, they get buffs, proper heals, nukes and can melee a bit as well. I suppose that makes them the equivalent of a priest class. I expected them to be really weak solo, but Serena has had no problems with hers at all.
Captain – a really unique class that can only really be compared to Squad Leader in SWG. They can melee fairly well, but they also get event specific effects that can heal the party, damage all enemies, help everyone retreat from combat etc. They seem to be pretty group oriented as far as abilities are concerned.
Burglar – not tried this one yet, but looks like a fairly generic thief class. Probably quite hard to solo.

OK – got to fly so more to come soon.

That's me told!

I had to do a bit of family duty last night and wasn't back home from playing taxi until 22:45. Sunday night is the only time that you may be pushed to find a parking space near our house, and as feared my space was gone and there was nothing in sight in either direction. Just next to us is a small cul-de-sac called Westvale Mews, which is so small it isn't even named on Google Maps! They have a little parking bay with 12 spaces, of which 2 were occupied when I got there. I decided that I was unlikely to piss anyone off by parking there overnight and so I duely did so.

How wrong could I be?

This morning I found my car had aquired a note! I reproduce it here for your information (with spelling/punctuation as written):
PLz do not PARK in this BAY We all PAY 4 Bays in Mews. and you put me out hving your car here. If you get Towed out as we have CLAMPING. Its down to you Thank you.
Well I consider this very un-neighbourly, given that there was only one extra car parked there at 7.30 this morning.
According to my local council the Mews parking bays are included on the controlled parking zone that I pay £45 per year to allow me to park near my house (map attached):
I can't see any signs that indicate that it is a private car park and I am certain that the cars that I saw parked there, regularly park in front of my house!
There is no mention of clamping on any signs. (Although I am pretty certain that private clamping schemes are technically illegal and you can sue for criminal damage to your car).
In fact the only visible sign is one that states "Strictly No Ball Games".
I could jump to the conclusion that my car was caught playing a spot of tennis whilst I slept?
So the question is how did I respond?
Did I:
(a) Leave a snotty note on the window of the car that wasn't parked there when I arrived last night - also failing to sign it / indicate my house number?
(b) Position a nail behind said car's wheel, so that reversing resulted in a visit to the local KwikFit?
(c) Accidentally run my key down the side of said car?
(d) Do nothing apart from fume all the way to work?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In the News

My countdown at the top of the blog has been heralding the arrival of the no smoking laws in England.  Now that it is here though, the news is dominated by other stories.

The thought that the two London car bombs were placed - one to cause fear and one to hit the crowd as it flees - is sickening to me.

Yet it was clear that those party-goers out in London were refusing to be scared away.

Following that the car bomb in Glasgow showed me too obvious things.  Firstly people in Scotland clearly saw themselves as being out of the firing line as far as terrorism was concerned and secondly, now that they are in the firing line they are even more bloody minded about not being affected by it.

The fact that members of the Glasgow public assisted a policeman in arresting one of the two "bombers" is a credit to the Scottish people, given that the stereotypical "Weegie" is portrayed as being a police hater.

Having worked in Glasgow for a number of years, none of this surprises me though.  Apart from Yorkshiremen I don't think I have come across a collective of people who are more bloody minded that the west coasters of Scotland!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Just Checking...

Does everyone remember Gordon Brown being around for more than 18 months? :P

Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies has spoken about his reinvention of classic villain The Master for the current series. Speaking to Radio Times, Davies said: "John Simm's incarnation of The Doctor's nemesis is thoroughly contemporary. Previous Masters seemed to appear on a whim, merely to thwart The Doctor with a throaty cackle."

Referring to the character disguising himself as politician Harold Saxon, Davies added: "The moment I thought of having an evil Prime Minister, I thought, 'That's the key to it!' How much fun would The Master have in that role?"

Yeah - Right!

We believe you Louis!


Is it OK to be ignorant?
Of course it is - with one caveat...
Never be afraid to ask questions if you really want/need to know the answer.
Despite rumours to the contrary there ARE stupid questions, but in my book they are the ones asked by people who need to look like they are interested or need to be political - i.e. the motive for asking is not to gain knowledge.

In a comment somewhere below James claims to be ignorant of all the technological mumbo jumbo that I talk about (where PC innards are concerned). That is all well and good given that he doesn't need to know how they work nor has the inclination to go out there and build one, however I reckon that in today's PC Gaming age, all serious gamers should be interested in getting the best gaming experience from their hardware.

With that in mind here is a link to one of my favourite nerdy sites on the net. There are loads of guides on there written in fairly straight forward English that tell you how to get the best out of what you have got (including the awesome Windows Tweaking Guide) and also a few more idiots guides about what the different technologies do.

The guides on optimising Oblivion and Neverwinter Nights 2 are also really good reads and made a massive difference to us when we used them to optimise our games. I just need a LOTRO tweaking guide now! (The game looks fairly good on my system, but it would be nice to squeeze a bit more out of it!)

Thursday, June 28, 2007


This post serves two purposes...
Firstly - you may remember that I spent a good while winding up Gareth (or maybe Gillian) about Gareth's birthday present - some artwork for his house.
Now Gareth didn't blog anything about this art, so I thought I would briefly mention that it was well received by both parties and that I stuck to my ground by providing both images of lesbians and of animals in unnatural positions! I'll let Gareth clarify how I managed to do that AND not alienate him or Gillian!!!!!

Secondly - What do you buy your daughter for her second birthday? I think that her grandparents are covering off the safe option of a tricycle, and we have more books and soft-toys than we really know what to do with! She already has a farm, a piano and a fairy tree house, so I am rather short on ideas!
I did wander aimlessly round both Toys R Us and a very good toy shop in Kingston and I have no ideas! I feel I want to get her some technology, put preferably not something that plays "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep" at loud volumes.

I'll continue my research at lunchtime, but ideas are requested!

PS Budgets do not permit me to buy her a laptop, nor can I justify the two proposed PC builds as being her present either!

PPS One of Lauren's favourite pastimes is watching videos of herself on the PC! When I hook our laptop up to our LCD Telly, she will sit for ages watching herself on loop - dancing, sliding, paddling and eating!

PPPS Her other favourite pastime is climbing up onto the PC desk and trying to get the PC to show her videos by hammering the keyboard or mouse repeatedly!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Following my little exercise for the Media Centre PC, it turns out that Serena has been speccing out an upgrade to our primary gaming PC (reasons to follow). An off-hand comment yesterday made me laugh - "we can do a pretty quick and dirty upgrade for £400". That triggered a bit of a debate and it turned out the the £400 "quick and dirty" was really an £1,100 build a new machine and using the existing one as a server!

I laugh because I was worried about thinking about spending £800 on a new machine, whilst all along Serena had ideas slightly higher up the food chain! We now have rough specs for £2,000 worth of PC kit! The only question remaining is "when" (can we afford to put it on the credit card)!

Serena tries to be subtle at times and she is either too subtle (in that I don't notice) or is a bit too unsubtle so that I notice straight away! I much prefer the latter as it causes less arguments.

Anyway she has been talking about a particular computer game for a while now, "look what a good write up it got", leaving various magazine articles open on that particular page or websites open in the same fashion!
When I asked whether we should buy the game she informed me of the cheapest website to buy it from! (BlahDVD - never heard of them before).

Once ordered I had a quick look at the required specs for the game and realised that our laptop wouldn't go near it and our main PC would struggle to display much beyond the lower graphical settings. When I informed Serena, that was when the £400 quick and dirty comment popped out!

There are times when I wonder who is the bigger nerd in our house! The only difference being I am well out of the closet!

PS The game is question is "Lord of the Rings Online - Shadows of Angmar".

PPS Here is what £1,100 buys you:
  • Case (TBD)
  • Power supply (650 W one with good voltage stability)
  • Motherboard (TBD - but there is a good ASUS one with build in WiFi that Serena has spotted)
  • Processor (Intel Core 2 Duo - at least a 6420)
  • Heatsink (the Freezer one that allows good overclocking)
  • Video Card (Pre-overclocked 8800 GTS 640 MB)
  • RAM (2 x 2 GB)
  • Hard Disks (2 of the Spinpoints as seen in the Media Centre)
  • Sound Card (X-Fi Gamer Edition)
  • OS (Windows Vista Home Edition)
  • Keyboard and Mouse (Logitech Gamer Set)

I have the feeling that this could be quite noisy, so the case will need to be well soundproofed!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Move over Gareth

It has be said that I don't post about music and musicians very much. I am no expert nor music nerd! (No offence intended to anyone - I am happy being a Sci-Fi / PC Nerd).

Something did strike me recently that I though I should blog about and then I promptly forgot until now.

I have seen a few "Pop star" interviews on TV recently, followed by supposed live performances of the latest single. Most of them fade into obscurity as they are generally an average guest and sound like they are miming later on. Two have stood out though.

1/ Pete Docherty. The news always portrays him as a complete arse. I am afraid that his interview confirmed it, even though the interviewer (Johnathon Ross) was clearly a fan. Later when he performed acoustically I thought he was terrible! I am not surprised that his band got fed up with him and parted company. Clearly his lifestyle is compromising his ability to perform musically.

2/ Iggy Pop. I always thought he was another one that looked like his lifestyle had killed both his personality and talent. How wrong could I be! His interview with his Stooges (?) band mates was entertaining and informative. Then his live performance in the studio was excellent. He has clearly suffered from lifestyle abuse but he also clearly loves to perform. He got some bad press at Glastonbury for his enthusiasm in causing the stage invasion, but I reckon he just got carried away in the moment! My opinion of him has completely changed!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Blink and you'll have Nightmares!

Clearly too much Dr Who for me yesterday! Not so much nightmares as very weird dreams about being chased!
The scarecrows and the weeping angels are absolutley brilliant as far as malevolant baddies go in my book! It is a shame that the scarecrows were poorly used in the Family of Blood episode.
My hat goes off to Stephen Moffitt though. He clearly is in his element writing for Dr Who.

The three-parter (of which we are 2/3 of the way through) started really well, with Jack back and the strange world at the end of time. I loved DJ as Prof Yana and was only slightly disappointed that he chose to regen! As previously stated John Simms was brilliant. I love a good Ham and Cheese role! (Pun intended!)

What worries me is that the plotline for this trilogy is a bit too abstract and I haven't got a clue as to what is going on and where Martha is going! Some hints would have been nice! So far it isn't as good as the Age of Steel or Ghosts two-parters from Series Two.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Sound of Drums

After a swift catch-up weekend and a re-record of this week's episode following the thunderstorm we are now up to speed and hanging on the cliff!

Blink was great!  Those Angels are going to haunt Serena's dreams for days.  Poor Lauren got a fright too when I paused the episode and it just happened to be the first time you see their fangs.  She ran to Mama for a hug!  :(

I LOVE John Sims as the Master!  I reckon it took him 0.2 seconds to accept that job when the phone rang!

Anyway, more tomorrow I am sure!

Saturday, June 23, 2007


How come we get a thunderstorm that knocks out our Sky DURING Dr Who!

If there is another tomorrow during the BBC3 repeat I may cry!

Friday, June 22, 2007

£30! and a Question

I forgot to include a DVI to HDMI cable on my media centre's list of needs...
They're £30! I must check my little man on EBay to see if he does them any cheaper, as that seems a bit steep to me! I have the rest of the cables I need already.

Question: What should I do with my subtitle / banner area thingummy?

There is clearly no-one even remotely famous round here - I have gotten so desperate for an update that I even check out sporty looking cars when I drive past them to see if there is a celeb inside!!!!

I did think about changing it to Celebrity Look-a-like of the Week, but didn't fancy trying to get a convincing photo on my phone's 2 mega-pixel camera!!!!

I want it to be something that changes frequently... I may just steal my Live Messenger comment theme, which is my variation on "Jesse's Diets" from the Fast Show.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Damn - Missed it!

Yesterday Ebuyer were selling Vista Home Premium for £40 + Free Delivery.
At the time I though this was an error but did nothing about it.
I mentioned it to Serena and she said I should grab a copy whilst it is cheap (RRP £68) so I went back this morning to find the price restored to £68.
At least I got a tax rebate of £300 this pay check (emergency tax codes and all that), which will help clear the holiday credit card bill and help me save the money (now £850) for the Media Centre.

PS I really want to get the snazzy MS Media Centre 7000 keyboard/mouse, but £85 is a bit steep! Maybe for Christmas! I can't seem to buy the 8000 in the UK yet but that is very snazzy too - I suspect that we are talking £160 for that one though (when you compare it to the Logitech equivalent).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ideas Above My Budget!

I just had my first stab at speccing out the PC listed below.
In a word "OUCH"!

I then cut back on some of the silly components and got the price down to only £1,000!

Next I took a few executive decisions around quality and performance and got the price down to a Gnat's Whisker over £800. I now feel that I am working in the correct ball-park! I could go lower but then I would be seriously compromising the lifespan of the project.

The £800 system looks like this:
  • Antec Fusion Media Centre Case
  • Foxconn G9657MA - 8EKRS2H Motherboard (has very good on-board sound)
  • Intel Core2 Duo E6420 Processor
  • 2 x 1 GB EBuyer Value DDR2 PC2-6400 RAM (made by Corsair)
  • 2 x Samsung Spinpoint T166 HDJ01LJ 500 GB Hard Disks
  • 8800GTS 320 MB Graphics (ASUS branded)
  • Panasonic DVD-RW
  • Netgear Wireless LAN Card
  • Windows Vista Home Premium Edition
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

Now I just need to save up enough money (as Serena would kill me if I put this on my Mastercard so soon after our holiday)!

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Project

After much reading and pontificating I am starting a new project (home not work).
We are planning on moving house sometime in the next year so that we can be closer to both Serena's and my work, and we could do with at least one more bedroom if not two with the forthcoming family expansion.

Because of the planned move I am not buying any of the technology I would like until I see what space I have to set it all up in. The items on hold include a new gaming PC or Laptop, Amp and Speakers for the TV / DVD and Sky HD.

However I am going to go ahead and start speccing up a media centre. Budgets are still tight so soon after a holiday, so I don't expect to place any orders for a couple of months but this is one part of our home setup I want to get up and running sooner rather than later.

My initials thoughts fall along these lines:

  • Antec Fusion Media Centre Case.
  • Core2 Duo Processor.
  • 2 GB RAM (Single DDR2 SIMM so I can double up later).
  • 2 Hard Disks - One fast for OS and Apps (likely to be a 10k Raptor) and One Big for Media (~500 GB as these are best value atm). I'll add a second media drive later as the case has space.
  • A MicroATX motherboard - undecided atm as I need to see what is out there.
  • A Video Card - undecided atm but must be HDCP compliant on the the video output - doesn't need to be an HDMI output though (DVI is fine) and I am not intending to blow a huge amount on this component as we are not talking high end gaming rig.
  • Creative X-Fi soundcard - for hooking up to an Amp in the future.
  • Wireless LAN if not onboard on the MoBo.
  • Bluetooth (could be rear USB dongle).
  • InfraRed - want this for a remote control - need to do more research on this though.
  • DVD RW (replace with HD drive in future).
  • Wireless Media Centre Keyboard and Mouse.
  • Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.

I'll run ideas for each component past you on here and once it is up and running I'll show off here as well! Feel free to interject at any stage as advice on anything listed is more that welcome.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

376 Emails....

We're back and my inbox is rather full!  Blogging to resume shortly!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


We're all in Barcelona until the 18th June.
Try not to rob our house!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Sad News

It has been announced that Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica will be the last.
Whether there will be spin-offs like Babylon 5 remains to be seen, but the two execs have decided to end the main series on their terms.

I also saw that Eidos managed to get together all the old Lara Croft models for a bit of publicity for the new (crap) LC Game. Which is your favourite?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Now that is big!


Feelings of Guilt

My friend Sheena applied for the job that I am now doing. Obviously she didn't get it, despite being interviewed the day before me. At the time I felt really guilty about it as she has two small kids and lives just up the road from where I now work.
Today she rang out of the blue to say that she got another job just up the road from here. Ironically it is another job that I applied for, and turned down the interview when I accepted this role.
We had a nice lunch today and my feelings of guilt melted away!

Now I just need to work out how guilty I would feel if I stuck a £300 piece of technology* on my credit card... or perhaps more accurately how guilty Serena would make me feel!

* In Scotland this item sounds really small!

More Birthday Greetings

So today is my Mum's Birthday & is also Julian's Birthday.


I'll be polite to them and not mention any ages!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An Early "Happy Birthday"!

Since the whole family are upping sticks and heading off to Barcelona next week, I need to get a few pieces of admin out of the way over the next few days.

Firstly "Happy Birthday Gareth"! I know I am a couple of weeks early, but I'll be away and I would have missed it!

I have spent literally minutes agonising over your present and decided that I could prove GK wrong about one of her earlier comments...

Hence, you have some "Art" for your house heading your way! I expect it up on the walls when I next visit!

To help you get the theme here are a few of the items I rejected when selecting as I didn't think they were "arty" enough!


Kiss 2



Bottoms Up

I won't give any hints as to what I did choose in the end! I just wish I could be there when you open them, especially if you wait to do it with GK!

The Agony of Choice

I needed some reading material this morning, so I went to buy the Star Wars anniversary edition of Empire magazine. To celebrate the the 30 years they have done 30 commemorative covers showing different Star Wars characters.

Talk about an Agony of Choice! Who do I pick? Who does that mean I reject?

The newsagent had about 12 copies and that gave me about 10 cover choices (No Han, Luke or Vader), however my choice was an easy one to make in the end...

Cover #6. "Size Matters Not!"

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


This weekend's Dr Who was quite scary! The classic "monster at the window" moment made me jump!

I am struggling to remember something so this is thrown out to the wider audience...

Two things grabbed me in the episode:

First was the scarecrows... Wurzle Gummage aside, what Kids TV show had scary scarecrows in it? The ones on Dr Who really reminded me of something and there was a real creepiness to the memory that it twanged. Maybe it was "The Moondial"?

Second was the image of the little girl with the balloon. Serena reckons that that is an homage to a classic horror film. I think I know what she means, but I cannot place that memory either!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

How Wude!

Star Wars is 30 years old this week and neither Gareth nor I have rambled on about it yet! Nor did we do the usual "Happy Star Wars Day" back on May 4th.

Either we are unwell or our nerdiness is subsiding!

I once had a conversation with Hubert (Serena's not so little anymore brother) about Star Wars and what it meant to "my generation". He told me that The Matrix trilogy defined his generation in a similar manner. Somehow I don't see the new Spiderman films being used in a similar fashion!

I have to laugh about Gareth's love of Star Wars, given that I am just that little bit older than him and actually saw Star Wars at the cinema when it first came out in 1977. I'd love to say that it should give me the moral high ground on any discussions we have, but when it comes to Star Wars he is a much bigger nerd than I am (and I never saw Episodes 5 and 6 in the cinema until the remastered versions came out in the late 90s).

I recently bought the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars DVD Trivial Pursuit games... Next time Gareth is down I'll have to take him on at the latter! I'll keep it shrink wrapped so I can't be accused of cheating! I am currently undefeated at the Lord of the Rings one (although Rena gives me a close fight most times), but then my LOTR nerdiness knows no bounds!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Scary Food

Jase and I try to get to the Farmers' Market in Chiswick every other week (and sometimes every week) to buy what we feel to be fresh food. However, we do some food shopping at our local supermarkets because it is so convenient.

I'm sure that some supermarkets are better than others and some branches are worse than others, but this news article really shocked me:

Be wary of scary food out there! I think the important thing to take away from this is not to buy from the "fresh meat" counter...

Monday, May 21, 2007

We have the Technology!

I have gotten so used to having webmail, that I never really explored "other options" as far as checking my email when away from home.
Since Combined have blocked webmail on their internet servers I have finally been forced to review other options.
Friday afternoon had me on the phone to Orange and I now have my phone configured for GPRS and my ancient Dell PDA configured to use a Bluetooth modem. I can now download the headers to my PDA via my mobile and delete all your spam / choose what I want to read / knock out a few replies that I don't want to go via work.

Next step is for me to configure our laptop to do the same and work out how to use the same process when abroad.